By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
“Have mercy on me, O’ Beneficent One, I was angered for I had no shoes; Then I met a man who had no feet” (Chinese Saying, Oxford Book of Prayer).
Lots of Americans are talking about China today in light of the pandemic called, Corona Virus (CoViD-19). But, how well do we know about Chinese history, culture and people? Let me say first off, because in this day one has to so as not to offend anyone, that I believe that all people are created in the image of God regardless of stature, ethnicity, culture or geography. I proclaim with Saint Paul that “out of one blood came all nations” (Acts 17.26); that in this line of thought “racism” is impossible if this idea is true. The biblical doctrine of the “universal family of all people, ever” is one of my strong convictions. Having said that, when a certain country is critiqued it must be understood that its ideas are to be separated from its people. This is occurring, for example, when one calls CoViD-19 the “Wuhan Virus” or the “China Virus.” Here, one is not saying anything about China’s people, but simply locating the place of origin of a particular viral strain. Maps do exist. If I said, “rice eaters” or “slants”, then I am being racist and severely displeasing to Jesus Christ and would come under his judgment – which I don’t want. (“Orientals” “Asiatics” “Hops” “China-men” are also regarded as derogatory and should be avoided as terms). “Chinese” is perfectly acceptable, as is Asian-American, or Asian. “China” as a term is probably from the Persian/Sanskrit ‘cina’, and Pliny (first century, A.D.) used “asian”. Zhōngguó is the official name of the region used by the people, and the most popular language (there are several) is Mandarin, although that is being quite general.
Ronald Takaki colors the more or less nineteenth century attitude of politicians like Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri that is embarrassing for readers today. Benton served from 1821 to 1851 in the Democrat Party. ‘Manifest Destiny’ was a particular political and religious view of certain Americans (though not all) that saw America as bringing about a new heaven and new earth through expansion into the West. For Benton, this meant beyond California and into the Pacific islands and lands. This included China. Takaki writes, ‘Crossing the Rocky Mountains and reaching the Pacific, whites were finally circumnavigating the earth to bring civilization to the “Yellow Race”‘ – which is the term Benton used (Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: History of Multicultural America, Back Bay Books, 1993, p. 191). This went two ways: the Americans would venture into China, and the Chinese people would immigrate to America. Takaki, who was in part raised by his Chinese step-father (and his book is well worth the green to own), documents that the Chinese emigrant was not a slave. They were not brought over against their will but came of their own independence, escaping the mid-nineteenth century horrors under the Qing government (1644-1911 A.D.), the last Imperial government of China before the Republic of China, and now the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). The history of civil infighting and warlord factionalism within the borders of what is now mapped as China are unparalleled in terms of constant agitation. Coming to America was seen as a great relief.
As Chinese emigrants arrived (by the hundreds of thousands) in the late nineteenth century (California would not be where it is today, agriculturally speaking, if not for this), introduction to the Christian Religion was inevitable. Second, introduction (because of the sheer number) into America also meant Politics – and, unfortunately, Politicians. White Politicians. By and large the Californian Legislative racism which viewed the Chinese immigrants as “heathen” and “very little above the beast” did not fare well for them (Joshua Paddison, American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California, University of California Press, 2012, p.27). Enter one champion: William Speer, a Presbyterian Minister who was the first to speak the Gospel in their own language. Speer, who was a Missionary to the Californian immigrants, wrote, “It is a strange thing that we Americans have acquired the fashion of speaking of the Chinese with contempt and dislike. It is a fashion – and it should be changed” (William Speer, The Oldest and the Newest Empire: China and the United States, Harvard, 1870. p. 4). Compared to the Romans, the Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, and the Grecian, the Chinese supply the generation today with “Virtuous examples of their own ancestors who lived four thousand years ago” and have remained whereas these other Great Empires “are past and gone” (p. 22, op. cit.).
Speer heaps praise after praise, noting how the French and English admired the Chinese culture and people. “The coming of the Chinese to America is excelled in importance by no other event since the discovery of the New World” (p. 27). Indeed, the discovery of what would become America, was fueled by Christopher Columbus’ reading of Marco Polo’s description of China and its people. Calling the inhabitants “Indians”, Columbus meant “Chinese” since in Europe, Indians – those of Indies – were called such. Now, of course, Speer wrote under the theological idea of the grand design of Providence in evangelizing the Chinese to the Christian Faith, and he had great success in doing so when he first visited there in Canton, learning Cantonese, for four years (there was also Hudson Taylor). Coming back to California, he vigorously fought the Politicians for immigrant rights and protections, which was successful as well. Speer’s massive volume attempts to recount their history, and in that time it was quite common to understand the history of any peoples as stemming from “the solitary household that was saved in the ark when the world was drowned for its corruptions” (p.36 – such a refreshing outlook for me!). How the descendants of Noah and his family “threaded its way along the valleys of Jihon, the Yarkana, and the Hwang-ho into the territory of the present empire of China, no inspired chronicle relates” (p. 36). Keep in mind we are still in the 1870’s here.
