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Archive for the ‘China’ Category

True Sons of Heaven David Marshall

David Marshall. The True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture. Seattle, WA: Kuai Mu Press, 2002. 216 pp.

This book has far too many problems that can’t be ignored.  I will begin looking at the problems first and then what’s good with the book; but the weakness far outweighs its strength and I hesitate suggesting this work to anyone else.

The first problem is rather minor but everything else that follows concerns with the content of the book.  This book has bad editing.  The book has three sections but the numbering of the section is off; for instance, part one is labeled as part two, and part two is labeled as part three, etc.    In the first chapter the endnotes are missing.  I think the editors were asleep on the wheel and honestly I think if they did a better job scrutinizing the content of the book, I think the book wouldn’t have been published in the first place because I think it does not even fulfill the expectation of an undergraduate essay.

The author David Marhsall did quote various sources but there were many times I wished he explained better what it was or who it was that he was quoting—and why was it significant.  It is not helpful for the general reader when the sources of these quotes are not explained.

The book’s thesis is that “many important symbols and ideas within Chinese culture points to Jesus” (7).  Some of his evidences of how Chinese culture points towards Jesus and Christianity does not seem to logically follow.  For instance, on page five Marshall talked about how Beijing’s Temple of Heaven had twelve red outer pillars and that the number twelve and the color red pointed to the apostles.  I don’t know how the color red necessitate that it is the apostles’ blood in view.  We must also not forget that the Apostle John was not martyred so it is hard to see 12 red pillars.  Later in the book Marshall would argue that the Forbidden Palace’s three layer roof is proof of the Trinity but this seems somewhat of a stretch.

Another of his evidence that Chinese culture points towards Christianity is Confucius.  For instance on page 9-10 Marshall claims about Confucius that he “did more than anyone in China to point people to this way.”  I would say that is a bold claim.  I have reservation with Marshall’s claim about Confucius when Marshall in the book also admitted that Confucius “did not know how to approach heaven” on page 41, that “one thing Confucius lacked: closeness to Heaven” on page 56 and also how “he did not know how to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, or fully understand why it needed to be bridged” on page 57. How can one point to the way when he is ignorant of all the essentials of the Way?  Marshall also believed that Confucius’ talk about Sheng Ren (Holy Man) anticipates the Messiah and one of his defense of this is that “Confucius never said the Sheng Ren would be Chinese” (42).  But Marshall here is making a fallacious argument from silence.  There are so much question begging assertions that the book makes about Confucius and Jesus that it is hard to keep track of them; for instance on page 68 the author claims that both Jesus and Confucius and Jesus “are going the same direction” except Jesus makes it “a dangerous adventure” (68).

Marshall also tried to argue that in the past Chinese thinkers did know the God of Christianity.  I think he failed to interact with the strongest arguments of those who disagreed and instead Marshall engaged in a defense the Chinese concept of God is personal.  While I do believe that Chinese does have some conception of a personal God that hardly makes it the Christian God.  He also failed to account for the silence of Chinese intellectual figureheads with the concept of the Trinity, something that is distinctively Christian.  Marshall’s discussion about God’s transcendence and imminence is misplaced in the debate.  Added to his confusion is Marshall’s statement that “there are passages in the Bible where the boundary between God and man appear a bit fudged, too, such as Paul’s famous ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’” (24).  When one look up Acts 17, we do see the passages affirm God’s transcendence and immanence but it does not present it as being muddled.  God is indeed transcendent but also His presence is everywhere though that does not mean God is His creature or creation.

It does not help Marshall’s cause when he is theologically weak that affects his discernment and presentation.  For instance, he talks about Nestorians as “the first Christians in China” (25) without acknowledging their heretical status.  There is the danger of syncretism in Marshall’s theology.  He claims on page 68 that “Jesus and Lao Zi were ‘spiritual brothers.’”  I wished the book was more pronounce and clear concerning sin, Jesus’ death and salvation.  Even when he does talk about those subject towards the end of the book, he doesn’t connect the relationship of sin to justification and Jesus’ work on the cross which I see as essential for one’s Gospel presentation.

His methodology is problematic because everything points to Jesus Christ, even Mao’s rebellion is something Jesus took to make part of His Way (64-65).  Marshall thinks Jesus was speaking about Mao’s regime when He said brothers will be against brothers, etc (168).  It is a bit of a stretch.  It must also be said that the same method the author use can also be used to demonstrate how Chinese culture points to say Marxism, Islam, etc.  It is a flawed and speculative method.  Plus, I don’t think Mao is a good “bridge” to Chinese culture for Christianity, given how he is a tyrant and also someone who is not necessarily held in high regards among everyone in the Chinese community.

