China and the Church in China, Part 1: Genesis

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Editor’s note: Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers. This pastor is currently studying at a seminary in the States, but plans to return to China once his studies are complete. You can read the rest of this series here: part 2, part 3, part 4.

As I prepared to share my story, I was overwhelmed and said, “Send someone else. Please. Who am I?” But then I remembered Moses. When Moses asked God to send someone else, God told him, “I made you. I will be with you.” I need the gospel. I come here not because of myself.  God can use any broken vessel, and he can use me, a unique and broken vessel, to share about China and the church in China. I add one thing: me. 

It is good to tell stories. My six-year-old daughter can recite her favorite book almost by memory. We are the same as kids; we need stories, too. So I will use my story, the details of my personal experience, to give you a lens to look at what China is, and what the church in China is.

I use the word “Genesis” to describe the period from 1979 to 1989. Why begin in 1979? Because I was born in that year, the year the Chinese government initiated the one child policy. Our generation is known as the generation that never saw our pregnant moms. My wife was also born in that year. Before 1979, China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution and planned economics. Before that year, it was darkness, chaos, and emptiness. But in 1978 and 1979, China underwent economic reform and opening, and started market economics. I define 1979 as the genesis, the beginning. 

Another reason 1979 was so important was because of the college entrance exam. This had a big influence on my family, because my dad took the entrance examination so he could go to college. He went from being a manual laborer to a university professor. A lot of the people who lived in Shanghai, especially those of my dad’s generation, went through the ten-year darkness of the Cultural Revolution. For those people, the college entrance exam was a life-changing event. They saw it as the only fair play in China. Even today, my dad is not a Christian, in large part because he is so grateful to the Communist Party for re-starting the exam and allowing him to change his life. 

The exam was first offered again in 1977, but my dad didn’t take it that year, because he was still doing hard labor. He took the exam in 1979, when my maternal grandfather told him, “If you pass the exam, you can marry my daughter.” Obviously, you can see how big this was. My dad worked hard, and through his personal merit, he made it. Because my dad passed the exam, I exist! It is hard for people in my parents’ generation to understand grace. They worked hard to earn things, and they succeeded.


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I was born in a university. My grandfather, the one who told my dad he could marry my mom only if he passed the exam, was a history professor at [a prestigious university] in Shanghai. This was also the university I attended. At the beginning of each semester, the school welcomes new students from all over the world. All the nations and all the races and all the languages come to the university, and they were greeted by a statue of Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong. In those years, almost every single university had a statue of Mao Zedong.

Because I was born at a university, I will share what I saw and experienced as a kid, born and raised in that setting. A professor I know told me that in the States, the things that happen in the university influence the world in twenty years. But in China, we don’t need twenty years. It happens right away. This makes a dream.

The term “Chinese dream” has been used widely for five or six years, but even as a child, I knew there was a dream. All the young people had dreams of attending university, equipping themselves, and changing the world. My generation is different from those who experienced the Cultural Revolution: we are a new era. As a child, I saw young, energetic people come to the university. My dad was a professor in the university, my granddad was a professor in the university, and my mom worked in the university. There were many students from all over the world, talking about their dreams. It was exciting!

On the other hand, I now realize we were living in someone else’s dream. The government controlled what we could know and what we could not, and we did not think critically. There is a famous soldier from the People’s Liberation Army called Lei Feng. Every kid in China knows who he is. Every year on March 15, we studied the way he lived, because he is celebrated as a role model. Lei Feng did many good deeds. He read Chairman Mao’s book every day, and there are countless pictures of his actions posted in primary, middle, and high schools across China. Lei Feng was a kind of super man. Every kid wanted to be like him. 

But nobody tried asking how all those pictures were taken? It seems like every time Lei Feng did something good, there was a photographer beside him. For instance, if he was reading Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in the middle of the night, he needed a flashlight to see—yet there are photos! In my childhood, I never considered these things. We were living in someone else’s dream. We were told what we should know. Our dream was to go college and fulfill someone else’s plans.

Gen. 11:4 says: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Everyone has a dream. We do not know where the dream comes from, but we have a dream and want to be somebody—even though we do not know who, exactly, we want to be. We are given examples and are told: be like Lei Feng, be like this hero or model.

This was the first ten years of my life.

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Further Reading

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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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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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Stories from Xiamen

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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Stories from Nanjing

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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