Speer does not stop. He quotes other anthropologists and recounts Chinese traditions as well that relate of the first human beings made from clay. As well, there is clear documentation concerning the legend of Fuhi, often called the “Chinese Noah”, who made his way to the mountain of Chin, encircled by a rainbow after the earth was flooded. Several etymological sources derive the name Sin, one of the names listed in Genesis 10.17 which is often thought as being the Sinites, or Sianu in Assyrian records. Speer quotes Isaiah 49.12, “Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim“. The Hebrew noun is Sinim, which, as Hebraist Julius Fuerst noted, is “rightly understood as Sina or China” (Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, 1867, p.977). Before the wholesale infiltration of the alternate world view of Darwin and Lyle, this is how Christian anthropologists thought (rightly so). So, for Speer, the spread of the Gospel to the Chinese was viewed as prophecy being fulfilled. He was not alone in this.
We need to speed up things in terms of an extremely complex history of China. After the Qing Dynasty, what is now known as the Peoples Republic of China fell under the sway of the Communist writings of Lenin and Marx. Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) announced on the first day of October, 1949 the Peoples Republic of China. In an odd and strange fashion (what else is history but that?), the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1865) was led by Hung Hsiu-ch’uan, a Christian. Well, sort of. He believed that he was the brother of Jesus Christ. Mao Tse-tung, on the other hand, was influenced by German intellectual, Karl Marx. Neither Jesus, nor Marx were apart of Chinese history in terms of her then four thousand year traditions (see Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China: A History of the People’s Republic, The Free Press/MacMillan, 1977).
Confucius was born in the sixth century B.C. and his philosophy/worldview largely dominated Chinese culture. In the twelfth century A.D. Daoism and Buddhism were added. All of these views were attacked by the Communist Party of China (which existed before Mao Tse-tung). Christianity, from extant accounts, appears to have entered China in the sixth century A.D. It was introduced again in the thirteenth century, but “both times its constituency seems to have been prevailingly foreign and neither time does it appear to have won many converts from among the Chinese themselves” (K. S. Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume II Reformation to the Present, Harper and Row, 1975, pp. 938-939). This is not to say that Christianity vanished in the land. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Jesuits made firm inroads and the Roman Catholic Church was well established. Sun Yatsen (1866-1924) was Christian and established the Republic of China (1912). The internal factions never left, however. Several influences were competing with each other over how to best rule China for the Chinese. After Yatsen, Chen Duxiu and the Communist came into power, but not with total support. Another party, the Kuointang (the Nationalist Party), vigorously fought the Communists. This party was lead by Chiang Kai-shek. If anyone is familiar with the fifties in America and the “Red Scare” of McCarthyism, the collapse of Kai-shek to Mao (1949), establishing Communism to the present day in the land, colored the language of Whites when it came to viewing China and the Chinese (Griffin Fariello, Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition, Avon Books, 1995). Since the Soviets were our “allies” in the War, we favored them over Chiang Kai-shek (also an ally). When the uprising against him (led by Mao) was more or less supported by US withholding aid from Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party, China fell in 1949. For a completely different take on what happened, denouncing Communism and Socialism altogether on the basis of the fact that wherever it is allowed to flourish, disaster results is John A. Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason (Liberty Bell Press, 1964). Stormer shows how it was through America Liberals friendly to Leninism used clandestine methods (media) to paint a rosy picture of Chinese Communists. In reality, – as we later learned, Mao’s extermination machine made Hitler’s look like a picnic. On the Left, we never hardly hear of complaints of Communist extremes, because of their Socialist policies. Hitler, on the other hand, is always painted as a Right Wing Conservative (which he was not – at all). The point in all of this is is that in America, China is the go to source for defining “which side are you on” politics. Leftists praise China (in spite of a dismal human rights record, and environmental issues); the Right can demonize them as foul, atheist commies.
