Lao She belonged to the banner social class of China's Qing Dynasty. His father was a bannerman that was considered among the elite forces of the Qing military. Although the banners enjoyed all kinds of privileges, it was a precarious time and the status of the Qi class was also divided. The situation got worse. Lao She's father died in the war when the Allied Eight forces went to Beijing to burn the Yuanmingyuan Palace. After his father's death, the family situation became difficult and had to rely on his mother to sew clothes for a living.
This backdrop influences the two features of Lao She's works:
1. The concern for the population at the bottom. Lao She's family was poor so his neighborhood and playmates were also from the lower class, which had become the main source of his works;
2. Lao She's strong nationalistic views, his vigilance and independence against foreign missionaries at that time. This is seen in his acknowledgement of Christianity at the same time that the church in Beijing changed hands from the London Mission Society to Chinese. Lao She joined the Christian Church in order to properly participate in the process of the sinicization of the church. On the other hand, it was also an acknowledgement of the Christian faith and the modern culture behind it.
Although Lao She was a Christian, was baptized in the church in the city of Wagang, and actively participated in the social causes of Christianity at that time, he was not superstitious about Christianity and always maintained his own cool and independent mind, and did not as many Christians at that time did only respect foreign missionaries.
In his works, he criticized, satirized, praised and acknowledged Christianity. He depicted both those who have the spirit of Jesus, such as camel man Xiangzi, brother Black Li, but also sneers at Christians and even priests, such as Lao Zhang in Lao Zhang's Philosophy, Zhao Si, Priest Yi in "Two Mas" and Priest Niu in "Under the Red Flag".
"Two Mas" tells the story of the old father Ma and his son and the Wendu mother and her daughter, both in love and in life. It criticizes the laziness of the Chinese and cultural discrimination of China by theforeign missionaries. Priest Yi in the novel is an English missionary, but he is a priest who is lives contrary to the biblical teachings, and is hypocritical and arrogant. The author poignantly satirizes him in his work. Pastor Yi has been in China for more than twenty years, and knows China very well, like being called a Chinese encyclopedia. However the purpose of his understanding of China is not only to preach, but also to change China to become a British nation as soon as possible. "When he can't sleep in the middle of the night, he always prays that God quickly calls China to become a British nation. With warm tears in his eyes he tells God this. Had it not been the British administration over the Chinese, these dark-haired yellow creatures could in no way enter Heaven."
At that time, the attitude of Western missionaries towards China and even the whole East is generally a kind of cultural and ethnical discrimination - this in Bingxin's novel "Photos" is frequently described through Li Tianxi's narration. The actual situation is also true that the missionaries believe that Chinese culture is a culture that guides to hell, i.e., only converting to Christianity can be saved from hell. This is particularly evident in the Inland Missionary which is represented by Mr Hudson Taylor.
On the issue of education reform, for example, Xie Weilou said bluntly, "Education in China in the future is a great force. The Christian Church must let it serve God or the devil Satan will use it against God." (Wang Lixin, American Missionary and The Modernization of China in the Late Qing Dynasty)
The old Ma, named Ma Zeren, is a Christian who graduated from a church school and has to come to London because he needs to inherit his brother's legacy. As life in London is not familiar to him and his English is poor, he can only entrust the returning pastor Yi for the rent. In renting, Pastor Yi showed discrimination against Chinese. Pastor Yi was personally addicted to alcohol, but had to maintain his image. When entertaining old father Ma and his son, he says to the father and son that he won't drink and he doesn't drink, but he takes the initiative to take out the wine glass, "When he is drinking in China, he always does it secretly lest the parishioners see. Today, to drink with the father and son, he has an excuse."
Ma Zeren and Alexander drink in London and old Ma gets drunk like a heap of mud lying in the street. Alexander is therefore sternly scolded by Pastor Yi, "How very easy it is to bring a Chinese believer! So easy, isn't it?! He was made a drunk cat by Alexander! I've got too many people to be converted yet he gives me destruction! We teach people to read the Bible yet he pours liquor on them!" So, in front of Chinese believers, he has to pretend to be dignified and gentle, but, in his inner being in places that no one else can see, he indulges himself."
Pastor Yi's this two-sided image is described by the author as: "When giving a sermon, his two small yellow eye balls stare in one direction. Wearing his glasses and with his thin lips pulled down, it really makes people shudder without uttering a word. However, when greeting people he is really very kind."
Priest Yi in "Two Mas" is hypocritical and completely inconsistent with Christian teachings and the author satirizes this image of some missionaries by portraying their hypocrisy.
On the other hand, Priest Niu in "Under the Red Flag" comes to China purely for finding a way to change his own unappreciated sidekick identity.
Before he came to China, he also preached in the United States because "nothing else could be done". So preaching was just a last resort. He didn't mix well in America, so he wasn't interested in China either.
However, his second-rated uncle couldn't stay in the United States because of theft and so went to China to sell opium. After having made a fortune and returning home, he was crowned as the "China Encyclopedia" by his neighbors who originally looked down upon him. Priest Niu, who worries about the next meals really can't make a living. So he listens to his uncle's advice, "It's time to go to China! Here, you can't even eat roast turkey at Christmas, but you can eat fat hens and big eggs every day there. Here you can never afford to hire a servant but there you can hire two, one maid, one butler. Go ahead!"
In dreaming of making a fortune, he comes to Beijing and soon realizes his dream, "He's got his own small house with two servants, a maid and a butler. Hens and eggs are so cheap as he has Christmas almost every third day. He begins to gain weight."
But there is a conflict between the dream of making a fortune and preaching because preaching is different from selling opium. Yet he cannot fail to preach as no preaching means a loss in the physical, so his enthusiasm is always up and down.
Pastor Niu comes to China with the mind to make a fortune. In order to make it, he's got to be hard to on the Chinese to make them obedient. Those who have come to China not for missionary purposes are in the majority. The so called missionaries, in order to improve their own marginalized status, come to China in the name of preaching for dreams of wealth. Liang Qichao (translator's note: a famous Chinese scholar at that time) had some similar comments.
Mr. Lao She uses a calm tone in his writings to show his observations about various missionaries and believers. However Lao She's criticism of the ugliness occurring in Christianity does not mean that he denies his faith. Simply from the point of view of what true Christian faith is, he is deeply critical of those who do not conform to its standards.
- Translated by Charlie Li