Jillian Kay Melchior:
…But Christianity’s biggest legacy may be its restoration of the nation’s fractured civil society. China’s Christians, I observed, feel compelled to change every aspect of their lifestyle once they convert. They are radical in their dedication to service. They define themselves by the way they change their own lives and the lives of others. And that has a cultural impact.
It’s hard for a Westerner to understand just how morally destructive communism has been. Famine drove many to thievery, and neighbors murdered or beat neighbors under the guise of revolutionary heroism. One simply doesn’t ask elderly Chinese about the sixties; some speculate the whole generation has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Interviewing migrant workers at the Beijing West Railway Station earlier this year, I met an old man with twisted hands and a compelling face who was willing to talk about his life. He briefly referenced the Maoist era, and I pushed the topic. His friend nearly slapped the chopsticks out of his hand-there’s peer pressure to stay silent, too. And earlier this year, a sixty-one-year-old official in Jinan, Shandong Province made international news when he printed an apology-“despite huge family pressure,” as media accounts noted-for acts of violence he had committed as a teenage Red Guard.
The enduring ethic from this era became self-preservation at all costs. Older generations view money as the only guarantor of safety, and younger generations were raised to revere wealth. Greed is prolific, and power is envied and abused. Occasional horrific news stories hint at the me-first legacy of Maoism: A toddler was run over by a car, and no one stopped to help; a greedy company put melamine in milk destined for baby bottles; a Red Cross worker apparently pilfered funds meant for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, spending the money on designer bags and fancy cars.
Christianity becomes an appealing answer. Both Catholic and Protestant churches are extraordinarily charitable, creating communities by engaging in philanthropy and social work. They also forge kinship in China’s urban centers, where mass migration has left many feeling isolated. These developments, though not directly political, have the potential to change China by addressing some of the most fundamental material, emotional, and spiritual needs of its people.
And, to bring it full circle, Chinese Christians are now sending missionaries of their own. They’re avid proselytizers within their own borders, spreading the Word across provinces. Many feel a special calling to bring the Word back to the Middle East; others become unintentional missionaries as their work carries them to the West and beyond. Christianity has become Chinese. Now, its converts are paying it forward.
Eager to mature, reluctant to specialize;
Relishing youth, yet longing for the security—status—stability
Of a life already established,
Of choices already made.
And are we all keen to know who we are
Because we identify identity with milestones
Like degree, career, spouse, children?
Do we hurtle forward, toward what is not yet
So we can grasp the power of shaping something,
Destiny, they may call it,
With our own hard work, supposedly,
As it survives fate’s inescapable fists?
Do we even want to go back to those years,
Those ages associated with certain opportunities?
Make up your mind: which set of chances beckons more
And if each is too different to compare
Why keep dragging yourself back into the past?
Track: Young and Beautiful
Artist: Lana Del Rey
Album: The Great Gatsby (Music From Baz Luhrmann's Film)
I want to know why you loved her, and why you didn’t. What went wrong, who gave you bad advice? Who felt the branches frosting, the first victims of winter? I want to hear you tell her story, and catch yourself when you make a verbal slip—then realize you meant to make that slip, inviting me to question you about it. I want you to want to share, share yourself.