Kai-shek was, more or less, tolerant of the Christian missionaries, and a friend to the West. What one begins to notice is that whatever foreign influence, whether Western democracy (and its economics), Christianity, or Communism, the Chinese integrated them into their own way of seeing things as Chinese. Even Communism was not spared in that Mao’s definition was not that of Soviet Russia’s definition. Henry Kissinger utilized this fact in the famous meetings (Summits) between China and America under President Nixon. Walter Isaacson notes how an article in Life magazine reported on the Sino-Soviet clash (1969), and the editorial faulted the Soviets. Nixon, after reading the article, ‘jotted a note to be conveyed to the editor: “I completely agree”.’ After a series of attempts to meet, it finally came down to an American Ping Pong champion, Glenn Cowan, then nineteen years old (Walter Isaacson, Kissinger, Simon & Schuster, 1992, pp. 336-339). This was a major victory for Nixon, and for the launch of world diplomacy in a time when the Cold War and Viet-Nam were in full gear. By the end of the seventies, China’s economic condition was abysmal. Communism was not working for Russia or China, but we made an inroad to China instead of Russia.
There are major concerns when it comes to Communism and Religion. Communism is avowedly anti-religious. The untold millions of Christians that have been slaughtered by the hands of those in control and under the persuasion of Marx-Lenin is a history barely heard in America (for a summary and further research, go here). Nonetheless, from all reputable sources, Christianity is growing in what has been estimated as close to one hundred million (for an excellent book, see Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power by David Aikman, Regency Publishing, 2003). Aikman shows how the tenacity of Chinese “house churches” since Mao’s rise has stood firm over and against the State Church of the Communist Party. All attempts to suppress and oppress these churches – which have no Western denomination over them (the Chinese way) – have failed. See, if it is announced that the heavenly way of Jesus is to be established by Jesus on earth when he returns, then the philosophy that man will bring Utopia (Marxism) is false. Government is not the whole answer to Man’s Problem. For Communism, and indeed Socialism to work, Religion must either be controlled, or eradicated. For these ideologies to work, Government must dominate the social order in thought. Dissent from claims of an other-worldly Kingdom simply clash. Ask Pontius Pilate.
The current President, General Secretary, and Paramount Leader is Xi Jinping, whose father was killed during an attempt to radically reinforce Maoism (The Cultural Revolution as it was called). Since 2012, Jinping’s core belief is still what could be called Maoist in some ways. He has also been associated with the revival of the Qing Dynasty aspects when it comes to Chinese Nationalism. His “Chinese Dream” is not pure Marxism, or Communism, but is State run “collectivism.” It’s a post Marxism form of Socialism on a massive scale that has incorporated ideas that have to do with trade, commerce, and the success of the Chinese people, for the Chinese people at the guidance of the State. In a little book I purchased some time ago, the authors’, Hu Wenzhong and Cornelius L. Grove, noted that of one the three fundamental values of the Chinese, the first is Collectivism. “Collectivism is characterized by individuals subordinating their personal goals to the goals of some collectives. Individualism is characterized by individuals subordinating the goals of collectives to their personal goals” (Encountering the Chinese: A Guide for Americans, Intercultural Press, 1991, p. 5-6). That is a good snapshot. As I stated, the Chinese do not simply “borrow” another ideology, but rather make it their own for the benefit of the People, China. “Much of the process institutional change has taken place at the level of formal rules and regulations” which are constructed and applied “as a part of the grand strategy of national development” (Scott Wilson, Remade in China: Foreign Investors and Institutional Change in China, Oxford Press, 2009, p. 8). Technology, as witnessed in the city of Shenzhen under Deng Xiaoping (the Architect of Modern China), has exploded in China. Xiaoping theorized that China must enter a stage of economic growth which in turn would bring about the “social utopianism” of Marxist-Leninist thought. Thus, Marxist-Socialism is still in the driver’s seat, and the Chinese “experiments” with capitalistic concerns (inviting an open market of foreign investors) will show, so it is believed, that the Chinese Communists interpreted Marxism (and Engels) aright all along. Where the Soviet Union failed, China will succeed. What we have is Chinese Marxism.
Globalization is the name of the game these days. China recognizes this fact. To be accepted as players on the world stage, and to have respect as a people among the nations, China will indeed foster participation within the world, reforming itself if it is necessary (to some extent), yet always maintaining nationalism. One could say that Trump’s “America first” policies are akin to Xi Jinping’s: “China first”. Wilson notes how both countries utilize globalization, yet “hedge” when it comes to losing their own sovereignty (Wilson, cited above, p. 210). China’s massive military expansion is meant ” to enhance its clout in international affairs by making its security threat credible” (Wilson, 210).
This brings us to the idea of defense. Corona-virus, according to some, is a biologically engineered mutation at the hands of chemists. This also brings us to the fact that China does not want “the blame” for this recent pandemic. In fact, currently, it has shifted from the “it originated in Wuhan” story to a “we don’t know how it got in Wuhan” one. One must understand here that China is a nationalistic and proud country. The last thing they want is war, and the further last thing they want is blame. Who wants to be known as the country that has plunged the world into a pandemic? However, as a world stage player, they do want to be known as a country that can defend itself if necessary. And it can.
