Editor’s note: Grace transforms. In recent decades, millions of Chinese people have met Jesus and had their lives turned inside out. Their hopes, dreams, families, leisure, and (in some cases) occupations have changed because of Christ. This is the first part of a five-part series with a house church pastor. In it he shares what his upbringing was like during the Cultural Revolution. Some identifying features have been altered to protect his identity. Our hope is that these interviews challenge and encourage Western believers to examine their own faith and remind them to pray for their brothers and sisters in China.
Did you grow up in a Christian home?
Oh, no. My dad believed in the Lord because of us.
Where are you from?
Guangxi — I was born here. But my father isn’t from here. He’s from Anhui province.
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How did he end up in Nanning?
He’s a soldier, and a long time ago he fought in the [Chinese Civil] war. When the war was over, he stayed in one of the border areas.
When were you born?
I was born in the 1960s.
My father is really a good guy. Because he was in the war, he has stern, high expectations. He would discipline us, he would severely discipline us. If you did something wrong, he would spank your butt.
His expectations were high.
Yeah, he expected you to be a certain type of person, and if you did something wrong… when we were little, we were often beaten because we were very naughty.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have an older brother, and then I also have four younger brothers. There are six of us!
You could have as many children as you liked [then]. People had a lot of children. People of my father’s generation — our neighbors, family members — they all had five, six, seven, eight kids. Big families! I really like it when those big families get together. It is so loud and lively. Now, most families just have one. I think they’re really lonely.
When you were small, things were not very easy in China?
We were quite poor. Our parents, their wages were quite low. In my memory, we always had enough to eat, but we could just eat simple things. For instance, meat. Oh man, I longed for that! Honestly, we didn’t get that much at all.
We were usually very simple: rice, a little soy sauce on it, maybe some pickles. We just ate that. We basically didn’t have any vegetables to go with it.
Yeah, we just ate rice. But the good thing was, at that time, the government would supply that for you according to how much your household needed. So that was good. We were basically okay.
Was this because your father had previously served as a soldier?
Because he had been in the war, the government took care of soldiers. They got a little more than others did. So for us, we could eat enough to be full. It just wasn’t very good! Even though it was like that, we had a good life. It was very simple. We didn’t even get sick that much. Now we eat too much!
Today’s China and the China of that time are totally different.
We were very simple. It was totally one hundred percent different from today’s China. We really didn’t have any material things, and the education we got from a young age, everything was according to the state. Including you yourself, as a person you also belonged to the state.
You didn’t belong to yourself, you belonged to the government. My father, everything he did, he did as part of the Communist Party. From a young age, our education was that you don’t control your own self. When I think of that time, one’s own life, everything was planned and laid out. You would go study, then you would work. You couldn’t even own anything yourself.
Did you also live like this? First school, then work?
Did you go to university?
No, I didn’t do that. I just studied through elementary grade nine. For those who are my age in China, studying had no purpose. After school, we were part of the Red Guard.
Was this during the Cultural Revolution?
Yes. At that time, no one was studying. After I graduated from elementary school, I didn’t go back.
What did you do after school?
After elementary school, China had a period when the youth went “up to the mountains and down to the villages.” The young people went from the cities to the countryside to receive education. If you were from the city, you needed to go to the country to do hard work and receive an education from the country.
I went for one year. It was the very last period of sending people down. After that they didn’t send youth down and everyone returned to their homes. I went back home to work as well.
Did you have a concept of God?
When I was small in school, I didn’t have any freedom. I just wanted to achieve the goals of the Communist Party. From a young age I wanted this, because my dad was a member of the Communist Party, and they are atheist and say there is no god. You must depend on yourself. Only you yourself can decide, you must have ownership of yourself.
But at the same time, you also have limitations. In many things you can’t find the way to go. When you see others do things, everybody is cheating and duping one another. Everybody lies to one another, no one is honest. Whatever it takes for the other person to be happy, that’s what you would say. You would tell lies. It’s mutual: there’s no honesty.
I always felt there is no way to actually get along very well with others. Besides that, there’s this type of hatred, hostility.
Other people hurt you. They aren’t deserving of receiving trust. From a small age, inside myself, I felt this way.
Also, inside my home, we wouldn’t talk about anything having to do with faith. Everything religious, including Buddhism and Confucianism, was categorized as superstition. They were all evil, opposed to the way of the benevolent government.
At that time, if we knew that this family went to burn incense or that family went to worship, we would stop and tell them, “This is no good.” It’s not just that we ourselves didn’t believe in anything, we would also try to make others disbelieve. I had an atheistic worldview.
Did you ever think about these subjects yourself?
In all my education — at school, at home — there was never any concept of god.
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