"There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat" — Chinese parents

"There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat" — Chinese parents June 27, 2013

This is one of the most telling articles you may ever read about Chinese culture.Here are the opening words of an article titled “Riot after Chinese teachers try to stop pupils cheating”–––
What should have been a hushed scene of 800 Chinese students diligently sitting their university entrance exams erupted into siege warfare after invigilators tried to stop them from cheating.

To read the details, you can click the link. The following quote captures the scene.

By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage.

Teachers trapped in the school took to the internet to call for help. “We are trapped in the exam hall,” wrote Kang Yanhong, one of the invigilators, on a Chinese messaging service. “Students are smashing things and trying to break in,” she said.

What are the implications for gospel ministry?

The point is not simply that situation is “dishonest”, “corrupt,” or “bad.” Similar stories could be told from other cultures. Rather, I want you to think about what this story says about the Chinese view of “law” and “justice.” The parents are rioting and chanting, “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

How is it fair to cheat?

I’ve written many times about the need for us to explain the gospel and tell the biblical story using other metaphors beside “law.” I would never deny its importance in Scripture. My point is very simple: the Bible is much bigger than legal motifs. I spend over a third of my book, Saving God’s Face, making this point in great theological and exegetical detail.

Answer me this, “How much do you think these Chinese parents care about the law when they associate it with injustice, oppressing their kids, hurting their families, etc.?

In traditional honor-shame cultures, “law” is of little importance. It’s all about relationships and “face.” Laws are often a convenient tool to oppress the poor or those without connections. The idea of a judge deciding between guilt and innocence has little meaning to the average Chinese. It’s all about who you know. What’s your family name?

In reality, what many Chinese long for is simply that someone will come in and set things right. It would make a lot more sense to them and give more hope if they heard a message about a righteous king who restored harmony to society. Such a king would rescue them by judging the various powers that oppress them. This king, who would be above all other kings, would keep his promises. He would not be partial to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, wealth, education, nationality and the like.

In fact, this is precisely the gospel we find in the Bible.

I fear however that we may compromise the gospel by settling for truth. In our gospel presentations, we often commit “theological syncretism,”; simply contextualizing a (western) contextualization.

God is more than a judge. He is king. This is why Paul, in Rom 10, eagerly quotes Isa 52:7,

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Likewise, notice how Paul summarizes his presentation in Acts 13:32–33,

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus,… [whom Paul goes on to explain is the Davidic king whom God would use to set the world right].

For the sake of the Chinese and the nations, I reiterate the plea I make in chapter 2 of Saving God’s Face: Don’t assume the gospel!


Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

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  • Great post. Now I understand what you mean by “compromising the gospel by settling for.” Amen and amen. An interesting corollary verse is the last verse of the book of Acts in which Luke sums up Paul’s ministry in Rome as “proclaiming the kingdom of God.” Like emphasizes the gospel of the kingdom again and again in Luke-Acts.

    • Thanks Werner. I was just teaching a class this week and someone said, “We can’t see Jesus is king. No one will understand.” To this I replied, “Then teach them. That is your job as a pastor. If you can’t, then don’t be a pastor.” You simply cannot ignore something so central as Jesus’ kingship (i.e. messiahship).

  • xiongsenlei

    Fantastic article, Dr Wu. I’ve been a university teacher in China for quite a few years, and cheating is a HUGE problem here. I’ve seen the issue addressed a number of ways in various articles, but yours is the first to touch on fairness and the view of the law. It’s a real eye-opener. I’m going to save this and share it with others.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s encouraging to hear others seeing the same things I’m experiencing. I really hope the post helps us the think and minister more holistically.

  • Scott

    Good point Werner,

    It is interesting that in the NT there is a lot more talk about the Kingdom of God than there is about law and guilt. Both are there, but if you look at the summaries (e.g. end of Matthew 9 into chapter 10) of what Jesus talked about during his ministry and during the 40 days after his resurrection it is “Kingdom”. You dont see Jesus repeatedly making the point “ok, you are sinners and guilty before God and on the road to judgment, but God loves you and now you can have those sins forgiven and be proclaimed righteous”. Instead, we see him repeatedly saying “the Kingdom of heaven is like…”

    A very important point to ponder – our western gospel message (4 spiritual laws and its variants), while true, is not what we hear emphasized coming out of the mouth of Jesus and in Acts. The focus of Jesus seemed to be preaching that the kingdom was within reach as well as demonstrating the kingdom by casting out demons, healing the sick and doing miracles. Paul summarized his ministry late in Romans saying that he had fully preached the kingdom – and demonstrated it with signs and wonders.

    For China and any other places, without disregarding the main points of the law/guilt gospel, we need to return to the simple kingdom gospel that came out of the mouth of Jesus, the apostles and the early church: “The rule, power and blessing of his world (heaven) – i.e. the Kingdom – is within your reach (“at hand”) – this is good news!” Good news for the guilty, good news for the sick, good news for the oppressed and demonized. He taught his discples to pray that the rule and power and blessing of heaven would crash into this world so as to cause his will to be done to the extent that it is in heaven. Pretty tall prayer. We need to DO the works of the kingdom that he did.that flowed out of the compassionate heart of the Father. Anything less is not incorrect but an imbalanced intellectual gospel, which isn’t working all that well even in the West right now.