Two stories are emerging in terms of the origin of the corona-virus. One, it is the product of germ warfare. Two, it is the product of a happenstance chance that a “jump” occurred from an animal (the Chinese horseshoe bat – Rhinolophus sinicus) to a human by unsanitary means. Dr. Francis Boyle, a controversial University of Chicago College of Law professor (earning degrees from Harvard as well), is currently arguing that CoViD-19 is engineered. One can usually dismiss conspiracy crack pots. Dr. Francis Boyle is not a crack pot. The reports coming from non-State reviewed sources within China are also telling a different story. Again, this is not about the Chinese people. This is about an ideology rooted in what is called, Globalization of world powers. Boyle does not believe that China orchestrated this. It was an accident. His concern is that something like this was developed at all.
Boyle drafted the The Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 (BWATA). There it states, “any micro-organism, virus, infectious substance, or biological product that may be engineered as a result of biotechnology, or any naturally occurring or bioengineered component of any such microorganism, virus, infectious substance, or biological product, capable of causing death, disease, or other biological malfunction in a human, an animal, a plant, or another living organism; deterioration of food, water, equipment, supplies, or material of any kind or deleterious alteration of the environment” must be outlawed. And it is. So, if he is correct, who developed corona-virus 19?
With all of the technological breakthroughs and the massive uploading of knowledge via the internet, the sophistication of modern industry down to the irrelevance of Religion (which, depending on who you read is itself collapsing), we have a pandemic. And, that means death. Fear. Panic. We need a scapegoat: the Chinese! It does not matter to this Theologian where, or who, or how CoviD-19 came. I quoted a verse at the beginning of this blog from Acts 17, where in a first century Jewish rabbi name Paulus (or, Paul – his Jewish name is Shaul) stated that all peoples came from one blood. One family. That is was God, who after the flood, “determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation” (17.26). And, that it is God, therefore, who can get this family’s attention when he so wills all at once. Getting the flu, or a virus, is a common affair. Getting dead is a whole other thing. When technology is viewed as the answer to all things, it suddenly panics when death comes knocking. When we think we are in control and something like this comes along, we actually see how fragile we are. We are not as invincible as we thought. If we take the view of Globalization that there are several key players who are running the world (Conspiracy), then I take that a step further: God is running the world and is indifferent to or shows no favor of any key player or nation.
At the time of this writing, we are living in a period of uncertainty. This may pass, or it may not. But, as Osama Bin Laden has become part of our vocabulary, so has corona-virus. One didn’t hear much talk about SARS on the streets. The talk about AIDS is not what it was in the eighties. Those pandemics didn’t shut down our communities and churches. This one did. What will the next one do? None of the concerns of Politics could have braced us for this. Socialism, Capitalism, “made in China”, Republicans, Democrats, whatever. Suddenly, we took on a global concern. The Chinese are in this, too. And, for me, my Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ are affected. We also are questioning the idea of teleology: where is history going? This pandemic will without question change our policies with other nations; the outcome of which is unknown, but hopefully, it will continue to foster cooperation instead of ideological demarcation. It seems as if the Chinese have always had an idea of the Divine Heavens. Indeed, that they simply have ingrained in them what is ingrained in cultures all over the globe: a hope for humanity when all is said and done. Paul concluded his speech in Acts 17 with this: “For in Him we live and move and are…the offspring of God…[and] he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17.28-31). For Paul, this included a hope for a new heavens and a new earth; a Utopia made by God Himself. However, before such time, we have these occasional outbreaks of turmoil wherein we face uncertainty and death. Man’s attempts to take a stab at creating a better world can sometimes appear to us that all is right. Why would wrath break out? Well, all is not alright. If this is indeed God’s world, His Kingdom Realm, and all the players on His stage are not all acting in accords with His Empire, then He can suddenly get everyone’s attention. Not that everyone will heed this. Many will scoff and shake their fists. But, many will not. They will bow and confess, “Jesus is Lord.” “Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of China” said the Prophet. If this is where history – God’s unfolding Purpose for Humanity – is taking us (which seems to be the innate hope of even those who defy God) – then some aspects of this Future hurl us towards that Future in the Now. This is a time for service, courage, and a furtherance towards a beneficial love of Humanity for the sake of Christ – “racism” has no place, and neither does Politics. A transcendent view (what the Latin Theologian phrased, sub specie aeternitatis) is needed to “make sense” of the Global Picture. Man’s view from below doesn’t work.