{13}     Culture: Christianity and Chinese Culture


Ø       Is Chinese culture completely different from Christianity?

Ø       How can we abandon our Chinese heritage when we become a Christian?

Ø       Is a Christian prohibited from reverence (veneration) of their ancesters?


53.            Do we need to reject Chinese culture when we become a Christian?

     Culture is set of characteristics in life shared by a group, including attitudes, values, goals, and practices. Chinese culture is the set of characteristics shared by Chinese people who live or came from China.

     There is no divinely ordained culture—no culture can claim that it is the culture preferred by God. Actually, God accepts everyone from whatever culture, ethnicity, background. That is why the church is a diverse community. A Christian does not need to reject his culture if it does not contradict with Christianity.

     Christianity and traditional Chinese culture are similar in many important ways so few Chinese cultural features do Christians need to reject. However, some attitudes in Chinese culture are not fully compatible with Christian attitudes. In addition, some superstitious beliefs in Chinese culture (subscribed only by a minority of Chinese) are contrary to Christianity and should be rejected.

54.            Are major characteristics of traditional Chinese culture different from Christianity?

A.  Attitudes Towards Self:

(1)  Emphasis on morality based on conscience: similar to Christianity. However, Christianity teaches that man is unable to reach God’s standard.

(2)  Emphasis on virtues: similar to Christianity.

(3)  Emphasis on the necessities of the body: different from Christianity. Christianity emphasizes one’s spiritual life.

B.  Attitudes Towards Interpersonal Relationships:

(1)  Harmony as the highest good: similar to Christianity. However, Chinese sometimes cover and ignore interpersonal problems while Christianity encourages resolution of problems through love.

(2)  Importance of dignity and avoidance of embarrassment: somewhat different from Christianity. While Christianity also emphasizes human dignity, it also encourages repentance and admission of errors.

(3)  Avoidance of deep emotional involvement: different from Christianity. While Chinese culture de-emphasizes emotions, Christianity encourages deep and genuine fellowship.

C.  Attitudes Towards the Community:

(1)  Family and community more important than the individual: similar to Christianity. While Christianity emphasizes salvation of the individual, it also teaches one to put others above oneself.

(2)  Respect of elders, filial piety: similar to Christianity. This is fully compatible with Christian teachings.

(3)  Submission to authorities: similar to Christianity. This is fully compatible with Christian teachings.

D.  Attitudes Towards the Society:

(1)  Male domination: somewhat different from Christianity. While Christianity also emphasizes male headship in the family, it also encourages equality of sexes.

(2)  Favoring uniformity: somewhat similar to Christianity. Christianity also encourages unity. However, this unity is based on truth, not just consensus.

(3)  Emphasis on independence, not asking for help unless absolutely necessary: different from Christianity. Chinese rarely disclose their own problems, including health problems or family conflicts. In contrast, the Christian church is one body and Christians are encouraged to help each other in all aspects of life.

E.  Attitudes Towards the World:

(1)  Clear dichotomy of good and bad: similar to Christianity. However, Chinese morality is based on tradition and society while Christian morality is based on God’s commands.

(2)  Distrust of foreigners: different from Christianity. Christianity emphasizes treating other ethnic groups the same.

F.   Recent Changes:

     After 1949, the communist government has introduced new widespread attitudes that are opposite to traditional culture, such as the distrust of authorities, putting the communist ideal before the family (leading to the purging of friends and relatives during Cultural Revolution).

     Many Chinese become selfish and start to think only for their own good. As a result, traditional harmony and courtesy are no long a rule. To get ahead in their education and their career, they sometimes use unethical means. Corruption frequently occurs. Many use personal “connections” to obtain advantages.

     The “post-80 generation” becomes the “me” generation. These attitudes are different from traditional attitudes and certainly contrary to the Christian ideal.

