God And China
by Yuan Zhi-ming
There are three ways of interpreting our own history: history with respect to ourselves, history with respect to other nations and history with respect to God.
Before China opened its door, the only historical perception was history with respect to ourselves. All historical criticisms were comparisons and references within our own history. Most of the Chinese history books written at different ages belong to this category.
It was not until modern history when China was exposed to Western civilization did we begin to discover there were mountains beyond mountain and peoples beyond people. So along came history with respect to other nations. This historic perception is not the same as comparative history; it is historic criticism. Examples include The History of the Chinese People by Bo Yang, the renowned Taiwanese writer and The Wounds of the River, the political TV series.
Human species cannot be an isolated existence in the universe. It is indisputably true that the Divine predetermines and participates in human existence just as naturally as the sunshine, the earth and the air do to us. The fact that God interferes human history in various ways is far more than just a religious doctrine. Toynbee, the famous English historian, once said that history was all about predestination and it was a kind of divine revelation to which human beings listen and respond with their free will¡Xin short, he said that history was about interactions between God and human species and that every challenge we encountered could be taken as either a call from God or a temptation from the Devil. I became a believer of God at the age of 37. Such a belief does not bring to me or add to my knowledge base any kind of mysterious principle either in history or in natural science. Instead, it merely reveals to me some basic facts I have always been familiar with and yet I have always chosen to ignore. For instance, I realize the so-called law of history is but divine activities among human species much like the phenomenon that the law of nature is divine activities in mother nature. It may seem that human beings possess enough free will to rebel against the divine, but they always end up in self destruction. If we take a moment to examine the history and culture of China in line with God's revelation, we will feel an amazingly clear pulse behind the seemingly irregular historic facts.
Interpreting history with respect to God is to restore the historic and cultural pulse which originally was all about the relationship between God and mankind. The relationship between God and man in a particular culture determines the spiritual state of the people of the culture; it also determines the interpersonal relationships within the people. In another words, the way they relate themselves to God determines the way they relate to themselves and the way they relate to other peoples. The essence of such a religious belief that ultimately determines our social behavior is often largely ignored. Huntington, the renowned American sociologist, predicted that human clashes in the 21st century would feature cultural clashes. He actually meant clashes in religious beliefs. Cultural differences are caused by differences in religious beliefs, and historical mishaps stem from mishaps of religious principle. A small mistake in religious principle can lead to historical catastrophe.
Chinese history with respect to God can be divided into four stages: the age of piety, the age of wisdom, the age of humanism and the age of restoration.
The age of piety: Prior to the 11th century BC, the main characteristic of the Chinese culture was piety, or the age of Tao, as Confucius put it. At that time, men were full of awe when they came to the Divine; they were humble and respectful knowing that they were sinful and limited. The origin of such piety can easily be seen in many of the legends of ancient time. These legends, although heavily edited and altered over time, still retain many rich flavors of divine-human interactions. Interestingly, these legends beautifully coincide with the common history of mankind in the early time recorded in chapters one through eleven in Genesis.
The age of wisdom: Legend has it that Qi, son of Yu, rode a dragon to Heaven three times after he became king, and he stole a musical instrument from God and played it for himself at the peak of a high mountain. This could well be the beginning of rebellion against the age of Tao¡Xa sign of "you will be like God". According to Shi-ji, at around 780 BC the then king and his dynasty were corrupt and civil wars broke out everywhere. As Tao hid himself, so to speak, human wisdom replaced piety and vanity took the place of righteousness. Man-made virtue without piety became the means of dominating the land. Scholars at that time tried in vain to interpret the new social phenomenon and they could find no cure for the wicked society: "There are too many theories under the sun. Which one is right?" So the Chinese people began killing each other and this lasted over five hundred years before Emperor Qin once again unified the nation¡Xalthough it was no longer unification under Tao but unification under the cruel dictatorship.
The age of humanism: Between 200 BC and the end of the 19th century, the land of God essentially became the land of man in which many generations of emperors labeled themselves son of Heaven and brazenly seized the glory and dignity of God. Fei Zheng-qing, a renowned American scholar of Chinese culture, said that individual selfishness was so irresistible to the Chinese people that it was like a natural disaster. Nay, it is more than a natural disaster. A particular sinful and limited individual assumed all the power under the sun, and all other people, who were equally sinful and limited, feared God no more but they feared the individual that assumed all the power under the sun. No wonder the land of God got trampled time after time and became a laughingstock among other nations. No wonder the land was full of wickedness and civil wars. No wonder the nation was stuck in the nightmare of self-destruction, self-abuse, self-indulgence and self-centeredness.
