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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Christianity In China

Christianity In China

Dear Sir,

Carl Telford's letter in last week's Salient had me in fits of laughter because of the utter naivety of his views. It seems that some Western Christians just cannot understand why everyone throughout the world doesn't leap on the Church's bus as it goes speeding by. Just as many peasants in Asian and Latin America hate resented foreign "experts" coming in and telling them what to do, so the Chinese have rejected the arrogant Carl Telfords of this world trying to tell them of the way, the truth and the life engendered by a hocus-pocus belief that was responsible for much of their acceptance of the old repressive system.

Carl's Western-centred mentality is obvious by his picking out the Christians in China as a good example of a persecuted group. According to Joseph Needham in a U.S. National Council of Churches bulletin the highest proportion of Christian Chinese at any point in the 20th century has been 0.35% of the total population. But, if you're working on the assumption that eventually that 0.35% will convert the other 99.65% of heathens to the right way of thinking then I suppose dwelling on Christian persecution is quite important.

However, because of Carl's obsession with the "red tide" he forgets to analyse the real (and not the imagined) history of the churches in China. Many religions have had an important role to play in the making of modern China. Confuscianism crumbled with the overthrow of the empire in 1911; Taoism and Buddhism were left behind by the less meditative but more dynamic thrust of Western science; Islam survives in a racial minority; Christianity, which many missionaries expected to sail home on the "West wind" of Europe's technological superiority succeeded only in identifying itself with foreign imperialism, and was rejected by a generation that demanded total political [unclear: chan] as the only remedy for China's chaos.

The Christian missions played quite an important role in the formation of modern China, and they still cannot understand why the Communists hate them so bitterly. Did they not run schools, orphanages, hospitals nad other charitable organisations? Did they not do all in their power to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick, and to educate the people?

To the Chinese, who saw them come in on the apron strings of the foreign powers in their numerous attempts to rob, plunder and exploit the people, they were merely the softening-up process before the permanent bondage set in. This sweeping condemnation was an accumulation of many minor details such as the excessive respect paid to missionaries - even up to 1923 Chinese Christians would prostrate themselves before priests. Other annoyances were the custom Of giving Chinese converts European names, and the fact that European languages were used as a medium of instruction in mission-run schools (similarities with South Africa?)

The obvious conclusion was that through a programme of cultural aggression, the Chinese were being trained to work for Europe and not for China. The Christians in general had supported the corrupt regime of Chiang Kaishek and had acted as secret agents for the Americans (the Catholic Legion of Mary was especially active in this area).

So, when the Chinese had a chance to rise up and to take control of their environment, one of the first institutions to be hit was the church. The Church's power was established under European guns and with European money, and played a major part in the whole humiliating story of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a story that the Chinese never forgot.

The Churches play an objective role in all societies - they can either be promoting the cause of the oppressor, or promoting the cause of the oppressed. When a church has worked in the interests of the oppressors for centuries then it is highly unlikely that it will change its spots overnight. Parts of the Cathollic church did and were subsequently excommunicated by the Vatican for "co-operating with Communists". I do not agree with unnecessary killings and violence in any situation, but in the case of the Chinese people and the Christian Churches I can understand the reasons for it occurring.

So when Carl Telford decides to burble on about "human rights" and "Christians being murdered in their beds" again. I hope he takes some time out to investigate the circumstances that motivated such actions to occur.

Yours religiously,

John McKenna.

Thanks for your letter John. I'd refer Carl Telford to a publication "Christian Faith and the Chinese Experience"published in September 1974 by Pro Mundi Vita.