A Light Shining, Part 1: Reflections on Christmas in Urban China

This is the first post in a three-part series from a Chinese pastor. We encourage you to continue reading Part 2 and Part 3 for his further reflections on the celebration of Christmas in China.

It’s early November and I am walking through one of the major department stores in China. As I make my way toward the exit, I begin to hear that familiar sound – Christmas music. It brings back a flood of childhood memories, most of which are very pleasant. The season has meaning and history where I come from. Besides the fact that it is probably starting a bit too early in the year, I’m reminded of my childhood and the transformation that takes place in people’s lives as we remember the birth of the Christ child.

Our family has traditions, much like everyone else, that we observe even here in China. We bought a nice faux Christmas tree (French words always make things like “fake” sound nicer), and when we decorate it with lights and ornaments we bought from the local IKEA, it looks quite nice. We continue traditions like our four-week Advent wreath celebration where we light a candle each week and do a family devotional related to Advent. The family does, however, miss the atmosphere of Christmas in the States, especially the beautiful church music. Nonetheless, we are able to carry on with many of our traditions without any real interruptions. These traditions help us cope better with the challenges of life in China, challenges which include missing family and friends, the stress of living as a non-native in a culture hostile toward our faith, and being separated from our loving and nurturing church community back home where we worship openly and freely.

My nostalgic thoughts soon give way to a question that lingers in my mind, “What must the local Chinese think when they hear this?” The locals do not have the memories I do, nor do they even understand the words since all the songs are sung in English. The familiar tunes and words that elicit so many wonderful memories in me certainly do not do the same thing for those Chinese ears that are listening.

These musings lead me to no conclusion in particular, but rather to another question which comes flooding into my mind. “What would Chinese culture be like if celebrating Christmas meant something more than a commercial gimmick? What if Christmas was a time when a sizable portion of China honored the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ?” This thought leads to a different scene from the previous year when one of the Chinese house churches we work with closely held a Christmas performance at a large venue in the city. Over 700 people came and many of them didn’t truly understand the meaning of Christmas.

The play/musical was written, staged, and performed by the members of the church. They borrowed musically from Les Miserables with words rewritten for the Chinese context. The play was not without glitches and technical difficulties, but I was very impressed with the way the church was postured to engage the culture. It was a critique of modern Chinese society and it succeeded in portraying the emptiness that comes when people pursue hedonistic pleasures and neglect the God-given value of human life. Sex, power, money, and prestige were among the things addressed in the musical. All these things are not evil in themselves, but when people treat them as ultimate they become idols and dishonor, neglect, and mistreat God, our creator.

The play made me realize that the Western church could learn from these kinds of creative expressions and methods of engaging the culture we live in. I’ve been impressed with how Christian expressions of music, art, and film have made great advances in the United States over the last 30 years, but we still have a ways to go. What is needed, I feel, is the flexibility and depth of thought that went into the putting on of this Chinese play.

The church in China is deeply concerned about its cultural context, one that is increasingly devoid of a moral foundation. Issues like abortion, homosexuality, divorce, human trafficking, and a host of other ethical concerns are being addressed with a secular worldview almost completely devoid of a moral compass. Closely related to this, the church is becoming increasingly concerned with how it educates the next generation, the children. Both Christian and non-Christian parents worry about a public school system more obsessed with having kids pass exams than really learning. Christian parents are anxious about both the environment and culture that public schools promote which overemphasizes competition, not to mention the curriculum which is based on an atheistic, Marxist, Darwinist, Hegelian worldview.

This thought then led me to another thought. In a country where being a Christian is seen as radically counter-cultural, it seems the church is forced to come up with an apologetic that not only addresses the concerns of the individual but also those of the community of God’s people, the church. So many Christians from outside are coming to China with wonderful visions of how to evangelize the lost and bring Chinese to faith, but so few are really working closely with the local Chinese church in the areas where the church itself is asking for help. Well-intentioned, good-hearted missionaries come here and work hard to reach out, but after they leave, the ministries they started fall into ruin and the “converts” fall away. Sometimes we are far too eager to post impressive statistics to our supporters at home. The result is a shallow impact with “converts” that are not capable of really exerting any influence in this culture.

One of the things I love about the China Partnership is that it is working with the Chinese church and addressing those most pressing questions that the church itself is wrestling with, helping the church to fashion an apologetic that serves both the individual and the community. This apologetic says, “Christ is here in China, Christ loves the Chinese church, and Christ has something to say to China today.”


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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Loving People Through Prayer
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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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