The age of restoration: In modern history, the cannonballs of the imperialist superpowers delivered opium to China along with science, democracy and Christianity. The Chinese people, with their sleepy eyes, were completely shocked when they gazed at the Western kaleidoscope; then they found themselves being tossed into a difficult and dangerous political status quo that was fundamentally unique in the past two thousand years. Since then, no word in the Chinese vocabulary has caused as much envy and hatred as the word West, and no word such as this has caused as much mixed feelings among the Chinese people. It represents both the ultimate happiness and the ultimate bitterness. With hate we set out to learn from it; with curse we adapted ourselves to it. From the Westernized Movement to economic reforms, from Wei-shing Reforms to democratic politics, from cultural reforms to spiritual revival: there were no lack of trials. Even today we are still not made known of this: Just as the traditional Chinese society is an organic entity, the traditional Western economy, politics and religion also form an organic entity which is rooted in Jesus and which, through Christian civilization, demonstrates the holy relationship between God and man. The increasingly serious political and spiritual crises which are brought about by the takeoff of the Chinese economy are fundamentally due to China's lack of such a holy essence of life. What is encouraging is that millions of Chinese Christians at home and abroad, with their piety and sacrifice, are now rebuilding such a holy soul for the Chinese nation.
It is necessary to distinguish between China's historical reality and cultural reality.
A person's physical state, or flesh, differs from his spiritual state, or soul. Historical reality constitutes China's flesh which is full of sins and sufferings; cultural reality constitutes China's soul which is full of rituals and virtues.
Foreigners read about China's cultural reality and they call it the land of virtue. The Chinese people endure China's historical reality and they cry out in pain.
Between the flesh and the soul are painful interactions: When the flesh falls into wickedness, the soul takes the burden of sins. When the flesh commits sins, the soul takes the responsibility. When the flesh deteriorates, the soul seeks salvation. For every fallen flesh, there is a soul that yearns for salvation.
A confusing world gives birth to ideologies: In the 6th century BC, there were the various schools of thoughts; in the 5th century AD came the development of Buddhism; in the 10th century the idealist philosophy flourished.
Ideologies do not eliminate sins. They do not comfort the soul as much as God does. The soul, according to its nature, cannot survive without the righteous God. Confucianism attempts to replace God with human conscience and hopes to bet on humanist self-consciousness. In the end it cannot help disclose its historic impotence and degenerate to the whitewash of a history of dictatorship. Buddhism seems to have filled the Confucian vacuum of lack of divine entity, but it is no more than a mutation of polytheism or atheism. Its methodology is doomed to falling back into the humanist nest of self-cultivation, and its essence is still no different than an ideology. Just as the Buddha himself put it, Buddhism is a religion of wisdom.
So here is the sad reality: The Chinese people fall, or Tao hides himself, because they abandon God; therefore there is no other salvation than returning to God. Whether it is the falling wise men or it is the wisdom of the fallen men, all are predestined to fighting a fruitless and self-deceptive battle. In the interaction between the flesh and the soul and between history and culture, the former always ruthlessly and continually makes fun of the latter.
A key word that controls the pulse of the Chinese history is Tao.
Tao is the metaphysics and the object of faith that truly belongs to the Chinese people. The old Greek word Logos is translated into Chinese as Tao; the Bible names Jehovah as Logos and the Chinese equivalent of the word is once again Tao. Logos, Jehovah and Tao alike represents the ancient civilization of monotheism revealing the Almighty that creates and controls all creatures.
Since the 6th century BC when Tao hid himself, Tao has naturally been excluded from the main stream of humanism. The lack of Tao became reality; so Confucius had to settle for less when he actively promoted virtue as a way of salvation. Lao Zi, on the other hand, understood that salvation couldn't happen without Tao. He emphatically denied any possibility of salvation from humanistic virtue and wisdom; instead he promoted Emperor Huang and his ancestral principle of following Tao and resting in Tao. Such a principle was later called the Principle of Huang and Lao.
