How I Have Been Shaped by China: Part 2

Ryan moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China, at the age of twelve, and has lived in three U.S. cities and two different continents since then. Ryan received his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently serving as a church planting resident at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, his US hometown. Before moving to Boston for seminary, Ryan lived in Washington D.C. for seven years, first as a student at Georgetown University and later working for a law firm. It was during his time in D.C. that Ryan met his wife, Abigail, who shares his love for history and classical music. In his free time, Ryan likes to watch Chinese dramas, cook, swim, and listen to Beethoven.

In my previous post, I shared how China has shaped me to remember the struggles of our past and rejoice in the resurgence of the past two decades. But I must admit that behind this phenomenal effort to make China great again, there are also many people who were overlooked and neglected. Although at times, I, too, wanted to ignore and overlook them – because they are a smack in the face of our hard-won national pride – my faith in our Lord Jesus Christ has opened my eyes to see these people and grieve for them. As I have begun to see and interact with them, they have fundamentally shaped my own beliefs. I certainly do not pretend to speak for all the Chinese people that have felt left behind by their own country; I only want to offer here a glimpse of some people that I have come to know.

When I traveled back to China in 2011, I witnessed the astonishing growth of my hometown Guangzhou. I also traveled up north to the ancient capital of Xi’an and climbed Mount Hua, one of the tallest mountains in China, but the images that were seared most deeply in my mind were moments of sharp contrast between wealth and poverty. I remember an elderly lady picking through the trash in the middle of Guangzhou’s busiest shopping street, while no one paid attention to who she was or what she was doing. I couldn’t forget the image of two tall residential skyscrapers right next to a dark, crumbly apartment building. I watched an old man in his 70s climbing up the steep steps of Mount Hua, while two heavy loads of food weighed on his shoulder by a bamboo stick. He was one of the locals hired by businesses and restaurants to ferry merchandise up the mountain to satisfy the demands of thousands of tourists each day. Too often in Chinese society, extreme poverty and extravagance exist side-by-side, providing a visible contrast between those who benefited from China’s recent prosperity and those who are left behind. 

I have a relative who came to the United States in 1990. He was extremely fortunate to be able to leave the country because only a year earlier, he was part of a national student protest movement that eventually culminated in the Tiananmen Affair on June 4, 1989. He came as a poor international student, earned several masters degrees from American universities, and is now earning a six-figure salary from his home. By both Chinese and American standards, he has made it to the Promised Land, but it would not take long for anyone to notice the anger and bitterness he feels toward China. He was part of a youth movement filled with hope and pride for their own country, only to have their hope and pride dashed overnight as their country turned the guns on them. Disillusioned by this event, he carried his distrust for authorities overseas and trusted only in his hard work and money. Although many have drifted overseas and come to faith in Christ, many more are still trapped in their anger and bitterness. 

Thanks to WeChat, I’ve been able to reconnect with many of my classmates from elementary school. Some of them have studied overseas and are having successful careers, while others are hoping to catch the wave of prosperity and make a decent living. But material wealth has not removed the doubts that cloud their sky: can we ever make enough money to afford our own home? What is happening to the moral fabric of our society? Is material pursuit all there is to our lives? While they are not overlooked in the same way as the first two groups of people – in fact, China may even point to them as models of prosperity – they have a hunger that no material wealth has yet able to satisfy. Each time I go back and meet up with them, our conversations quickly turn spiritual and reflective, and not by my own doing. As they hear about my life in America, and know that I am a Christian, it does not take long for them to genuinely ask, “What is missing in our lives here?”

All of these people have been overlooked by the rise of China in different ways. Some of them are neglected and disillusioned by their country’s actions, while others have lingering doubts about the direction in which they are heading. Whether they are busy scraping together a living or adding to what they already have, China’s gospel of prosperity and international respect have little impact on the poverty of spirit in their lives. This material gospel has not only failed to fulfill the spiritual hunger in their hearts, but it has also sacrificed on its altar the many traditional virtues that held Chinese civilization together for millennia. 

China has risen to be an economically rich country, but it lacks rich social and moral fabric; the alarm bell rang through the hollow body of a little innocent girl. In the early evening of October 13, 2011, a two-year-old girl nicknamed Little Yueyue was playing outside her family’s hardware store in Foshan, China. She was run over twice by different vehicles. As she lay injured in the middle of the street for nearly ten minutes, security cameras captured at least eighteen different pedestrians passing by and ignoring her. Some stepped around her, some spotted her and picked up their pace, one motorcyclist stopped, looked at her, and kept going.  When she was finally discovered and taken to the hospital, it was already too late. The two-year-old girl died of her injuries eight days later.

This incident stirred reactions across China. Many saw it as a sign of the apathy and moral depravity in modern Chinese society, while others reflected on what they would have done in that situation. As it shook the conscience of the Chinese people, even up to the highest levels of government, almost everyone was forced to ask, “What has happened to the souls of the Chinese people?”

And yet this incident also brought me back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5. The 19th pedestrian that evening was a 55-year-old lady named Chen Xianmei. She saw Little Yueyue lying on the street and quickly went over to remove her from danger while searching for her parents. After Little Yueyue was taken to the hospital, Chen visited her parents and even offered the family money to help with the medical bills. Chen was not wealthy or educated. Out of all the pedestrians that evening, she was perhaps the poorest. She was a garbage collector on her way to collect more cardboard papers to sell. Like the little girl lying on the road, she was perhaps often overlooked and neglected by people. Like the Good Samaritan, she was perhaps not well respected by her own society, but in her own poverty she saw the poverty of another, and in her act of compassion, she reminded a nation what has been lost in the pursuit of wealth and success. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). These individuals are overlooked by their society in different ways, but they shared the same poverty in spirit, and our God calls them blessed. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” that far supersedes any prosperity and international respect. Our Lord laid down everything, including his own heavenly glory, so that the imperishable treasures of his kingdom can be given to the poor. Jesus was condemned, betrayed by his own friend and neglected by his followers, to demonstrate God’s faithfulness toward the disillusioned and embittered. Jesus took men upon himself and they weighted him to the ground, so that we may rise and hear God’s cheer and love for us as his children.

I rejoice for China and I grieve for China, and I pray, I pray, I pray for the people in China, that “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)


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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the 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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