Behind the Bamboo Curtain

The eyes of the world are focused on the “Middle (or Central) Kingdom.” The president of the world’s most powerful country is visiting one of the world’s most forbidden countries. The most important diplomatic event during the month of February is the visit of President Nixon behind the “bamboo curtain” to attempt to establish cordial relations with the leaders of Communist China.

It is Monday evening in the United States of America, but 11,000 miles west the sun is again announcing the dawn of another day. Tuesday, February 22, will be the second day in the talks between officials from the U.S. and China.

Last night the “Spirit of ’76” touched down in Peking and the first formal reception of an American diplomat to China in two decades could be observed by millions of Americans. Time magazine, February 21, 1972, comments as follows: “ … 10:30 in the evening (Sunday) Eastern Standard Time, an excellent hour for a presidential candidate seeking re-election to make a television appearance.”

The next few days will be filled with historic confrontations and discussions. President and Mrs. Nixon with the official party and newsmen will leave Peking for Hangchow. They will spend a day in the “relaxed garden town studded with classic temples and pagodas” and will then leave from Shanghai on February 27 for Alaska and Washington D.C.

Nixon’s China Journey:

The details of this journey will be fairly well known by anyone who follows the coverage given by the various news media. The fact that the president of the world’s most capitalistic nation and the leaders of the world’s most populous nation (750,000,000) are meeting after a period of immense distrust is tremendously significant. This event has caused men of every political shade and men from many religious groups and denominations to ask about the results of such an encounter. Quoting Time again:

The Peking summit fairly shimmers with the kind of historic aura that Richard Nixon dearly treasures — the leader of the world’s most powerful nation meeting with the ruler of the most populous. Never, perhaps, have two men who so dramatically epitomize the conflicting forces of modern history ever sat as equals at one negotiating table: Mao, the self-styled heir of Marx and Lenin and revolutionary leader of China’s revolutionary masses; Nixon, elected spokesman of the world’s richest most advanced capitalist society and once the archetypal Cold Warrior. Even if nothing happens at their meeting — and no dramatic breakthrough is in sight — the reopening of a U.S.—China dialogue has fundamentally altered the power structure of the globe.

Not all are equally happy with the events which preceded this journey nor are all equally happy with the events of this week. Communist Russia fears the results of this encounter. Spokesmen for the Conservative front in America have opposed this encounter because they see this as a compromise movement and a capitulation to Communism.

Let it be known that our country is indeed entering into negotiations and possible diplomatic relations with a country- which is Communistic. This in itself is not of such earth-shaking proportions. We have such relations with other Communistic countries. The importance of the moment and the concern that many people have in the moment is that we are establishing diplomatic relations with a country which has been traditionally isolationistic and which has taught its people for years to look with suspicion on anything non-Chinese. Concerning this renewed concern, Time comments that it is motivated by a changed attitude toward Communism:

Nixon became convinced that the old strategy of applying U.S. force to resist Communist inroads at all points no longer was a wise or feasible policy. If nothing else, the Sino-Soviet split had made Communist aggression far less likely in Asia. If the U.S. no longer felt com¬pelled to combat Communism at every point, it followed that there was little sense in treating China as an enemy or in denying it a legitimate sphere of in¬terest in Asia. And so the dialogue began.

May we say that the dialogue has advanced from the level of the ping-pong table to that of the conference table?

Time suggests that two decades of ill- will and cold war resulting in the construction of the legendary “bamboo curtain” is an aberration in the history of Sino-American relations and that the renewed concern expressed by the journeys of Kissinger and Nixon is a return to normalcy. There are those who will debate that friendly relations between China and any country is abnormal, but Time points to the mid-19th century when the U.S. befriended China and attempted to prevent other western powers from exploiting the helpless, prostrate country. China in the later 19th century became the prime “beneficiary of the U.S. missionary movement which along with Christianity brought education, health services, and a political philosophy that helped spark China’s first democratic revolution in 1911.”
The conclusion of the Time article follows:

In a historic tumble of events, the missionary movement was swept aside by a larger, more militant native movement, which combined raw terror with a renascent Chinese nationalism. In the process, China, has been transformed into a new society whose ideology and structure would defy reconciliation with the U.S. — unless the U.S. too became a Maoist-style revolutionary society. Still the old legacy of American friendship toward China, combined with a large measure of Yankee curiosity, undoubtedly helped account for the overwhelming approval with which the American people welcomed Nixon’s new policy toward Peking.