So there emerged a wonder in the Chinese history: in over two thousand years since the 6th century BC when Tao hid himself, all prosperous dynasties, with very few exceptions, were the ones promoting the Principle of Huang and Lao and following Tao. In the Han Dynasty, Emperors Wen and Jing in the 2nd century BC along with their key advisors were all big fans of the Principle of Huang and Lao and of Taoism in general. Emperor Guangwu in the 1st century AD was a big fan of Confucianism but his deeds revealed him as a follower of the Principle of Huang and Lao. In the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Taizong in the 7th century worshipped Lao Zi as his own ancestor and he adopted a solitary, simplistic and pious lifestyle. Emperor Xuanzong in the 8th century once again worshipped Tao and promoted advanced research in Taoism. He even annotated the Book of Lao Zi himself and issued edict that everybody was supposed to possess a copy of Lao Zi. In the Qing Dynasty, Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong in the 17th and the 18th centuries also adopted a primitive, ancient and simplistic lifestyle very close to the Principle of Huang and Lao. In contrast, all transformation from an age of social order to an age of social disorder seemed to be the outcome of abandoning Tao. The prosperous era of Emperors Wen and Jing of the Han Dynasty was destroyed by Emperor Wu their successor, who abandoned Taoism and promoted Confucianism. Following Emperor Guangwu's brilliant regime were Emperors Ming and Zhang, both of whom ruled with Confucianism and drove the nation into bureaucracy, corruption and divisions. Succeeding Emperor Taizong was the notorious Empress Wu who made Confucianism a state religion. After Emperor Xuanzong came the promotion of Confucianism represented by Hanyu, and it was not until then that the Tang Dynasty began to decay.
How wonderful Tao is! In the beginning there was the Word. And the Word was God (John 1:1). It is useless to perform a mere scholastic research on Tao. The Most High, the Divine, Heaven, and Tao are all religious terminology our ancestors used to represent the Creator. The term Tao seems to emphasize a particular aspect of the Creator: the aspect toward mankind, as if it is teaching us something: Tao is in words (Lao Zi), and as if it is shedding light at us: In him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:4). Certainly the culmination of this aspect is the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The Word is no other than Jesus. What is shocking is that the Saint, whom Lao Zi repeatedly mentioned in his works as the incarnation of Tao, while distinguishing himself from normal personality and temperament, coincided with Jesus in so many ways that Lin Yu-tang, the renowned Chinese scholar, once said: "Lao Zi and Jesus are brothers in a spiritual sense.". Western countries with Christian civilization, whose foundations were invariantly laid upon Jesus, have awakened, encouraged and guided the Chinese people since the 19th century. Their prosperity, science, democracy and religious belief all contribute to their indivisible unity of life, which has always been ignored by their oriental imitators. The soul of this unity is the holy relationship between God and mankind. And Jesus is the one that reestablishes this relationship.
The relationship between God and mankind reached its harmonious climax when God became flesh and came to the world.
And indeed the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reappearance and transcendence of the ancient Tao in the Land of God at the present time.
Some people may argue that the two have nothing to do with each other and that they even conflict with each other. It is not surprised that, as part of the aftermath of narrow cultural practice in the past 50 years, today's Chinese people are generally unfamiliar with the profound ancient Tao of China as well as the Gospel of Christ.
Some people do not believe that millions of Christians in China, unknown to the public, and the heated wave of Christian belief among overseas Chinese can have anything to do with the great restoration of the Chinese nation in the 21st century. It is not surprised that those with a callous heart fail to observe any existence and power beyond the materialistic world.
Oh China! If you believe you can learn from Western prosperity but not Western democracy or if you believe you can learn from Western prosperity and democracy but not God, then you are making a huge mistake!
Isn't your soul trembling in suffocation? Why don't you face it with courage? Why don't you repent in front of God? Why do you choose to wait till heavenly fire consumes you once again?
No way! Your soul is clearly awaken and it is slowly taking every moment walking toward God¡Xso is God walking toward you¡K
The Yellow River had always believed that her home was the Yellow Plateau and the yellow land that embraced her day and night.
Then one day she discovered that her home was the ocean. At that moment, the expanse of the blue water made her extremely excited.
Then came a brightening day of sunshine when the ocean led her to the gate of Heaven and said: Look, this is our true home¡Xthe fountain of the expanse of blue.
Note: This article is the introduction of China's Confession: China of Five Thousand Years, later made into a Seven Episode TV series.