“We Don’t Believe in Anything”

If you want to find out what is really going on—I mean really going on—in China, ask a taxi driver. Since they spend all day conversing with people from all walks of life, getting various takes and perspectives on the issues of the day, few people have a better feel for the mood.

That’s why, when I was still living in Beijing, one of my favorite activities was chatting with cab drivers. Most of the time I would just drop the question, “so, what are Beijingers gossiping about today?” That was usually enough to get them off and running.

Sometimes I would ask the question, what do Chinese people believe in? Without fail the response was either “we believe in making money,” or “we don’t believe in anything.”

Brent Fulton puts this conversation into context in chapter 5 of his book China’s Urban Christians: A Light that Cannot Be Hidden. Writing about this “crisis of faith,” he says,

With Deng Xiaoping’s ascendancy to power in 1978 the people’s attention turned to economic development, and the promise of building a better life, both personally and as a nation, replaced class struggle as the common object of faith. However, Liu contends, this “worshipping a golden calf” does not provide moral or spiritual support. On the contrary, unbridled pursuit of profit has resulted in widespread corruption, environmental degradation, and a realization among the newly wealthy that being rich does not equate to having a meaningful life. In Liu’s words, “China is once again faced with the question of ‘what do we believe in?’” (p.71)

A young artist in China who contends that the pursuit of success has been a spiritual disaster for her generation also takes up this theme in a more personal way.

Those of us born in the 80s lived in a world focused on “me,” with families that went to all lengths to direct their resources our way. Today we no longer lack basic needs and we really don’t have to suffer physically. Young people don’t really bear any great burden for their families but are free to willfully pursue their own dreams. If I want something and can’t get it, well, that’s just not okay.

“Self” became very important, and as we entered our teens we became headstrong. However this headstrong nature in our 30s or 40s becomes something different. The only standard in our word is that of success. Success is the great spiritual disaster of this generation.

What do you believe in? It’s probably a good question for each of us to ponder from time to time.

Image credit: Beijing Cabbies, by Jens Schott Knudsen, via Flickr