I thought it was ironic that the author could point out “Chinese Buddhism” is “very Chinese, but not very Buddhist” (81).  At times I felt Marshall’s work ended up being more Chinese than Christian.

I think any reference to historical and political realities that the book make must be double checked.  For instance, on page 82-83 the book claims “A symbol of both Mao’s success and his failure is that under socialism, the poor learned to waste this precious grain,” with the grain referring to rice.  Supposedly, “the communists alleviated China’s chronic food shortage” (83).   I had a hard time with this personally since it goes against what history tells us of the man made famine that Mao’s economic policies produced.  In fact, Mao’s policies followed that of Stalin and Mao didn’t change it even with the Russians warning him that it wasn’t going to work since they have done it already themselves.  Given the historical inaccuracy of the statement we must ask what is the basis for Marshall to assert such a horrendous claim and he tells us following the above quote when he go on to say “When I walked by student dorms in China in the mid 1980s, I learned to keep an eye out for uneaten rice thrown through a window” (83).  Assuming this to be true, we must remember that the author’s experience in the mid-1980s was the reign of Deng Xiao Ping and not Chairman Mao.  Chairman Mao has been dead for a decade so the basis for his evidence of Mao’s economic success does not support his conclusion.

There was too many times throughout the book that the author wrote flowery descriptions that didn’t have to do with anything.  There’s a travelogue small talk feel to the book that was not appropriate for a book that was going to rigorously argue how Jesus fulfills Chinese culture.  There were pictures in the book that one has to wonder what did it have to do with anything with the chapter and pictures that made one ask the question: who is this guy?  What is going on?

As I said before the bad outweighs the good in the book.  What I did appreciate from the book is his chapter on how Buddhism cannot fulfill the expectation and longing of Chinese culture.  Of course, one might ask why must Chinese Culture be the standard to judge one’s religion in the first place and if consistent it is also detrimental to the Christian cause since not everything in Chinese culture is right and compatible with Christianity.  It seems as if this didn’t occur to the author giving his silence on the issue.

I also enjoyed it whenever the author discussed Chinese character and how it points to some profound truth or confirm Biblical truths and this is probably the strongest evidence he presents in the book.  Sadly when it comes to the characters pointing to Genesis he shares in the appendix that he is skeptical of it; but if he is skeptical of the strongest evidence in his book, that doesn’t speak a whole lot for the rest of his superficial look at how Chinese culture points towards Christ.

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This book gets its name from Harvey Cox’s “Fire from Heaven,” which is an analysis of Pentecostal spirituality and it’s shaping of religion in the 21st century.  Playing on that title, this work however focuses on the history of Christianity in China, with the central thesis being that three factors play an important role in the growth of the Christian church in China:  Dispenational premillennialism, Penecostalism and indigenous Chinese leaders.  Readers should be prepared to find that the book is not all rosy and covers cults, immorality and sins of the famous and not so famous (and the infamous).  For instance, one will read about Nee’s hypocrisy.

STRENGTH

The strength of the book is its interesting historical tidbits and things that makes you go “I didn’t know that!” or “Wow, providence!”  One of the better moments in the book is a discussion about the Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen who served in China in the 1930s.  I like the author’s observation: “Monsen had found the key, one that was soon used by many others, both missionaries and Chinese, to unlock the doors of private emotions for the rusth of mass revivalism among converts.  Leslie T. Lyall later credited Monsen as becoming ‘the handmaiden upon whom the Spirit was first poured out…Her surgical skill in exposing the sin hidden with the Church and lurking behind the smiling exterior of many a trusted Christian…and her quiet insistence of a clear-cut experience of the new birth set pattern for others to follow’” (97).  Talk about a testimony of the effective use of the law to convict sinners!  The most fascinating part of the book is the description of Watchman Nee’s confrontation of the Liberal preacher/professor Frosdick on pages 139-141.  Frosdick dismisses Nee as just crazy.

WEAKNESSES

Author’s discussion of the Bible itself is not that strong, for instance he states that Greek philosophy influenced the formation of the book of Daniel and Revelation (233).  I think the influence of these works is more of a Jewish prophetic influence and not Greek philosophy.

