Role of Pastor in China's Box-office Hit Sparks Controversial Debates among Christians

Pastor Liu in the movie "Dying to Survive"
Pastor Liu in the movie "Dying to Survive"
By Karen LuoAugust 7th, 2018

Recently, a Chinese movie about a leukemia patient who smuggled cheaper anti-cancer drugs from India hunted down the domestic box office. The black comedy ignited debates among Chinese Christians because of the supporting actor of "Pastor Liu".

The movie Dying to Survive tells a story of a middle-aged man who sells Indian God Lotion. After being requested by a leukemia patient named Lv Shouyi, Cheng Yong, divorced and poor, decided to smuggle generic drugs from India to make profits to pay his father's medical expenses.

Before getting the dealership from the Indian manufacturer, Cheng invited Pastor Liu who could speak English and also suffered from the disease to join his team. He worked as a translator to help Cheng communicate with the Indian side. The generic drugs that just cost much cheaper than Geliening, a Swedish drug a patient needed to spend about 40,000 yuan to purchase a bottle, became very popular among people with leukemia. Cheng and his team members made a big fortune. Later they were coerced by fake drug traffickers and forced to break down. Failing to afford the brand name drug whose price was raised to 20,000 yuan a bottle, Lv who considered himself as a burden to his family, committed suicide.

Before the portrait of Lv, Cheng couldn't go over the thing and resumed selling generic drugs. He procured a batch of the medicine from India and sold them at the wholesale price of 500 yuan to patients. However, he was thrown into prison.

Controversial debates among Christians

The movie was a subject of widespread comments among Chinese Christians owing to the character of "Pastor Liu".

Some said that it made Christianity "entertaining" and even smeared the image of the religion.

Some argued that the director gave publicity to Christian faith through the movie, which was a positive move.

Other people expressed that it was unnecessary to be melodramatic. "Rather than gaze at the movie, we should focus on Christ."

In the beginning, Pastor Liu told Cheng, "I'm a Christian. So I can't do anything illegal." Afterward, he was persuaded to be one of the smugglers. Whether his choice was right or wrong provoked a conversation:

The opposition argument was that the responsibility of the pastor was to preach the gospel instead of engaging in social activities because Jesus came to the world to save people's souls, not their physical bodies.

Another dissenting voice was that despite in line with his conscience, what he did violated the law.

Those who supported the pastor said that although his deed was against the law, his conduct was excusable and in accordance with the spirit of Christianity.

A sister said, "Dying to Survive stung the stricken conscience of Chinese Christians. I want to click the 'like' button for Pastor Liu because he didn't draw back to only preach the gospel in a corner in the face of social evil, or only pray to the Lord to help those swindled people patients in his church. Of course, I also give the thumbs up to the director because he knows that God who is righteous will eventually judge."

On the contrary, other Christians claimed that the movie discredited Christianity and stigmatized the pastor, after all, the director is a Buddhist.

A breakthrough in the on-screen stereotype of Christianity 

The Christian elements shown in the previous Chinese movies and TV plays at times were monotonous and stereotyped. The wedding scene in the church appeared the most. The scenario added some solemnity and romance to the plot, but basically failed to present any Christian faith. Therefore, it gave the general impression that Christianity was nothing more than a ritualized religion from the West. That kind of wedding was called the western wedding. 

A portion of Christians criticized the director for not knowing the essence of Christianity. 

A brother shared, "According to some Christians' 'fragile' mentality, Pastor Liu should pray earnestly and focus on God. His leukemia would be healed by the Spirit. Then he would fearlessly bore witness, leading many patients to the Lord Jesus. The gospel would be widely spread. This positively reflects Christianity."

Reversely, Paul Wu from Fujian deemed that "Pastor Liu" was the reality of loving Christians who served others. Due to some inappropriate evangelism approaches, 神叨crotchety words, and radical antisocial views held by Christians, a large percentage of Chinese people disgusted Christians and even regarded Christianity as a cult.

From more in-depth look, Chinese Christians valued verbal instructions and overlooked teaching by example, who had conservative theology. Affected by fundamentalism, dispensationalism, and pietism, many believers thought that there was no possible salvation for the corrupt world, so Christians needn't pay attention to society, let alone serving society. What they should do was to evangelize and wait for the second coming of Christ. 

In addition, rare domestic movies and television shows set characters of Christian figures like pastors and relevant plots, like Back to 1942 whose ending song was a hymn and City of Life and Death based on the Nanjing Massacre. 

Yan Yile, a freelance writer of the Christian Times, commented that the stories in the above movies were too far away from today's ordinary people, but a Christian character who lived with average persons appeared in the drug movie. As a patient suffering from leukemia, the pastor was a man like us, not too ritualized or sanctified. He was really down-to-earth. 

When it came to talking about a pastor, some schoolmates and friends of Yan connected it with priests and Buddhism masters. In their eyes, the latter was otherworldly. So Yan concluded that the movie removed the mysterious veil of pastors. 

In fact, pastors could do good deeds outside the church, even something risky. Facing fake drug traffickers, "Pastor Liu" was the first one to rush to the stage and accused the frauds of their deceitful trick. 

Besides, there was generally a lack of care for believers in the church. If there was, the superficial care couldn't enter into believers' hearts. But the pastor was a bold man of action who took the risk for his members. 

Seeing some believers with leukemia who became desperate because of not affording medicine of a whopping price, he didn't speak out some spiritual clichés to "comfort" them or provide an opiate named "heaven", but spared no efforts to obtain generic drugs in spite of being in a crack between conscience and the law. 

Cheng Yong: Zacchaeus and good Samaritan

 A brother noticed a formula that looked "theologically correct" - "The most common thing we say is: though that man is awesome and loving and helps many people, he is much far away from Jesus..." This kind of moral cleanliness existed in the minds of many Christians. 

But did Jesus come to destroy the glory of humanity? Wasn't the glory from the image of men made by God? Stained by sins, the glory was not entirely deprived. 

Xiao Bin, a youth fellowship leader, said that Cheng Yong, the leading actor, was a middle-aged decadent and abusive man, almost a deplorable. He was an incapable man, but not a bad person. 

To gather money for his father's operation, Cheng smuggled medicine to earn his first bucket of gold and shifted into industry.He said that he was never a savior, but a normal small potato. Unable to help all the leukemia patients and never thinking of that, he considered that it was enough to get generic drugs sold at a cheaper price for his partners.

However, as his friend Lv died, he was totally changed. He sold generic medicine again just to help other people, even at the expense of losing his wealth. 

He reminded Bin of Zacchaeus in the Bible. After knowing Jesus, his whole life was transformed. He gave half of his possessions to the poor and paid back four times the amount of things he cheated from people. Meanwhile, he was a "good Samaritan", somewhat.

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