Soul Searching: Chinese Intellectuals on Faith and Society

Soul Searching, a collection of essays written by Chinese Christian intellectuals, gives a fascinating glimpse inside the Chinese mind and heart. Issues like democracy, culture, and the arts are examined with honesty and clarity. While some of the conclusions drawn by this collection of authors are somewhat idealistic, they are also what seems to be an accurate assessment of the state of souls across China, and give a clear solution to the emptiness of Chinese culture today.The book opens with an essay by Yuan Zhiming. He gives a brief version of his life story, telling about his dreams of Western democracy as a leader in Tiananmen in 1989, and how those dreams were somewhat broken when he emigrated to America and experienced the darker sides of Western culture. He comes to the conclusion, after being converted to Christianity, that democracy only works if it is rooted in Christian principles. Those who lobby for democracy for private personal gain will only end up perpetuating an authoritarian regime, according to Yuan.Chapter two, an essay by Daniel Baida Su, discusses the relationship between man, cultures, and institutions. He argues that institutions cannot be changed without addressing the cultural issues that drive them. Further, man himself must change fundamentally before any aspect of his culture will follow suit. For China, Su insists that Chinese people must submit to a higher reference point than themselves before any institutions or aspects of their culture can change.“On the Principle of a Good Cycle,” by Yang Jianli, is an essay that examines the idea of “good” versus “bad” principles on which to build a society. Yang wants China to leap out of the vicious cycle of repressive regimes, and believes that this can be accomplished through the “good principle” of love. While somewhat over-positive about what democracy can do for a nation, and slightly simplistic in attaching democracy firmly to Christianity, Yang still makes a good case for basing Chinese society on a principle of love, instead of on the principles of historical inevitability, struggle, and class determinism.Wang Ce’s essay, “The Concept of God in Ancient Chinese Thought,” is in a slightly different vein than the first few chapters. Wang endeavors to show how the god of the ancient Chinese was different in name only from the God of the Bible, and that throughout history, China has slowly turned her eyes downward, from God to man. While this theory is interesting, more conclusive evidence must be displayed for this author to believe that the ancient Chinese truly worshiped Yahweh. Nevertheless, Wang’s assertion that China must turn to God, manifested in Jesus Christ, before being blessed is a one that would find ready acceptance among China’s Christian millions.Daniel Baida Su contributes the fifth essay as well. In it, he looks at the problems that arise when leaders mix Christianity with politics, and how both exclusiveness and tolerance characterize the Christian faith. Su asserts that Chinese culture needs to realize transcendent, absolute truth if it is to be able to truly integrate with the culture of the West. One culture will not view another culture as a brother until all men submit to a righteousness greater than themselves.Yuan Zhiming’s second essay in this collection centers around his experience at the American National Prayer Breakfast in 1992. Yuan states that the source of democracy is the belief that man is both fallen and sinful and that he is made in the image of God. This essay does, unfortunately, place too much emphasis on man’s rights to freedom and the pursuit of happiness and not enough on his responsibility for holiness, as well as, like Yang Jianli, tying democracy perhaps too closely to the person of Christ. Still, Yuan’s emphasis on trust in God as the basis for good government is commendable.“The Authority of the Soul,” chapter seven, is Yuan Zhiming’s third contribution to this book. This essay points out the necessity of realizing the importance of the soul when governing a nation. The problem with China, Yuan says, is her failure to recognize the importance of faith. Knowledge is held high, but without faith, knowledge cannot change people. Yuan goes on to show how the Christian influences of democratic Western cultures cannot be denied, and that without these influences, democracy would not be able to exist. At the end of the essay, Yuan warns against taking democracy too far and worshiping the freedom for its own sake, a phenomenon he sees taking place in the United States.Wu Xiagui takes his chapter in a slightly different direction with “The Christian Faith and Contemporary Literature and Arts.” Wu’s argument is that Christians must reclaim the arts and turn them into vehicles for sharing God with the culture. He points to the artists (visual, literary, and musical) of centuries past, showing how their art was not only at the very highest level of aesthetic beauty and skill, but also a primary way in which biblical truths were communicated to many sorts of people. Wu concludes with a plea to Christian artists to let their God-given creativity be focused on sharing the Gospel.“Can Chinese Intellectuals Carry Their Cross? Issues facing Christian Chinese intellectuals in mainland China” discusses the ways that Chinese intellectuals come to faith and live their lives as Christians. Huo Shui explains some of the difficulties faced by intellectuals, including their feelings of isolation as Christians, their lack of foundational biblical knowledge (unless training is given), and the fact that most of the books about Christianity available in China are written from an academic, not spiritual, worldview. Huo ends with encouragement for Western missionaries and those watching China from a distance to consider “the role of Chinese intellectuals in accomplishing God’s purposes.”The final chapter of Soul Searchig, a short essay on love, is more devotional than analytical. Xiang Rikui’s personal meditation seems slightly out of place when compared to the other articles, and yet still fits the concept of the book by giving insight into a Chinese intellectual’s response to the love of God.The book as a whole is a good resource, and would be especially helpful as a discussion starter among those wondering how to serve mainland Chinese. Interaction with, as well as reading of, the essays in this book will help people think clearly and purposefully about the ways God is working in China.

ReviewsJason Truell