G.  Conclusion: Traditional Chinese moral standards are in most ways similar to Christian morality, such as personal ethics and sexual ethics. However, some attitudes originated from Chinese culture are short of the Christian ideal. Chinese Christians should modify their behaviour based on Biblical revelation. One negative Chinese cultural trait is the avoidance of emotional involvement which creates barriers for genuine fellowship between Christians.

55.            In what way does the teachings of Confucius similar to Biblical teachings?

§        Traditional Chinese culture is deeply affected by the teachings of Confucius. We can see great similarities between these teachings and Biblical teachings.

A.  Emphasis on virtues such as gentleness and humility: similar to the Bible.

        Confucius: The Master gets it by his warmth and honesty, by politeness, modesty and yielding. (Analects 1.10)

        夫子溫﹑良﹑恭﹑儉﹑讓以得之。(論語 1.10

        Bible: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Mt 11:29)

B.  Fear God (heaven): similar to the Bible. The difference is in the Christian knowledge of a personal God, compared to a unknown absolute authority for Confucius.

        Confucius: A gentleman holds three things in awe. He is in awe of the Bidding of Heaven; he is in awe of great men; and he is awed by the words of the holy. (Analects 16.8)

        子曰:「君子有三畏:畏天命,畏大人,畏聖人之言。(論語 16.8

        Confucius: Wishing to cultivate his character, he may not neglect to serve his parents. In order to serve his parents, he may not neglect to acquire knowledge of men. In order to know men, he may not dispense with a knowledge of Heaven. (Doctrine of the Mean, chapter 20)

        子曰:「故君子不可以不修身;思修身,不可以不事親;思事親,不可以不知人;思知人,不可以不知天。(中庸 20

        Bible: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Mt 22:37-38)

C.  Love men: similar to the Bible.

        Confucius: The young should be dutiful at home, modest abroad, careful and true, overflowing in kindness for all, but in brotherhood with love. (Analects 1.6)

        子曰:「弟子,入則孝,出則弟,謹而信,凡愛眾,而親仁。(論語 1.6

        Fan Ch’ih asked, “What is benevolence?” The Master said, “To love men.” (Analects 12.22)

        樊遲問「仁」。子曰:「愛人。」(論語 12.22

        Confucius: Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity, and the great exercise of it is in loving relatives. (Doctrine of the Mean, chapter 20)

        子曰:「仁者人也,親親為大。(中庸 20

        Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39)

        Bible: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12)

        Bible: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1Jn 4:7)

D.  Treating others well: similar to the Bible.

        Tzu-kung said, “Is there one word by which we may walk till life ends?” The Master said, “Fellow-feeling, perhaps. Do not do unto others what thou wouldst not have done to thee.” (Analects 15.24)

        子貢問曰:「有一言而可以終身行之者乎?」子曰:「其恕乎!己所不欲,勿施於人。」(論語 15.24

        Confucius: Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. (Analects 6.30)

        子曰:「夫仁者,己欲立而立人,己欲達而達人。」(論語 6.30

        Confucius: To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage. (Analects 2.24)

        子曰:「見義不為,無勇也。」(論語 2.24

        Bible: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 7:12)

        Bible: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:35)

E.  Do not revenge: similar to the Bible.

        子曰:「南方之強與?北方之強與?抑而強與?寬柔以教,不報無道,南方之強也,君子居之。(中庸 10

        Confucius: To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others; and not to revenge unreasonable conduct:—this is the energy of southern regions, and the good man makes it his study. (Doctrine of the Mean, chapter 10)

        Bible: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Ro 12:19)

        Bible: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:43-44)

F.   Importance of repentance: similar to the Bible. The difference is in the result of repentance. For Chinese, it leads to a more virtuous person. For Christianity, it leads to eternal life.

