Stories from Chinese Millennials – Interview with a Political Idealist, Part 1

Hannah Nation serves as the Communications and Content Director for China Partnership. She is studying Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and works part-time doing international outreach for her local church, Christ the King Presbyterian, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Though I have been trying to engage Chinese students for a decade, I still find myself learning about the world from which they come. Recently, I’ve been conducting a number of interviews with students I’m particularly close to. None of these students are professed Christians, though they are all in various stages of spiritual seeking. All are interested in the Bible and the Christian God and have been variously committed to Bible studies while in the United States.

Sometimes in my interviews with these students, their answers are so familiar – the words they speak echo the scores of similar answers I’ve heard over the years. But at other times, their answers are truly surprising, reminding me that what I as an American can learn and study about China, the Chinese worldview, and the experiences of Chinese people will still never fully prepare me for the individuals I face. Everyone’s story is unique, even given the cultural similarities and traits I recognize. Over the next couple of months I plan to share some of the interviews I’ve conducted on this blog.

For this third interview (you can read the first and second here), I spent time with a dear friend I’ll call Keith. Keith is an idealist through and through, and he is on a deep and convoluted search for answers concerning the true nature of government authority, democracy, and the structure of society. Of course all of this is rooted in Keith’s own personal search for meaning, even though he is slow to bring his heady and intellectual conversation down to the personal level. Yet in his countless conversations with my husband and myself, this is often precisely where his searching begins – understanding the needs and challenges of China according to the mysteries of the human heart.

How would you describe your childhood?

I think my childhood was very simple. I am the only child in my family, so I was raised by my parents very happily. I don’t think I have any very bad memories in my childhood.

I did very well in school and was always considered a very good student.

Did you live in the same place your whole childhood?

Yes. We lived near to my father’s factory.

Actually I don’t think I have anything more to say about my childhood. I was just like any one of the millions of children born in the 1980s in China.


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Let’s see if I can think of some more questions since I probably don’t know that much about Chinese childhood in the 1980s. What would a typical day look like in your childhood?

In junior school I would go to school at 7:30am and have four classes in the morning. Then I would play with my friends and classmates. I would go back home about 4:00pm and continue to play with my friends and do some homework.

Actually, how do you define childhood? What age do you mean?

Let’s say anything before eighteen years old.

Eighteen! Ok, I have more to say. I just thought childhood was before ten. But if it includes teenagers then I have more to say.

In high school it was so competitive. I think I spent almost all of my time on my homework and studying. Now when I recall my teen years, I have very few interesting memories because all my time was spent on homework.

Actually my father is taller than me, which is very unusual. But I think all of the work had a very bad impact on my height.

But I really did very well in school, so I went to a not bad college. But especially in high school I got very, very little sleep – maybe only six hours every day.

Was your high school in your hometown or did you have to travel to another town?

It was in the same town, but I had to bike for forty five minutes from my home to school.

What was your hometown like? Was it a big city or a small town?

It’s a mid-sized city.

My grandparents and aunts and uncles all live in the same town. I’m a local person. But I left my hometown at eighteen years old, so it seems a little strange now.

Did both of your parents work while you were growing up?

Yeah. They retired ten years ago.

Growing up what were you taught to believe in?

Yeah, this is an interesting question, because I think most Chinese students and young people will say that they were taught to believe in communism in school, but actually nobody believed this. It was just propaganda and everyone knew it. But my parents didn’t tell me to believe in any specific religion. I think most Chinese people, including me, did not have any special interest in any religion. Religious life is a very strange thing to me and I think to many Chinese people. This is part of the reason why I have been very interested in studying the Bible.

On the bad side, some parents will tell their children they should make money and money is everything. But my parents didn’t say that. They were not so greedy or materialistic. But I believe some of my friends have such consciousness about money.

Would you say they were taught to believe in money or just that it was very important?

In extreme cases money may be considered the most important thing for life.

What events in China have impacted you the most and why?

This is such a hard question. My memory begins from the 1990s. You know there is a very important event that happened in 1989, but I was only a very little boy. So I think it impacted a lot of Chinese people, but not me. I was too little.

After 1989 there have not been any very big events in China. If I must mention one I think… it’s really hard to say. Nothing has really impacted me. I always think life in China is so boring.

What is the happiest memory in your life?

I have asked myself this several times. Right now I think maybe my first love was my happiest time. I had a very short relationship with my first girlfriend. It happened in 2006, about ten years ago. It was my last year in college. At that time I didn’t think it was so beautiful, but now I think that was a very precious time, a very precious memory.

How did you meet her?

It’s a story.

I met her on a train going from my hometown to Shanghai, where I studied. She also studied in Shanghai, but she studied in another college. She was one year younger than me and was a friend of a friend. She we came together to go back to Shanghai at the beginning of the semester. That was my first time meeting her, but I didn’t start to pursue her at that time. I was too busy, because I was preparing for the entrance exam for graduate school. The next year I had passed the entrance exam and I had more time to do something else, so that spring I called her and asked her if she wanted to take the same train with me again and some other friends and she said yes. That’s when I began to pursue her. But it was only for a very short time – only three months. But because it was my first love it was very impressive.

What is the saddest memory in your life?

I think the saddest time happened after my graduation from graduate school. My first job was working as a civil servant in government. But soon I discovered it was a very boring job and because I worked in a confidential department, my freedom was limited. I was restrained from traveling abroad and from traveling to other provinces. So I decided to quite very quickly and it was really a war to quite. Both of my parents and all of my relatives rejected my decision. But I still insisted on quitting.

After I quit I went to Beijing. It was 2010 and a very cold winter in Beijing. I had no job and I had to live in my cousin’s living room on her sofa for seven months. I had no idea where my future was going. That year was a very tough year. It was my saddest time.

Do you regret that decision?

No! Never.

It was tough. Maybe I shouldn’t say it was a sad time, but it was really tough.

Have you been able to make peace with your family about the decision or does it continue to be a problem?

Actually my mom opposed it the most. As soon as she got the idea that I really wanted to quit, she came to Shanghai from home and I fought with her for one month. Finally I won and I think it was very much worth it. Because after that war my mom realized that I had grown up. She realized that I have the right to make decisions by myself. So after that I made some other decisions, like going to do a PhD, and my mom still disagreed with me, but she knew that she could not change my mind. So she expressed her opinion, but she didn’t oppose my decision like she did before.

So there are no serious fights between my parents and me right now. They have decided I can make my decisions by myself. 

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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Nanjing: A Relational Gospel
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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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