Opinion: Chinese Christians Need to Study Chinese Culture

A picture shows a cup of tea on a book.
A picture shows a cup of tea on a book. (photo: unsplash.com)
By Li ShiguangJanuary 18th, 2023

A Christian artist urges Chinese Christians to study Chinese culture in order to understand their own people and country. 

For a variety of complex reasons, Chinese churches and Christians in general have for a long time paid little attention to traditional Chinese culture. Many Christians believe it is enough to concentrate on faith itself and pay little attention to other matters. Some believers state though that the concept of not valuing Chinese culture needs to change.

Brother Le Dao, who once pastored a church, said: “We are citizens of heaven, but we do have another layer of identity—we are also citizens of the earth. Therefore, Christians need to learn not only theology but also the culture of their own people and country."

His observation is that, generally speaking, the church and pastors in China know little about Chinese culture. “Many people don’t have a basic understanding of it, let alone mastering it.”

"Every nation has its own culture and has developed a certain human spirit. God has allowed them to exist, and the cultures of all peoples and nations are allowed by God. Therefore, we as Christians should not only read theology but also study culture, especially Chinese culture. We should imitate Moses and Paul. Moses learned the Egyptian culture, Paul studied the Greek culture, and so we also need to learn Chinese culture. Culture is not here to resist the truth, but rather to be used by the truth."

He offered an example: "Many of our pastors today, even PhDs out of seminary, go out and talk to people and basically don't understand anything but Jesus: ‘I know Jesus and if you don't - you're finished!’ But how can others understand us if we talk like that? This is no way to talk."

Le Dao then explained his convictions through the story of Wang Xianzhi, a famous Chinese calligrapher. Arranged by his parents, Wang married his aunt’s daughter, Chi Daomao. Wang was fond of Chi, a very beautiful lady from a rich and influential family. Their marriage was happy. Since generals came out of the house of Wang for generations, the then-Emperor Jianwen of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, named Sima Yu, summoned Wang to meet him and offer him an official position.

The emperor took a strong liking to him and said: “I will introduce my sister to you, you two get married and you repudiate your original wife.”

After hearing this, Wang Xianzhi was in great pain because he loved his wife very much. In order not to marry the princess, Wang Xianzhi went so far as to mutilate his own feet and burn his legs with mugwort, but he still could not stop the approaching marriage.

In the end, Wang Xianzhi had no choice but to write a letter of repudiation and divorce his original wife, Xi Daomao, which became a lifelong wound for him. Shortly after the forced divorce, he created the famous calligraphy named: “Feng Dui Tie for Chi”.

“The calligraphy example records his marriage change and the inner pain. There are dozens of words. We can see clearly from it that the characters were scribbled, and that the latter words seem more careless than the previous ones. Why would that happen? Because Wang Xianzi was so enraged and distressed. The more words he wrote, the more agitated he became.” 

“Through it you come to know this person, enter into his life and understand his career, bumps, pains, pressures, grief, loss, depression, and even his hopelessness.”

The speaker added that the works of those literary giants passed down to us are full of blood and tears. They are very vivid. We the later generations need to see the spirit and essence behind this art. “Through imitating their calligraphy, I reread the Bible. I came to see a deeper world through these texts. For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

- Translated by Karen Luo

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