The author at times also offers naturalistic explanations of things and even quotes Richard Dawkins rather uncritically (234).

It seems when the author speaks about areas outside of his area, he might not be as reliable; for instance, he claims that when Christianity became an established recognized religion, “spontaneous “ecstasies also faded out of the church” (234), which presupposes the early church had such unruly ecstasies, one that the author will have a hard time proving, or at least with proving that it was normative and acceptable.  He mentions the second century Montanus, but it is not enough to cite this minority group to prove his point.  In fact, the majority of the Church’s opposition to Montanus’ followers seems to suggest the reality was otherwise.

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I’ve enjoyed this at several different level so I will review this book from different perspective: Chinese history, historiography, lessons for the US current military involvement overseas and spiritually as a Christian.
In terms of Chinese history, this book is on a time period and events that few Americans know about let alone understand. Way before America was attacked on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Japan has already been waging war and spreading its imperialism for decades. This book is about events of Japan’s invasion of China during the 1930s from the Shanghai area to Nanking, and it explores what mainstream history have not focus much on: the subject of the book being Chinese collaborators with the Japanese. If the saying is true that “history is written by those who win,” then the implication from this must also be true: mainstream’s popular historical narrative will often leave out details it would rather forget. It’s easy to see in pop cultural memory that the population of China “resisted” the Japanese throughout the Japanese occupation of China during World War Two, but that’s not always the case as this book accurately portray. In order to survive in an occupied China one has to acknowledge the political realities of Japanese control. Currently the history of the Japanese invasion of China is overshadowed by the great work, “The Rape of Nanking,” which documents extensively the incredible atrocity of the Japanese Army against Chinese civilians, and it’s easy to have the framework of the victimization of China overshadow the reality of what was happening on the ground during occupation that some was trying to survive by cooperating with the Japanese (that is not to deny the realities of victims and the heinous crimes that occurred). No doubt the book does not deny that reality of the Japanese atrocities and even provide more further details paralleling Iris Chang’s famous work. However, here in this work the author of “Collobration” advance the thesis that there were some elites in China that did cooperated with the Japanese during occupation and that they can’t be demonized into a one dimensional cardboard wicked “traitors.” It can get more complicated than that.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about this book is the consciousness of the author’s historiography. As I began reading the book, I wondered how the author was going about to write as objectively as possible a historical work concerning a subject that would not enjoy a lot of surviving data: Collaborators would have been seen as traitors after the Japanese left, and no doubt it would not help for the accurate preservation of any written record of their experiences not to mention the collaborators’ survival! This work was truly amazing in terms of the author’s fortune of working with primary sources of Japanese Imperial army’s record, the memoirs of Japanese pacification agents and Western observers in Shanghai. The author Timothy Brook does a good job of handling the primary sources with care while also bringing the readers into the conversation of how he weighed the evidences, acknowledging the biases of each source as he weaved the data to produce his narrative. Brook admit the data is far from complete and there are limitations to historical research of collaborators yet it’s amazing how much he can carefully extrapolate. I’ve enjoyed Brook’s discussion of collaboration in the greater context of collaboration studies of the European front in World War Two, noting how historiography of collaboration is so different from that of say occupied France with that of China under Japan, and also situational differences between the European front with that of China.
The consciousness upon the author to use the European occupation and collobration under Nazi control in World War 2 as a foil for the situation in occupied China lead me to think about collaboration and military occupation beyond just France and China. I can’t help it but to think about what lessons this book brings to the greater geo-political affairs of today, specifically with Iraq and Afghanistan. As I read this book I can’t help but to recall memories walking a patrol with a Civil Affairs Marine officer in Iraq in 2003 and hearing this young officer’s heavy burden as he explained that afternoon of the difficulties of geo-political realities, local politics, war craft and “nation-building.” As much as I do not like the term “occupation” to describe our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though I think the Japanese control over China is qualitatively and morally different than the US efforts in the Middle East, nevertheless I think there are some lessons one can learn here from collaboration concerning contemporary doctrine of counter-insurgency and the “hearts and minds” component of military occupation today. I think this book is worth being put under the Marine Corps Commandant’s reading list. Timothy Brooks notes the difficult realities of how difficult it was for the Japanese to find quality collaborators (which he encouraged the readers not to load that term with negative moral connotation right away in the book, but reserving it to the end of the work). When the nationalists government in Nanking retreated as the Japanese army advance, the elites with the technical and beaucratic know-how of operating governments and infrastructures fled with the Nationalists army as well. There was no incentive for them to be the puppet of a Japanese regime. The Japanese attempt to establish “peace committees” were frustrating, with the difficulties of sorting out people the right people with legitimate political and community capital from those who were just opportunists. As always, distrust on the part of the Japanese military and not empowering the local Chinese government ended up hindering the Japanese instead. There’s a lesson here with the fact that any occupation if it’s going to successfully transfer to new indigenous civilian management won’t be easy and the occupying Army can easily make numerous mistakes with such a fragile mission. It is a worthy study and reflection with lessons applicable to the difficulty in Afghanistan.
The dimension of the book that I most appreciate however is the chapter that focuses on Westerners who were in Nanking that got involved to protect the Chinese as much as possible from the cruelty of the Japanese. These were heroic men and women who had the liberty to leave and not get involved and yet they remained on the scene to make a difference for the lives of the Chinese. As I read this chapter I can’t help but to wonder what it was that drove them to do what they do knowing the risks involved. Many of them were Christian missionaries. As a Christian myself, I appreciated the book’s documentation from missionary’s diaries, letters and records. Though I know it’s not the intention or direction of the book, I can’t help to see the connection that true Christian spirituality means that there is the Lordship of Christ in every sphere of life including the political. These men and women saw the travesty of what the Japanese can do to their fellow man and women, and they responded. From orphanage, women shelter, rice distribution center, writing to the Embassy and the military to see aide is provided and even the audacity and affront to the Japanese of establishing a safe zone that was to be free of Japanese soldiers, these men and women can be forgotten for what they have done. However, if there is a God and the theology of these men and women are true, then it follows that their action are not totally forgotten—they lived and did what they did knowing that there is a God who remember and will call men into account one day. The implication of that is not just the preaching of the Gospel (that Jesus died for sinners and raised on the Third Day as proof) but also doing what they can to help fellow man who is made in the image of God.

