Recent Insights into Chinese Culture

Recent Insights into Chinese Culture August 30, 2016

Two recent articles well illustrate some important dynamics within contemporary Chinese culture. They further show how how honor-shame (e.g. an emphasis on relationships, concern for reputation, etc.) shape various aspects of daily life. These snapshots should alert us to the need to approach ministry in China in different ways that are used in the West.

1. TV Show Spotlights Middle Class Anxieties in China (Wall Street Journal)

A hit Chinese TV drama that tells the story of three families who sent their young teens to study abroad has surfaced middle-class doubts about their future in the country…

Some critics say it reflects a widespread anxiety among China’s middle class: they constantly feel insecure and believe that the only way for their children to get a better life is to leave China and pursue their dreams elsewhere…

“The show makes me so sad. I used to argue with my parents all because of my scores. Study is the most important issue in my family. Only study study hard, there was never love and care,” said one user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform in China.

2. China wants to stop domestic violence. But the legal system treats it as a lesser crime. (Washington Post)

This article is tragic but it well makes the point I and others have made for a while: while Chinese understand the concept law, it’s not a primary issue in the consciousnesses of typical people. Rather, honor & shame dynamics shape one’s daily concerns.

Naturally, this has implications for how we teach and preach. We can either insist on leading with (i.e. emphasizing) legal language or instead speak in ways that are both biblical and address issues that strike important cords with Chinese friends.

The report tells of the brutal murder of a wife by her husband.

The defense asked for leniency on the grounds that Zhang had admitted his guilt and that Li’s death was different than “regular” acts of violence — because she was Zhang’s wife…

Yet the court’s written judgement…says plainly that Zhang’s penalty was indeed reduced because it was a domestic case.

In China, domestic violence has long been ignored by the legal system. In fact, Li’s family was so certain her death would be brushed aside that, after her murder, they refused to bury her body, keeping her corpse aboveground in a desperate bid to shame the state to act….

In a 2014 essay, Kim recalled going to the police station after an attack, only to be told to go home and sort it out. “As far as the police were concerned,” she wrote, “no crime had occurred.”

One local government official comments,

“Isn’t every family like this?” … “There is always smoke coming from the kitchen stove.”


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