    • Thanks for commenting. You have spurred me to write sooner than I first planned an post relating the various motifs in scripture. This is a common question. We need to know how to relate metaphors if we are going to have balance and interpret the text well. That blog will come before too long. Thanks again.

  • Thank you Jackson. I worked in China for nine years and am now working with cross-cultural leadership development- I think that understanding the good news that Jesus made a way through his blood into a relationship with God AND his present and eternal kingdom is at the heart of transformation. That Jesus saves us into his kingdom by grace also erases the guanxi element that we can never match or repay and replaces it, I think, with a love relationship that brings freedom. This is the essence of the message in Luke 4:14-22 when Jesus visits his hometown of Galilee and announces he has fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about good news, freedom, sight, and favor. What do you think?

    • I like what you say. I would connect the kingdom and guanxi (relationship) language this way: since Christ is king over the whole world, then we now have real guanxi with the Creator and those from all nations. Thus, we don’t have to play social games about who is in and who is out. Ironically, gospel of the kingdom both expands and eradicates our understanding of guanxi. The major key there is the scope of his kingship—all nations. This is simply not emphasized enough, probably because people can get nervous talking outside their singularly preferred metaphor/theme in Scripture (which then makes balance difficult to achieve).

  • Bill

    I agree with the “Kingdom” motif. I guess my question would be, “How should we then live”? There is real power within the Kingdom, power that brings real change to society. My 15 years experience in China has shown me that a profession of faith does NOT guarantee transformation. I sense a “fuli” (welfare) mentality among many believers in China, as well as other places around the world. Yes we come to the King needy and reliant upon his grace, but there must be transformation and growth. This also speaks to our gospel presentation and even more spiritual formation and discipleship. I teach in China as well, and as the other person said cheating is very common, and this is among believers. it is my opinion that if believers do not LEAD the way in terms of transformation, China will remain as it has for 1000’s of years unregenerate, corrupt and in a word..natural. National believers must take up mantle of not just sharing words of testimony and faith, but the Kingdom power of an uncompromised regenerate life. Of course, there a dangers on certain levels here…

    • Completely agree. In fact, I think I’m going to reply to your comments via a blog post. I teach Chinese pastors and I find someone who cheats or plagiarizes in every class (no exaggeration). I am keenly aware of the problem. Sadly, too many foreign Christians are too tolerant of it, claiming, “It’s just their culture.” I’ll refrain from saying more or else I’ll write an entire post right now. Thanks for your comments.

  • Bill

    Hi Jackson. Thanks for your work. I believe that a person such as yourself has a unique perspective (and vital ministry). You have learned and experienced things many will never have the opportunity to do. Regarding the cheating, as you know this is part of the overall situation. I believe China is a great country with a rich history and culture, but as with any culture, it most be totally redeemed by the King. I love the folks to whom I have been called, and i am faithful to teach the words of Christ. Sometimes I see a disconnect between gospel rhetoric and incarnational reality. (that’s everywhere of course, “already and not yet” and all that). My rhetorical question remains, “How should we then live?” How can we see broader tangible change in the society? We know the Answer, but what are the modes of ministry involved? Again thank you for your important work, i hope to meet you face to face one day. :)

    • That is the million dollar question. OF course, there is no magic key. However, I do think the answer will involve a more holistic vision of the gospel, Scripture (thus theology and interpretation), and application (more on this coming in later posts).

      No culture or church has figured this out in 2000 years because we’ll never have full buy in as long as we have sin natures. Tangible change does not imply complete change. Neither Paul nor Jesus had disciples who fully connected gospel rhetoric and incarnational reality.

      I think “theological syncretism” (as I refer to it in the book and in an article) naturally stymies maturity. One last thing I would add about theological/instructional method is that our goal is not simply that people would understand what we say, but they would also feel the significance of what we say. This is a pedagogical (teaching-learning) issue. This requires a careful consideration of our word choice, selection of imagery, diverse approaches in presentation, etc. I hope that helps just a bit.

  • Angela Hogan

    Regarding being a teacher in a cheating culture, seems we could “ease them into” independent thinking and writing by allowing them to work in groups (to “Christianize” the terminology, we could allow them to “theologize in community” =) first before writing their final thoughts independently, emphasizing that in the end, they do not have to completely agree with one another. Rather, they get the security of making sure they are on the right track intellectually by working through the issues with others and having a chance to hear devil’s advocate positions, etc, but also get the practice of having to articulate their beliefs or conclusions. For those still unsure, they may tote the “party line” or group consensus, but for others, they will either slightly modify the group’s conclusion or at least more elequently state the position. Just a pedagogical thought.