Responding to the Smog (Part 1)

As China moved from 2016 into 2017, a wave of heavy pollution blanketed the Northeast for over a week. The persistent smog not only made headlines abroad, but also generated much online conversation. Although many Chinese have learned to cope with or weather regular pollution, these unprecedented levels of smog caused many to question more seriously what effects the pollution has on their lives. How have some Chinese Christians responded? The journal Territory put together several reflections from Christians on varying contrasting themes related to pollution.  Due to the length of this article, we will publish it in two parts. This is part one.

Through the Heavy Haze, We Long for a More Beautiful Home (Part 1)

Territory Editor’s note:

From December 30 of last year to January 7, 2017, a “cross-year fog” [跨年霾] and smog lasted for over 200 hours in total. This was the longest period for a heavy pollution red alert in history. According to information from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, twenty-four cities launched heavy pollution red alerts and twenty-one launched orange alerts. Not only in northern China but even Guangzhou, in the south of China, reached heavy pollution levels. Hundreds of flights were canceled. Some people fled Beijing.  Social media feeds were full of voices of discontent. Some said that even scarier than the smog was the emotional fog.  Territory reviewed a group of articles at the end of 2015 from the different perspectives of yesterday/today, this/that, safety/danger, and heaven/humanity. During the red pollution alert, when everything beautiful seemed to be in the past, all we could do is just sigh. We can escape from this here and go to another country, like Europe or America. But there’s still no way to escape from the sinful nature which is frightening. Safety or danger in human eyes and disasters will be all over the earth in the last days. The only place to hide is in the house of the Lord’s love. Looking up through the fog and haze, and relying on faith we long for a more beautiful home.

Yesterday/Today
Everything Used to Be So Beautiful
Written by Wang Dongli

After five continuous days of middle to heavy pollution alerts, I finally took out the 3M mask my cousin had brought me from the United States. I didn’t care anymore that it always messes up my hair when I put it on.

Last year when the smog was heavy, I remained calm. At my sister’s home, we mixed flour, rolled out dumplings, and stuffed steamed buns. After eating, we took photos of ourselves and posted them onto our social media feeds. I wrote, “Still living in peace instead of the fog and haze. Sisters making whole wheat steamed stuffed buns by hand that beat Uncle Xi’s [President Xi Jinping] meal at Qingfeng restaurant!”

A more important reason why I don’t want to wear a face mask is the fact that I love to wander carefree under a blue Beijing sky. At around 3:00 in the afternoon, for example, I like to take a bus from the art museum to Donghua Gate, which is close to the east gate of the Forbidden City. From afar, the sunshine is a warm orange and the Forbidden City wall is a deep red. In early winter, the leaves fall off the trees along the road. It looks like a painting when the sunshine casts shadows of leaves on the gray wall and along the square bricks of the sidewalk. That memory of the ancient capital is unforgettable.

The past two days were traditionally known as “Heavy Snow” days in the Chinese ancient calendar that uses solar terms. Zhang Dai wrote in his poem ‘Watching the Snow from the Pavilion in the Lake Center, “Ice is glittering on the tree in the cold air, the sky, the clouds, and mountains and water are all white. What can be seen from the lake is a shadow of the long beach, the pavilion on the lake like a dot, my small boat and two to three people in the boat.” Nature used to be so beautiful.

Days of outrageously heavy pollution make “the sky, the clouds, and mountains and water” all grey. The beach, the pavilion and the boat and the two to three people there now only bring to mind an image of Judgment Day. Yesterday, in my daily Bible reading plan I read Mark 24, which describes the Lord’s return. The disasters that at that time will be much more horrible than this. Under the sunlight, the haze comes and goes. Above the sunlight, there is majestic splendor.  Everything will eventually come to its end. Maybe we can run away right now, but what about that impending future?

A UK newspaper once gave this question for readers to discuss: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The writer G.K. Cheston responded, “Dear Sir, I am.” It’s true. I do not belong to a government or a company; I do not even drive a car. But my heart possesses the same selfish greed for more and more resources. I may also because of utilitarian reasons shirk responsibility for each of “my” sins, which made everything fall from its original, created beauty and into the fallen state. Everything has fallen under corruption. Through painful toil I cannot have peace and safety.

This/That
Escaping  
Written by Zhao Jie

An old friend from another city called out of concern for me. The topic was the weather. With this kind of smog the most realistic idea a person can think of is escape.

While on the phone, the two of us first talked about moving to the south, and then we talked about immigrating to Europe. Whatever we talked about, besides the excitement it always brought up, there was a different problem to worry about. Recently the situation in Europe has made many Chinese students who were studying there go to the airport, get a ticket to go back home, and just forget about a diploma.

Hanging up the phone, I savored the enjoyable conversation. Living in a net, we may escape from one line, only to fall into another. We cannot just spend our lives constantly escaping from one loop or trap to another because they are all linked together. Eventually we become detached drifters.

Everybody is asking why such extreme weather appeared at this time. Right! Why now? The weather came first of all to challenge us. Here I am thinking of a quite wise word: management. This was the first right clearly given by God to man. Of course, its subtle intent is that man can enjoy the achievement brought on by management but also bears the consequences of any poor management. Undoubtedly, what we are experiencing is the latter one. In other words, we will pay the cost of past pride, ignorance, and foolishness.

Since it is a cost you and I—we all—need to pay, why escape? Just like a criminal, even if we temporarily escape, the rest of our lives we will live every day in fear. You might choose not to pay for the cost of the pollution, but you will have to pay for the negative situation of whatever other life you choose. The reason why a criminal becomes a criminal is sin. If one does not understand this fundamental idea there will be no hope because the cost of sin is death. Not only is it the physical death that can be seen, it is also a spiritual death. Even though we have sin, there is no way for us to escape from ourselves. Even with tons of skills and wisdom, we still cannot escape from the sin in us and cannot escape the issues of life and death.

Then what can we do? We can only face it. Just like the current smog that we encounter now we cannot wave it away. We buck up and face it. This is the inescapable cost brought on by our poor management, the older generation and those who wielded power on our behalf to manage. First of all, to solve this we need to get at the root cause. We must boldly face sin. To face sin we must repent, we must replace ungodliness with reverence, hatred with love, pride with humility, bitterness with joyfulness, freedom with control. Finally you must have peace replace the fear from being on the run. You must replace death with life.

There is one kind of great escape: An escape from darkness to light. You do this not by relying on yourself, but through a mediator—Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Original article: 穿越重霾,我们羡慕一个更美的家乡(Territory) (Translated, edited, and posted with permission)

Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr.