Happy Chinese New Year!
What’s it like to be a Christian in China? Foreigners in China have a certain status. We are, in every situation, an anomaly. Going to visit Chinese disciples’ hometowns for the Chinese New Year, I ventured farther from the developed metropolises and deeper into China’s richly cultural, tradition-driven, conservative countryside. Everywhere I go, people stare, children point, voices cry out with their limited English saying, “Hello!”
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, everyone treats me as a child, and an honored guest. As a guest, I don’t fully understand the traditions, the hometown dialects, or why grandma is putting out an extra plate of fruit and a full cooked chicken and raw liver on the kitchen table (later I found out it’s a sacrifice for ancestor worship). My hosts quickly learn to work around me, letting me join in activities but not expecting anything. They hand me 红包 (hóngbāo), a red envelope with money inside, given by older, married generations to the younger. They add more and more food to my plate during the 除夕晚饭 (chúxīwánfàn), the New Year’s Eve meal. Their hospitality is so overwhelming that I feel like part of their family.
Chinese New Year through a foreign Christian’s eyes reveals the enduring qualities of Chinese culture that are in accordance with the Bible.
I see great sacrifice: Parents and grandparents work all year and deny themselves to save little by little, so that they can give wholeheartedly during the holiday season. The grandfather of one sister I visited sacrificed greatly before and even during the feast. He spent nearly all day in the kitchen preparing the meal, then was the last to sit down to eat, the first to get up, and barely ate anything compared to what could have been expected of him during the most important meal of the year. He then continued to serve in the next couple days, preparing a traditional breakfast of homemade 汤圆 (tángyuán), a doughy rice-ball with sweet filling, the very next morning and gave everyone in his family red envelopes. The sacrifice of one man made this family’s festival a huge success.
I see unprecedented hospitality: A large Confucian value is hosting guests. Many Chinese enjoy showing hospitality towards guests, perfecting activities such as 功夫茶 (gōngfuchá) a traditional ceremony of preparing, pouring, and drinking tea, always being prepared to serve snacks or fruit, and fully committing to serve every need in order to love and include their house guests. When Paul encouraged the Roman church to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need,” and “practice hospitality,” this hospitality exemplified by my Chinese hosts must have been what he meant.
I see the idea of family deeply valued and parents honored: Families come together, traveling from every far corner of the country they may live in, braving the largest migration of people our modern world has seen, to return to their rural hometowns and enjoy the special festival time. Youngsters are taught tradition, corrected when necessary, pampered and often spoiled. Elders are respected for their age and wisdom. Parents are showered with praise and New Year’s greetings like “身体健康!” (shēntĭ jiànkāng, meaning “good health to you!”). The family becomes a unit, preparing together, eating together, and serving each other, each person playing their rightful role in the family.
What’s it like to be a Christian in China? God’s word is alive and active everywhere you go, and the same temptations are common to all mankind. What’s more, false idols and worship of the wrong things are prevalent everywhere in the world. Being a foreign Christian in China has its challenges, but it has confirmed my own biblical convictions, taught me that God truly is God of every nation, tribe, people and language, and that He desires deeply for the people of China, and the whole world, to know His name.