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Twenty years later, the clip of the “Tank Man” is still amazing and riveting

Today is the anniversary of China’s Tienanmen Square massacre

The man and his bag of groceries, seeing a row of tank advancing after days of violence, is fustrated, walks out to go on stopping a column of tanks advancing at the risk of his own life, probably not knowing he was filmed, not caring about what is going to happen in his life

A concidence or providence that four reporters captured this historic moment?

Who was that man?  Whatever happen to him? What was going through his mind?

The question doesn’t get asked often, but whatever happen to the Tank commander and driver?  This is communist China we are talking about…are they still alive?

Remember that even this day, those of Tianamen are still punished and in prison for that episode

What was your impression when you saw this clip for the first time?

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Pray for this un-reached people group.

Identity
Although the Lop Nur people have been officially included as part of the Uygur nationality, “they differ from the Uygur people in both language and appearance – looking more like Mongolians.”

History
The Lop Nur Uygurs are “believed to be descended from the ancient Loulan people. Their ancestors all lived at Lop Nur and were engaged in fishing and hunting. When Lop Nur dried up several decades ago, they were forced to move and settle down in Miran.” When Marco Polo visited the ancient city of Lop, now buried deep beneath the sand, he noted, “There are many springs of bad and bitter water, though in some places the water is good and sweet. When it happens that an army passes through the country, if it is a hostile one, the people take flight with their wives and children and their beasts two or three days’ journey into the sandy wastes to places where they know there is water and they can live with their beasts.”

Customs
Seven centuries ago, Marco Polo described the effect the Taklimakan Desert had on stray travelers. “When a man is riding by night through the desert and something happens to make him loiter and lose touch with his companions he hears spirits talking in such a way that they seem to be his companions. Sometimes, indeed, they even hail him by name. Often these voices make him stray from the path, so that he never finds it again. And in this way many travelers have been lost and have perished.”

Religion
The Lop Nur Uygurs converted to Islam several centuries ago. They retain many features of their pre-Islamic spirit-appeasement rituals, including the worship of the sun, moon, stars, and wind.

Christianity
There is no apparent Christian presence among the people living in the desolate wastes of the Lop Nur region. Nestorian missionaries from the eighth to thirteenth centuries established churches along the Silk Road townships, but all memory of them and their message has long since been obliterated by the all encompassing sands of the Taklimakan Desert.

More of the Uygur.

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