Last week Nate pointed to some of the entries on my other blog about my visit to China. Far from being an expert on China, most of what I know was learned during that week, often from tour guides or Chinese law students and professors. On the other hand, merely being in a place results in a type of learning not available in books. How many words would it take to describe the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that accompany a trip to the Silk Market? Or the experience of standing atop the Great Wall? I can show you pictures of the food in Beijing’s Night Market, but unless you have had a similar experience, it is very difficult to imagine being offered centipede or silkworm. An essential aspect of the experience simply cannot be articulated. Perhaps this is the reason that I find guidebooks so much more interesting after the visit.
Often during my trip, I wondered when Mormon missionaries would be allowed to proselyte in China. The topic of religion arose only once in my discussions with Chinese students, and it caused enough discomfort among them that I decided to refrain from pushing the issue. Indeed, the only evident display of religion — unless you classify Mao worship as religion — during my time in China was found in the Lama Temple, pictures of which appear here. (By the way, having almost completed a year of Old Testament study in Seminary at the time of my visit, I was struck by the similarity in worship between these Buddhists — incense, chanted prayers, golden idols — and the ancient Israelites.)
Which brings me back to the original part of this post, the part about learning that which cannot be articulated. My sense of the Chinese people whom I met was that they are extremely proud of their heritage and extremely confident in their future. Their massive population alone — a fact often noted, as if to remind upstart Americans where the real power on this planet resides — seems to provide them with a sense of destiny. Why would these people, with no tradition of Christianity, embrace the Gospel? I left China with the impression that a dramatic change would be required to bring China to the Gospel feast. Russell’s comment below, about the need for some people to change their cultural assumptions, comes to mind.
My only other experience with this sort of issue comes from my service as a missionary in Vienna in the early 1980s, when the Iron Curtain still looked impenetrable. If you had told me at the time that the countries behind the Iron Curtain would have full-time proselyting missionaries within a decade, I am not sure I would have believed it. That change, of course, was prompted by the massive social dislocation that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union. It is hard for me to imagine changes in China without similar events.