China is a vast land with the world’s largest population. It is also has the fastest growing economy in the world. Year-by-year China is being pulled out of poverty and crumbling cities into a Western way of life rooted in the forces of the free market.
This story is wonderfully told by Ted Koppel in the new two-disc three hour series: “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” (Athena Learning Company, 2009). No program I’ve seen does a better job exposing Western viewers to the amazing story that is modern China.
Part one of this DVD series shows how America and China are now joined at the hip economically. The Chinese economy relies on the U.S. capital for investment in technology and on U. S. customers (through retailers like Wal Mart) for a ready market for their cheaper goods. The search for cheaper labor has led Western companies to go to China. Chine has a growing middle and upper class that has increased the demand for luxury goods, while most rural Chinese remain very poor. Anyone who thinks this relationships between China and the U.S. can be broken has no idea of the way it was established or of just how deeply connected we are at this point in history. Our respective economies now need each other and all the protest in the world will not bring the jobs lost back to America. Smart U. S. cities and business leaders are finding new ways to take advantage of this partnership so that we can replace lost jobs. The present American jobless rate underscores the fact that this transition will be painful for many Americans, much as all economic changes are painful. Many experts interviewed on this program show how U.S.-Chinese interdependence creates an eventual “win-win” situation in which outsourcing keeps some U. S. plants open.
Part two is titled “Mao-ism to Me-ism.” Many Chinese look back on the Cultural Revolution as a time of more suffering but less of the stress of the modern world. With the advent of new jobs, new cities and new transportation the Chinese are moving out of poverty and into the middle class like no other nation. Communism has little to do with anything in this change. What remains, however, is a strict government that tolerates a great deal so long as it is apolitical. Ted Koppel interviews a man on this episode who has become a Christian and actively takes part in a church in Chongqing. When Koppel presses him about protest and anti-democratic government he expresses little concern for the kind of freedom Koppel advocates as a Westerner. I found this very revealing. The man was far more interested in a society where there was order and respect for law than where there was freedom to assemble and protest. Clearly the values we place on Western style freedom are not major to China’s experience. This bright, educated, highly-successful young man expressed appreciation for the freedom that he had to worship and to grow spiritually. He did not seem concerned at all to try to change those in power. I found this segment the most powerful part of the series. I wondered how often American Christians actually confuse American style freedom with their faith in Christ. So far as I can tell the Chinese Christian is right about this matter. The goal of a Christian and the church is to worship God, make disciples and live righteous lives. Whether or not one form of government or another is followed is not the primary issue so long as we can live peaceable lives and serve God, not man. China seems, at least in the big cities, to allow for this to increasingly happen. The story is still different in the rural areas, though hopefully it will slowly change there as well.
Chinese people seem willing to forego political freedom in order to have economic security and prosperity. And what investors want in China is “controlled change” not western-style democracy. The failure of many Americans to understand this is a huge problem when it comes to their properly understanding China.
This same issue appears in showing how China deals with sexual expression. There is no problem with clubs and night spots where all kind of sexual expression is allowed, including homosexual expression. What is clearly frowned upon by the government is any form of protest that would challenge their authority. This is a kind of libertarianism lite, China style.
Disc three is appropriately called “The Fast Lane.” It shows how the automobile is changing China as much as any single manufactured product. China is becoming a “car culture” and thus building more highways than any place in the world. In the next thirty years there will be more cars and drivers in China than anywhere in the world. China automakers even have their sights set on the U. S. market so watch out for new cars in the years ahead, cars made in China.
The final episode is titled: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Here a central part of the story is about the production and use of coal. Coal drives the need for cheap and plentiful energy in China accounting for 70% of the country's energy use. It also creates pollution and massive safety issues.
Though the Chinese government remains unabashedly and wholeheartedly pro-business, it has to be understood that the free market in China has little or nothing to do with political freedoms. I have to be honest about my thoughts regarding these developments, all of which have come about since President Nixon first visited China in 1972.
First, China is not the land of freedom. Not even close. It is a land of increased opportunity. People are being lifted out of poverty and, in general, this is a very good thing. With this come all the problems of materialism and the consumer-driven trends of the West. But if this is compared with destructive poverty who would argue that people should remain in poverty?
Second, China will likely remain a stable, politically controlled, state for some time to come. Western style democracy is not likely to change China even with the interaction China has with the West that is a major part of the development of modern China. What Christians should pray and work for, I believe, is the freedom to worship openly and teach their faith. So long as Christians are not seen as revolutionaries who want to overthrow the government they will likely have more freedom as time goes on.
There are so many parallels between modern China and living as a Christian in the time of the Roman Empire. Those who want to live faithfully for the gospel of Christ will be challenged but increasingly there appears to be an opportunity for people of peace to make a real difference in a societ
y where greed and corruption
are rampant. There will be times, and in the past there clearly were some terrible times, when believers will be persecuted. Thankfully, this has begun to change for the better, especially in the major cities. While underground churches grow in the hinterland of China, often still persecuted and harassed, churches in the cities have Bibles, buildings and resources. On the whole these churches can disciple adherents without government interference. This could be altered by a new ruler in China, much as was it was in Rome for the early Christians, but for now there is a growing era of peace for the church. A great time to grow and make millions of new disciples is clearly evident. Our role should be to pray for the church to grow and to supply resources for such growth. We should leave our sectarian denominational nonsense at home. And we should definitely keep our ideology about government out of the China equation. Whether the Chinese embrace Western style democracy or not is of little or no interest to whether believers can be truly faithful to the gospel of the kingdom in China. The church can grow under many forms of government and always has. American Christians seem unable to grasp this in many instances since we equate our history with the kingdom of God falsely. These excellent presentations by Ted Koppel will give you a fine picture of China that you could never get unless you visited there yourself. I highly recommend them.