View From the Wall

Families, Churches, and China’s Transition

Since the Communist Party seized power in 1949, Chinese family order has been severely shattered. The communist movement has pursued not just political but also social revolution. The family, the foundation of the entire social structure, could not avoid the revolutionary storm.

Friedrich Engel, in his book The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State,[1] asserts the theory about family that is the most famous in communist ideology. Engel argues that the family simply reflects economic relationships; the commitment and stability obligated in marriage are a product of man’s economic power. With the destruction of private property, the traditional family would cease to exist.

Therefore, China’s Communist Revolution first sought to destroy the economic partnership in the traditional family. Since women had been treated as the vulnerable party within the family’s economic relationship, women’s liberation became an important revolutionary cause. Long before coming to power, the Communist Party had called on women to abandon their families and join the revolution in the city of Yan’an.

After 1949, the liberation of women took the form of active participation in the establishment of socialism. In the ensuing experiment in communal living, men and women labored and ate in canteens together. Childcare was also collective. The family structure thus suffered further damage. At the same time, large state-owned enterprises were established. Many people had to rely solely on the enterprises (state) in every aspect of their lives. Then, during the Cultural Revolution, the government encouraged family members to expose and inform on each other. The traditional family rule of “shielding relatives” was destroyed, and family ethics were in shambles.

With the destruction of family structure and the collapse of its ethical order, the family was no longer a refuge for individuals. Weak, isolated, and helpless, individuals were forced to face the powerful state directly. Coming from this context, the restoration of family order is a must for China’s transformation. The role the Chinese church should play in this is what we need to consider.

Christians have always ascribed importance to family order. For the Puritans, it was impossible to have good social and political order without a proper family system. Richard Baxter asserted that most problems plaguing people throughout the world come from chaos and dysfunction in families.[2] Unlike Engel’s materialistic perspective of an economic relationship, Christianity views the family relationship as a covenant. Marriage is a covenant before God. No other human relationship can be above the “two become one” marital relationship. (Genesis 2:24)  Paul also stressed the wife’s submission to the husband while the husband should love his wife. Such a relationship depicts the relationship between Christ and the church. Children are a heritage from God requiring parental care. A covenantal relationship is above blood kinship. Parents are to “bring the children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

If family order were not established by God but simply a reflection of an economic relationship, then there would be no reason for wives to obey their husbands once they changed their economic status. This is the crisis facing contemporary Chinese families. Many women play the leading role in the family, a parental role that belongs to the husband. If this kind of role confusion happens in a Christian family, family worship will become confusing and disorderly. The spiritual condition of the family members will be poor, and the entire family will not do well. The situation becomes even more serious in Chinese churches where female members are proportionally higher in number than males. The confusion of roles in families affects church organization and leads to a series of problems.

For a long time now, ever since the Chinese government implemented its family planning policy, most families have had only one child. This has created a child-centered family order. The relationship between the parents and their child took priority over the husband and wife relationship. As a result, the relationship between husband and wife suffered a blow. Parents have been unable to establish authority over their children for training, teaching, and guiding their spiritual growth. Parents also spoil their children excessively and view them as a means to realize their own wishes. Children from such disorganized families will not grow into mature church members nor will they ever become qualified citizens for political involvement.

Values and ethics have been corrupted in contemporary China. Even if China can succeed in bringing about democratization of its political system, the restoration of ethical order and social structure will still be a long process. In reality, political, democratic transformation will be impossible without an appropriate social foundation. The reconstruction of family order is crucial to China’s transformation.

The Chinese church can make a difference in two ways. First, the church must go back to the Bible to teach its members the truth about what it means to be a family. Second, the church, as a community, should demonstrate the heavenly order on earth as well as strengthening the families in its community.

We hope the Chinese church will play its rightful role in the reconstruction of family order to give glory to the One who established the family.


  1. ^ Engle, Friedrich, The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State.  International Publishers, 1990.
  2. ^ Baxter, Richard. A Christian Directory, or, A Body of Practical Divinity and Cases of Conscience, “Christian economics,” (or family duties). Vol. 2, Richard Edwards, 1825 p. 514.

Translated by Ping Ng.

Photo credit: Qibao church by felibrilu via Flickr.
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Wei Zhou

Wei Zhou is the founder of First Fruits Reading Society and the author of various articles and a recent book, Thirty Concepts that Relate to Eternity. View Full Bio