Those who have expressed disapproval of this journey of our chief executive to China because they oppose diplomatic relations with Communist China will find very little in the Time feature article to please them. One can see very plainly a very soft attitude toward Communism, as an ideology, in most of articles of Time. I also disagree with the very inclusivistic and general use of the term “christianity” by Time, but this is the way the term is generally used. The more confessional and limited use of the term is foreign to the writers in the secular press.

Nixon’s China Journey and the Results for the Church:

Nixon’s journey to China has evoked most of the comments from the secular press at the level of the political consequences. Religious leaders are also concerned. Leaders in the church world have speculated that perhaps the Christian religion will once again be able to rise above ground in China as a result of the thaw in diplomatic relations.

Liberty, January-February, 1972, a publication of the Religious Liberty Association of America and the Seventh-day Adventist Church featured an interview with an associate editor and former missionary to China (1931-41) who has recently returned from an extensive fact-finding-trip through the Far East. M. E. Loewen, who knows the Chinese (Mandarin) language and has extensive contacts in the Far East answered one of a series of questions as follows:

Q. President Nixon’s scheduled trip to China is raising hopes in Christian circles that missionaries once again will preach the gospel there. One Christian group has suggested that 1,000 three-man teams be mobilized to evangelize China — the task to be accomplished during a two-week crusade. Are you optimistic?

A. I am a realist, and realism does not encourage fantasy. The invitation to the American ping-pong team signaled the desire of China’s leaders to open communications with the West. Their agreement to receive President Nixon — who had made known his willingness to visit mainland China — emphasizes that desire while enhancing Chinese prestige. The President may come now with some agreements that will further American-Chinese rapprochement; he will not come home with an RSVP invitation for Christian missionaries to take up a bamboo cross and follow him.

Consider the following. Half the population of mainland China is under 25 years of age. Youth and adults alike have been saturated with Communist philosophy and values. They have been taught to look with suspicion on anything non-Chinese. From their earliest years children have learned that the chief enemies of the Chinese People’s Re¬public are America, Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek, and religion. One can hardly conceive of foreign missionaries making an impression on China in two hundred years, let alone two weeks.

Actually the plan is sheer fantasy. And the hope that foreign missionaries will ever again witness effectively in China is hardly more realistic. Neither Mao Tse-tung nor his successors can be expected to grant visas to “imperialist lackeys,” their definition of Western churchmen.

This is only the first of a series of very interesting questions and answers which I wish you all could read. This associate editor of Liberty sees very little hope of re-establishing Christian missions among the Chinese. The young people are a lost cause and besides the government which opposes religion has given the people of China a substitute for religion. Words of Mao and thoughts of Mao cover every situation. Mao could brook no competition.

More specifically, however, it ought to be clear to everyone who reads this article that we are living in the last days. The gospel has been preached in China. Nestorians, who were followers of Bishop Nestorius, who was deposed at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, came to China in the seventh century. This corrupt form of Christianity is claimed to have influenced the mother of Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor. In the 16th century Xavier, the Jesuit missionary to the Orient, sought to gain a foothold in China. During the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century missionaries from Christian churches in the United States established mission programs in China.
During the cultural revolution of the 1960’s the Red Guard, composed mostly of young people, was very instrumental in destroying all religion. Those who were suspected of religious feelings were humiliated in public accusation meetings. Religious books and articles were seized and were destroyed. In 1966 all church services were discontinued, and Christianity went underground.

It is reported that there are still 2.5 million people in China who have not bowed the knee to Communism. E. M. Loewen, who seems to know, finds this to be an incredible figure. He says:
I would like to believe that 2.5 million Chinese now profess Christ. History documents that the church has emerged strengthened in faith and in numbers from persecution in other lands. I simply don’t know of reliable information on which one can project a doubling of believers.

Although I have no first-hand information of the religious situation in China, I also find it difficult to believe that 2,500,000 people have maintained a Christian profession. Although it is true that the “Son of God, out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself, by His Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith, a Church chosen to everlasting life; . . .” it seems very unlikely that there will be a great revival in Communist China because of the journey of the President. This is the dream of the post-millennial revivalist, but it is not the teaching of the Word of God.

Christ says, “. . . when the Son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8.
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Behold, I have told you . . . .” Matthew- 24:22, 24, 25a

God grant us the grace and the ears of faith to hear the distant footsteps of the white horse and his rider as he goes forth conquering and to conquer.