Monday, December 27, 2010

China: Fragile Superpower

Check out my review of another book that I just finished reading over the Christmas break by clicking here. My criticisms of this book are much stronger then they were for Postcards from Tomorrow Square. I appreciate that this book goes into much more depth on the political history of China over the past 30 years, particularly with regards to foreign policy. However, this book will be harder for most of you to get through and will do less in terms of developing your appreciation and understanding of modern day China. As I mention at the end of my post, it tends to sensationalize Chinese politics and Sino-American relations. However, for those of you who tune in to Hardball with Chris Matthews or Meet the Press religiously, you will enjoy Shirk's writing style.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The next time you feel like turning on a movie or a sitcom, watch this instead!


The story of the Chinese Massacre (aka Tiananmen Square) in 1989 is one that I thought I knew. After watching this documentary, I was shocked to discover that my understanding of the political uprising that took place in China wasn't even close to complete.

So much more happened at that time then I was aware of. I realize now that I can't claim to know anything about China until I know about Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government has done an amazing job of covering up these events by distracting us with economic reform. These days all of the talk is about China's amazing growth and bright future. However, the factors that caused Tiananmen and the events that transpired during Tiananmen remain unresolved issues that boil just beneath the surface in China.

What happened in 1989 should play a prominent role in your life today. Whether it is deciding who to purchase goods from, what Internet sites to visit, or what to believe about China's present and future, Tiananmen Square should play into your decision making. We must balance our understanding of China's economic rise with an informed understanding of its dark past and continued political oppression.

For example, here is a story from 2006 that you may be aware of but haven't thought about seriously:

Shi Tao was a Chinese journalist who forwarded an e-mail to a New York website, which outlined the instructions from the Chinese government regarding how Chinese media was to cover the 16th anniversary of the Beijing Massacre. Yahoo China supplied Chinese authorities with the time the E-mail was sent, the IP address, and the corresponding PC from which it was sent. With this information, the authorities arrested Shi Tao and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Yahoo’s Michael Callahan, Sr. Vice President, had this to say at a subsequent congressional hearing on the matter,

“The facts of the Shi Tao case are distressing to our company…When Yahoo China in Beijing was required to provide information about a user who we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the identity of the user or the nature of the investigation. At the time the demand was made for information in this case, Yahoo China was legally obligated to comply with the requirements of Chinese law enforcement.”

U.S. Representative Christopher Smith, (R) New Jersey, shot back at Mr. Callahan,

“My response to [your statement] is, if the secret police a half century ago asked where Anne Frank was hiding, would the correct answer be to hand over the information in order to comply with local laws?”
I visited Yahoo's main website this morning without a thought. Knowing that their recent behavior was compared - fairly I might add - to that of a conspirator of the Holocaust has caused me to think hard about the ambivalence that I show towards this very serious issue.

What about you? Does your current attitude towards China qualify as ambivalent? Have you thought about the statements that you make through your actions? I'm not saying that you must dedicate your life to human rights advocacy. What I am saying is that ignorance is no excuse. If, after seeing the facts, you decide that you do not condone the behavior of your government or the businesses you transact with, you should do something about it lest you become guilty by association.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Do These Images Make You Feel?

A parade marking the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party's rise to power in China, October 1, 2009, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China; video by Dan Chung, Vimeo.

To watch the video click on this button in the above frame:

and then this button to go to full screen:

I've watched this 3.5 minute video over and over. It stirs up so many feelings in me. I can't decide whether I feel happy for them, enamored with them, intimidated by them, or possibly even terrified of them. How does it make you feel? And along these lines, how did the '08 Opening Ceremonies make you feel?

How should we feel when we see China "flex its muscles" or "express itself" on a scale not seen since the Cold War? This is a fundamental question that I would like to answer through this experience.

China is causing us to experience feelings that we have never felt before (or haven't felt in several decades.) For me, these images are a fitting way to start our journey because they stir up those feelings deep within me. My hope is that you and I will watch this video six months from now and experience very different feelings then we do now. My hope is that we will develop our understanding and appreciation of modern China in ways that will allow us to see it in a new light.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves... tell us how you feel about China today. What is your gut reaction to these images? What part of you gives rise to these feelings?

