A reader sends this fascinating Ian Johnson interview with Pastor Yuan Zhiming, a Chinese dissident who converted to Christianity after Tiananmen Square, and who now, from his exile in America, is a one of China’s most influential cultural and spiritual leaders. From the interview:
I noticed that the pastors you chose to record for the series of sermons are all from the mainland. Why not from other parts of the Chinese-speaking world?
Most people on the mainland who are interested in Christianity don’t understand a lot of the vocabulary that others might use. They don’t get the Trinity or things like that. But I was an atheist for thirty-six years. I can use stories and reference points that non-believers can understand—when I talk about family life and how I used to fight with my wife. Or I talk about [the Communist hero] Lei Feng or make movie references. But maybe more important is the value system. I can say “I was like that in the past,” and they say, “Yes, that’s what I’m like now.”
The communists know there is this crisis, but they don’t want Christianity. They promote Buddhism or Daoism over Christianity, or they advocate Confucianism.
Because it’s Chinese. Mao is Chinese. Laozi is Chinese. Confucius is Chinese. Buddhism has been in China for a long time, so it’s treated as indigenous. But Jesus is universal. It’s being part of the whole world. This is a threat to the Party, because it wants to use nationalism to rule. Christians can’t believe in a Mao because they have a true God. If just 25 percent of Chinese became Christians, then China would be really different. The spirit of communism would be broken. It’s like a software program. If everyone uses the same software to think, they think alike.
The Communist Party has its software too.
Yes, definitely. They make everyone use it, from elementary school onwards. Every child learns it, so it’s hard to change. But we have to do this. We need to change this nationalistic patriotism, and change it to Christianity. But this change will be peaceful and soft. The Communist Party shouldn’t worry. It won’t be violent. It’s better than the Party being thrown out of power or collapsing.
Here is an interesting fact about Pastor Yuan: he was formally trained in Christianity at a Reformed seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. And now the product of a seminary in a poor state that is the punch line for jokes from people elsewhere in America is now one of the most influential people in one of the two most important countries in the world.
Awesome. You never know, do you?