        Confucius: Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. Have no friends not equal to yourself. When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them. (Analects 1.8)

        子曰:「主忠信。無友不如己者。過,則勿憚改。」(論語 1.8

        Confucius: It is all over. I have not yet seen one who could perceive his faults, and inwardly accuse himself. (Analects 5.27)

        子曰:「已矣乎!吾未見能見其過,而自訟者也。」(論語 5.27

        Confucius: Not making the most of my mind, want of thoroughness in learning, failure to do the right when told it, lack of strength to overcome faults; these are my sorrows. (Analects 7.3)

        子曰:「德之不修,學之不講,聞義不能徒,不善不能改,是吾憂也。」(論語 7.3

        Confucius: I pick out the good and follow it; I see the bad and shun it. (Analects 7.22)

        子曰:「擇其善者而從之,其不善者而改之。」(論語 7.22

        Confucius: The fault is to cleave to a fault. (Analects 15.30)

        子曰:「過而不改,是謂過矣!」(論語 15.30

        Confucius: A sin against Heaven leaves no room for prayer. (Analects 3.13)

        子曰:「獲罪於天,無所禱也。」(論語 3.13

        Bible: From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17)

        Bible: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Lk 15:7)

        Bible: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:3)

G.  Persistence in the personal convictions to do good works: similar to the Bible.

        Confucius: He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast. To this attainment there are requisite the extensive study of what is good, accurate inquiry about it, careful reflection on it, the clear discrimination of it, and the earnest practice of it. (Doctrine of the Mean, chapter 20)

        子曰:「誠之者,擇善而固執之者也。博學之,審問之,慎思之,明辨之,篤行之。」中庸 20

        Bible: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)

        Bible: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

        Bible: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (Jas 2:26)

        Bible: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (Jas 4:17)

H.  Reaching for the supreme good (summum bonum): similar to the Bible. The difference is in the origin of the supreme good. For Chinese, it is the conscience of man. For Christianity, it is the commands of God.

        Confucius: What the Great Learning teaches, is to illuminate illuminated virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence. (Great Learning)


        Bible: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12)

        Bible: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2Co 5:17)

56.            How should Christians view the Chinese worship of ancesters?

     Filial piety, the respect paid to parents, is a Biblical norm. Remembrance of the work of the ancestors is also encouraged by the Bible.

     However, some form of veneration may conflict with Biblical principles, such as offering animal sacrifices, burning paper money before tombs of ancesters (superstitions), worshipping ancestors through kneeling and kowtowing, praying to ancestors (assumption that prayers are effective).

     Some argue for external liturgies to show our reverence and they are unimportant matters. However, acts that treat dead ancestors as still being conscious or having supernatural powers are unbiblical. Further, the act of worship is for God alone.




Q.53: Cultural characteristics

     Chinese culture is one of the few “high cultures” in ancient times.

     Cultural archeologists use 21 criteria to classify ancient cultures and high cultures: [1] clothing, [2] cleanliness, [3] no mutilation, [4] construction, [5] roads, [6] cultivation, [7] husbandry, [8] metallurgy, [9] wheels, [10] money, [11] laws, [12] witnesses in defence, [13] no torture, [14] no cannibalism, [15] no widespread superstitions, [16] writing, [17] mathematics, [18] calendar, [19] education, [20] fine arts, [21] value in pure knowledge. Only 5 ancient cultures developed all 21 components and the Chinese culture is one of them.

Q.53: Main characteristics of Chinese culture (Teo)

(from Jonathan Teo (2010): Curriculum for Training Chinese as Cross-Cultural Missionaries)

A.  Attitudes Towards Self:

1.   Emphasis on moral conscience: Although Chinese culture is non-religious, the highest value for a person is to live a life following one’s moral conscience. The most important themes in Confucius’s Analects are to be a benevolent person and a great person. The highest ideal in life is to be a moral person, respected and commended by everyone as benevolent and great. A Chinese Christian is in an advantageous position as his culture provides full support to his religious objective of striving to be a morally upright person.

2.   Emphasis on virtues: The emphasis on moral conscience leads to the general emphasis of personal virtues. Virtuous persons are respected by others while those who are not virtuous, no matter how rich and famous they are, are not respected. Some of the most important virtues stressed by Chinese include submission to authorities, humility, and hard work. These are also Christian virtues.