Economic Development and Christianity

I think we should jump right into an issue that I know many of you care deeply about: the spread of Christianity in China. My professor posed this question to us recently on his blog: Has economic development encouraged or discouraged the growth of Christianity in China?

To give you some background, here is a 3-minute video called
Christianity in China and a 2007 NY Times article called From Torture to Plaintiff: a Pilgrim's Progress in China.

I asked
John Morris, an "online missionary" and dear friend of ours, to share his views on this subject. John founded his ministry, Acts One Eight, to spread the Gospel to the 1.9 billion (and counting) Internet users around the world. To learn more, you can visit his website by clicking here. John makes some interesting observations about the spread of Christianity in China, check it out:

Extreme, very extreme, oppression can stifle the Church anywhere as it does under some extremely oppressive governments in the Middle East. Under less extreme oppression, the true Church often thrives. When Christianity is legalized or tolerated, there can be a significant decline over time in the seriousness, commitment, Biblical knowledge, and purity of the Christians and the Church (example is the US). Oppression in China has varied from severe ... to extreme ... to very, very extreme.

It is estimated that in some provinces ~50% of the people are Christian. In others, Christianity is almost not seen. My sources agree that there are ~100,000,000 Christians in China.

We must keep in mind that China lets the rest of the world see what China wants them to see. The video and article you referenced are probably tainted by that. It is not as good as portrayed in them. In some provinces, even when all laws are followed, Christians are both persecuted and arrested by the authorities.

Christianity is rising rapidly in China and should continue to do so in the immediate future if politics and economics continue on their present course.

The Westernization (if that is the right word) of China will distract the young from Christianity. The desire for personal peace (unchallenged independence) and the desire for affluence (wealth and the stuff it buys) can pull people away from their need for God (see Mark 10:17-27) and for the Church. Predictably, the appeal of the false health and wealth Gospel is rising in some of the more Westernized areas of China.

I think John touches both sides of the issue. On one hand, economic development may be helping spread Christianity in China if it is helping to reduce the amount of repression on the church.

I just finished reading Susan Shirk’s China: Fragile Superpower (a book I'll review on this blog soon). According to Shirk, after their “close call” in 1989 (Tiananmen Square), China’s leaders became fixated on what they call “social stability” as a way to stay in power. “Society is changing so fast that Communist politicians can’t discern which groups are solidly in their camp and which groups might form the base of an opposition – so they try to satisfy them all,” says Shirk. In other words, they are having nightmares about which straw will break the camel's back.

This suggests that the economic rise in China may be reducing oppression on Christianity.

However, what I hear John saying is that, in the long run, economic development will be a barrier to the church's spread. This explosion of relative affluence will provide people with the temporary satisfaction that "stuff" provides thus distracting them from the deeper meaning provided by one's faith.

After thinking about it, I can see why some would argue that economic development provides more harm then good in terms of the spiritual wellbeing of the Chinese people. However, I ultimately believe that this economic rise is lifting the majority of Chinese out of extreme poverty. This rise is providing them with clean water, heated homes, and the ability to travel across their country to see loved ones not seen in years. Yes, I'm sure that there are pockets - particularly among the youth - where affluence is giving people an excuse to ignore questions of eternity. But what distracts a few empowers many more.

I am expecting many of you to have questions and/or opinions about this topic. Please share them with all of us by commenting on this post.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Read Postcards from Tomorrow Square - Reports from China!

I highly recommend that all of you who are interested in broadening your understanding of China should read Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China. James Fallows writes for The Atlantic Monthly and this book - a collection of articles written for the magazine - is as entertaining as it is insightful. Make it your goal to read a chapter a night and feel free to jump to the chapter(s) that peak your curiosity. Each chapter is a stand alone story that will provide you with a "peak behind the curtain" of Chinese society. Click here to read my full literary review of Postcards.
There was an error in this gadget