Stories from Chinese Millennials: Interview with a Disappointed Dreamer, Part 2

Hannah Nation serves as the Communications and Content Director for China Partnership. Prior to joining CP, Hannah worked for close to a decade in campus ministry with Chinese students. She is a graduate of Covenant College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Last year I spent time interviewing a group of Chinese graduate students I regularly met with for Bible study. With the permission of those interviewed, I published a series called “Stories from Chinese Millennials” – this is a late addition to that series. None of the students interview were professed Christians, though they are all in various stages of spiritual seeking, and all have now returned to China. 

Though I have worked with China for a decade, I still find myself learning about the world from which my friends come. Sometimes in my interviews with these students, their answers were so familiar – the words they spoke echoed the scores of similar answers I’ve heard over the years. But at other times, their answers were truly surprising, reminding me that what I as an American can learn and study about China will still never fully prepare me for the complexity of each individual’s life. Everyone’s story is unique, even given the cultural similarities and traits I recognize. 

For this interview, I spent time with a young woman I’ll call Maggie. Maggie took life very seriously and “grew up” in many ways during her year studying in the United States. Even the way she dressed and presented herself altered – arriving in fairly typical undergrad styles and leaving in the dress coats and heels of a recent business school graduate. Maggie was always pleasant to be with and often acted as the wise older sister to the group of roommates she spent time with. She also had many deep sorrows in her life that she closely guarded. She only started to open up about them to me in the last few months of her time abroad.

Maggie’s description of her understanding of God and her attraction to Christianity is one of the clearest articulations of a Chinese seeker’s ideas I’ve encountered. The life experiences she recounts in last week’s blog post are a vital background to what she discusses here. I hope her interview can help you better understand why so many Chinese are attracted to the idea of religion, and why so many still struggle to accept the Christian gospel. Ministry with China’s people remains a complex and challenging field, and it is vitally important that the gospel which we preach makes clear that grace alone – not any good work we do – is what saves us. 

How did you become interested in studying Christianity?


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A very straightforward reason is because I know you and [your husband]. You are both very nice people and I enjoy talking and hanging out with you. I like to know what you are thinking and the way you see this world. 

I wanted to get a better understanding of the cultural differences. China is a country which lacks religion. I wanted better knowledge about you and about the U.S. That opened the door for knowing about Christians.

Later on, it was kind of selfish. I had a slight wish that maybe God can give miracles to people’s lives. If I do good things will the good influence be put back on my mom? If I help others, maybe God, in some corner where I cannot see, maybe he will say, “Oh, this girl does good things.” So then he would bless me. It is kind of selfish! Maybe it’s ridiculous, but that is the true starting point of my interest in Christianity.

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If I do good things will the good influence be put back on my mom?

But I have to say, if you want to promote [Christianity] in China, it may be difficult. As [someone I know] said, if Chinese people believe in a religion, it’s very probable it is because this religion can benefit them, make them better off, bring them fortune, or a child, or love. They believe it because you gave them something to prove you are powerful. If that weren’t so, Chinese people wouldn’t buy it. They wouldn’t believe. This is very realistic. It’s money-oriented. Their motivation is not as pure as you guys.

This situation can be partly explained by history. In Western countries, such as in Europe or North America, citizens believe in their religion because of a solid foundation and tradition. Your parents believed in it, so it is easier to understand. People tend to be influenced by their parents and grandparents and believe what they do. In China, we don’t have this foundation and basis for belief. It would be hard to start. But everything has a start! The development of Christianity in China is growing, but there is still a very long way to go. 

So the first reason [Christianity would be hard to spread in China] is from the perspective of citizens. Another reason is from the perspective of society and government. Religion—no offense, this is my personal opinion—is a tool that politicians and government manage or use to run society. If religion brings benefit to them, makes their governing easier, makes society stable, makes people less aggressive, then the government will agree with it. 

Have you seen House of Cards? I don’t think Frank [the main character, a politician] believes in Jesus. Not at all. In a politician’s eyes the most valuable thing is power. Everything serves power. So if religion is a tool which can help them govern, they will permit or promote it. But if not, maybe they would not terminate it, but they would not support it. It would be hard if the government did not promote Christianity.

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Religion is a tool that politicians and government manage or use to run society.

What do you find difficult to accept about the Christian religion or to accept about Christianity?

From the very start of our education we were taught to believe in materialism, not idealism. My textbooks told me: believe what you see. If you cannot see it, you’d better not believe it. 

But religion is more idealistic. When we first meet this, it conflicts with what we previously believed. The first reaction may be challenging or confused. We have thousands of questions, especially for those who are older than us. Our parents are fifty years old. In their life experience, they have never heard or seen God; they’ve already been shaped. It’s hard for them to change their opinions.

For me, sometimes I feel it is unfair. If God is really so smart and so fair, why do bad things happen? Why do bad people do so well? Most of the time, we believe that if you do good, you receive good. But the reality is that a lot of bad guys are doing very well. It’s not fair or right.

And the third difficulty is I’ve been watching the Oscar winner for best movie, Spotlight. It gave me a negative impression of religion. Why do bad things happen to people who are so young, so nice? The bad guys initially seem like good people—they get the power, they get a command from God—but they do really bad things. It has a detrimental effect on the integrity or reputation of Christians.

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We have thousands of questions, especially for those who are older than us.

What do you find attractive about Christianity?

I talked about this with [a friend]. He said when he was very young, he didn’t really believe in Christianity, but as he grows older, he finds when things happen in life, they comply with what God says in the Bible. For example, if you do good things, you receive good results. 

This really happens. It happened a lot of times in my life, too. When I face a choice to be good or bad, I choose to be good. Maybe in the short term I will not have a benefit, or maybe I will even receive some losses in the short term. But in the long term, I will be better off. This complies with what my father told me: people should consider others. You should be generous and kind. Maybe in the short term you will lose some money, you will not get the maximum profit. But in the long term, you will win people’s respect with your reputation, and then you will be better off. 

These things comply with Christian principles. In these moments, I feel Christianity makes sense. It really does have an influence. Maybe it’s true, and God is watching what you are doing. Acting based on integrity will be worth it. If you do bad things, and no one on earth sees it, but God sees it, in the end you will pay a price. You must watch your actions and be careful what you do, even if no one is there.

Another thing [I find attractive about Christianity] is from Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee. It describes a boy who survived a very incredible journey. I think this is the power of God. If you are in a desperate situation, but still have faith, I think God will save you. There are a lot of things in our lives that can’t be explained by science. Those are miracles designed by God. 

So movies have also had a positive effect on my opinion of Christianity. They have shown me both sides and helped me to understand things from a more complete perspective.

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Maybe it’s true, and God is watching what you are doing.

If you believed in Jesus, what do you think would change about your life?

I think I would be better.

If I believed in Christianity, I would be totally a disciple of God. I would obey what God tells me to do, and from this perspective I think I would have better relationships with others. In the long term, it would give me some surprises. 

When I am in a desperate situation, it may give me strength or power to overcome those difficulties. I think the hard part is, if things did not go the way I expected, it would undermine my belief. I think this reaction is very natural. If something goes the way you think, it strengthens your belief in that thing. But if things develop in the opposite direction, your faith may shake. You may not be as faithful as before. 

If I become a Christian, I would do a lot of charity.

In America, during the process of dealing with Christian people like you and others I met in church, I found dealing with you guys makes me feel very comfortable, very relaxed. I would treat others the way you have taught me how to treat people around me. I would be more open-minded, more generous, more peaceful. 

I don’t know. Maybe if I could have stayed here for a longer time I would have a better understanding of Christians. 

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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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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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