3.   Emphasis on the body: Because of the background of poverty among most Chinese for many centuries, Chinese worry about food as it is a necessary for life—the body. The Chinese common greeting is not “How are you?” but “Have you eaten rice yet?” Confucius also said, “People regard food as god.” However, this emphasis causes Chinese to value wealth (which is used to buy food) far more important than other things. That is why wealth is the informal religion of most Chinese. This emphasis may unintentionally affect the vision of Christians, leading them to pay too much attention to bodily needs.

4.   Respect of intellectuals: In Chinese culture, those who perform well in studies are regarded as superior people as Chinese respect intelligence. This long tradition leads to the respect given to pastors and teachers.

B.  Attitudes Towards Interpersonal Relationships:

1.   Harmony as the highest good: In Chinese culture, interpersonal conflicts are to be avoided almost at all costs. A Chinese idiom observed by all is “Peace is of great value.” So Chinese emphasize the practice of “courtesy” to all people. Sometimes, things that cause or can potentially cause conflicts are deliberately ignored. So a Chinese Christian will try to maintain a harmonious relationship with everyone around them. This is of course compatible with Biblical teachings. However, the negative aspect of this attitude is that sometimes the problems will be covered and ignored and never solved.

2.   Importance of dignity and avoidance of embarrassment: For Chinese, a gentleman is one who can maintain his dignity at all times. Therefore, one important objective in interpersonal relationships is to avoid being embarrassed and lose respect. (Chinese call it “lose face”) This may lead to the avoidance to admit errors and sins.

3.   Magnification of generation gap: In Chinese culture, chronological age is an important factor that determines respect and obedience. Old people are the wise people and are expected to be respected. Young people are usually regarded as immature and too emotional. As a result, the relational distance between people from different generations (such as father and son) is generally magnified.

4.   Avoidance of deep emotional involvement: Chinese culture de-emphasizes emotions. A usually emotional person is generally regarded to be not trustworthy because of the risk of irrational behavior. Therefore, Chinese Christians may find it difficult to establish warm fellowship.

C.  Attitudes Towards the Community:

1.   Family and community more important than the individual, the neglect of individuality: One reason why western culture is a more individualistic culture is because Christianity (which dominates western culture) emphasizes salvation of the individual. The salvation of the father does not automatically bring the salvation of the son; the son needs to accept salvation himself before he is saved. In contrast, the Chinese culture is a community-based culture. It puts much less importance on the individual than the community. In one way, this is a positive and beneficial attitude for Christians because they are expected to put God’s work and the welfare of the church community as a higher priority than for themselves.

2.   Respect of elders, filial piety: In the Chinese culture, older people are to be respected simply because they are older in terms of age. This contributes to regarding filial piety as an important virtue in Chinese culture. This is fully compatible with Christian teachings.

3.   Submission to authorities: One important objective of Confucian teachings is to bring peace and harmony to the community. The method is to create a clear hierarchy where the subordinates always submit and obey their superiors. From infancy, Chinese children have been trained in the family to submit to legitimate authorities, including legal authorities. This is fully compatible with Christian teachings.

4.   Accommodation of others: As an extension of seeking harmony between individuals, the Chinese culture emphasizes efforts to accommodate each other. A Chinese idiom says, “To accept difficulties smoothly (逆來順受).” This attitude will have a positive impact of helping Christians to live harmoniously.

D.  Attitudes Towards the Society:

1.   Male domination: In ancient times, China was a male-dominated society, with males dominating in all positions of power. While modern Chinese society has deliberately stressed the equality of sexes, some men still find it difficult to work as equal partners with the female sex. This attitude will create difficulties in cross-gender cooperation.

2.   Favoring uniformity: As China is a country with a large population, diversity may mean a large number of different opinions and will often bring chaos. Therefore, Chinese generally favor uniformity. This helps Chinese Christians to accept the importance of a unity in doctrines.

3.   Emphasis upon independence, not asking for help unless absolutely necessary: Chinese culture values independence, that is, not seeking help from others, especially not from people outside one’s own family. The Chinese idiom says, “Everyone shuffles the snow outside your own door.” Even more, Chinese people want to appear to live a happy life and have a perfect family. That is why Chinese rarely disclose their own problems, including health problems or family conflicts. Such an attitude could stop Christians from seeking necessary help from other Christians and thus has a negative effect on the development of a genuine fellowship.

E.   Attitudes Towards the World:

1.   Clear dichotomy of good and bad: Unlike the popular postmodern relativist viewpoint of today, most Chinese have an absolutist viewpoint of the world, classifying things into two clear categories: good and bad. This can clearly be demonstrated in classical Chinese operas. Most of the main male characters appear on the stage with painted faces, indicating clearly whether they were either good or bad simply by the patterns and colors on their faces. In daily living, people are often classified as good persons or bad persons depending on what they have done and how they have behaved. Positively, this absolutist viewpoint can help Christians to stand firm in defending the absolute truths of Christianity. It can also help them to be cautious about avoiding sinful activities. On the other hand, it may also have a negative effect as such attitude may create a barrier for them to approach people who are judged as bad.

2.   Distrust of foreigners: The Chinese worldview is self-sufficient, proud, resilient and resistant to any foreign idea which purports to be a more superior alternative. In ancient times, all foreigners were regarded as barbarians. In the last two centuries, Chinese began to realize and accept that foreigners could have an advanced culture. Yet, because of the numerous invasions into China by western nations, Chinese came to have a general suspicion about all non-Chinese people and gave them the name of “foreign devils”. This is of course against the spirit of Christianity which emphasizes treating other people (other ethnicities) the same.

3.   Superiority complex and inferiority complex: China, in Chinese, means “Central Nation”. Chinese traditionally believe that they occupy the centre of the world and are more superior than all other nations and cultures. With this attitude of superiority complex, some Chinese hold a condescending attitude towards other ethnic groups. Christians need to eliminate this cultural prejudice. On the other hand, Chinese also realized that western culture possesses advanced technology and dominate the whole world. As a result, some Chinese feel inferior and adopt the attitude that anything western is good. This unhealthy attitude can also create unnecessary barriers with other ethnic groups.

F.   Recent Changes:

     After the Communists conquered China in 1949, they attempted to wipe out traditional culture and bring in a modernized culture. They initiated the Cultural Revolution (from 1966 to 1976) and organized the students to criticize, to rebel against, and to destroy traditional culture and traditional authorities. Violence broke out all over the country and over one million people were killed.

     During the revolution, thousands of priceless historical sites and millions of antiques were destroyed. Yet it could not eliminate traditional Chinese culture which is too well-rooted in people’s hearts. However, the policies and actions of the communists do introduce new widespread attitudes that are opposite to traditional culture.

     The foremost of these countercultural attitudes is the distrust of authorities. The Cultural Revolution also seriously damaged interpersonal relationships. The government encouraged everyone to drag their friends and relatives whom they thought were counter-revolutionaries (that is, hardline supporters of tradition) out to public meetings (which they called “purges”). These “public enemies” were then openly criticized, insulted, and punished. Such activities spread fear among all people and the result was mutual distrust. The impact can be seen in many Chinese people today. They become selfish and start to think only for their own good. As a result, traditional harmony and courtesy are no long a rule. To get ahead in their education and their career, they sometimes use unethical means. Corruption frequently occurs. Many use personal “connections” to obtain advantages.

     The corruptive influences have greatly affected those who were born after the Cultural Revolution. They are called the “Post-80 Generation”. They grew up in a relatively prosperous, peaceful, and stable society. They are the product of the one-child policy, and are “often dubbed Little Emperors sitting atop a family pyramid of two doting parents and four eager-to-please grandparents.”

     Contrary to those from the previous generations, children from the “post-80 generation” are not afraid to challenge their teachers, and show no respect to authority figures. They are the “me” generation. These attitudes are of course contrary to the Christian ideal.