Book Review

God in China’s Marketplace


Holistic Entrepreneurs in China, Tetsunao Yamamori and Kim-Kwong Chan, William Carey International University Press, 2002, 110 pages. ISBN 0-86585-002-X. Cost: US$ 10.99 plus S/H.  Available from Gabriel Resources, PO Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA 30830; toll free: 1-8-MORE-BOOKS, email: info@ omlit.om.org or www.gabriel-resources.org

A Review by John Swem

Contemporary Christians are often perplexed by the connection between “business” and “missions.” Despite a Reformation heritage which condemns a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular,” many Christians continue to struggle with the notion that every lawful vocation has equal value in the eyes of God. Holistic Entrepreneurs in China will be a valuable source of information for the reader interested in seeing God at work in a most unexpected venue, the business world in China.

Coauthors Tetsunao Yamamori and Kim-Kwong Chan have written another short book about China, Witnesses to Power: Stories of God’s Quiet Work in a Changing China. In both of their books about China, Yamamori and Chan detail the personal stories of several Christians. This book tells the stories under five “models”: the Christian Witnessing Model, the Business-Turned Mission Model, the Bridgehead Model, the Communal Living Model and the Ecclesiastical Self-Supporting Model. The models are not defined, so it is not always apparent what characteristics distinguish one from the other. Nonetheless, these are fascinating accounts and provide a glimpse into a part of the China world that is very rarely seen by the outsider.

We learn about Jiang Jiexue, the “interior decoration tycoon of Shanghai”; Ming-to Shing, a Hong Kong resident with a small business in south China; Feng Hai and Han Miling, a husband and wife team who founded “one of the most successful private enterprises in northern China”; Dr. and Mrs. Yan, a father and daughter who operate a medical clinic and kindergarten for a church in Guangdong; and unnamed merchants from Wenzhou doing business in remote Qinghai.

The authors take care to point out that these Christians have succeeded in business without engaging in the most common business practices in China today: bribery and immoral entertainment. All have a clear policy for themselves and their employees that such practices will not be tolerated. Those who have done business in China can attest this is not an easy route to follow.

The longest profile, the Communal Living Model, features Mr. Feng Hai and Mrs. Han Miling and is an example of “holistic entrepreneurship” that would put to shame most Christian business people in open Western societies. In 1992, before Feng and Han were married, they were hired to comanage [SIC] a private restaurant. They had many conflicts, but after Han’s mother gave a Bible to Feng and also shared her faith with her daughter, both became Christians. After they married, they started their own business. The book recounts many miraculous ways the Lord prospered them, even with people with whom they had no guanxi, the supposedly all important relationship in China. Today, their Hua Xia Group employs over 480 people, but there is no pressure on the employees to become Christians. Hua Xia now operates several businesses, including a resort hotel with free Bibles in the rooms. Mr. Feng has appeared on talk shows and in magazines. When asked why the business is so successful, he simply says that the group follows Christian principles, that its success is nothing but the grace of God, and that his only secret weapon is prayer. The authors note that Hua Xia is in the infancy stage and will face many challenges if it is to transition to a more democratic style of corporate management that will allow it to serve as a holistic model for others.

The Christian Witness Model provides a fascinating contrast, a business with the same commitment to ethical and professional excellence as Hua Xia but with less emphasis on directly impacting its employees and customers. Jiang Jiexue, “the interior decorating tycoon of Shanghai,” finished his schooling in 1976 and then worked in the Shanghai Public Security Bureau for 12 years. He started his business at a time when Shanghai began to prosper economically, and people had money to spend on home improvements. Starting from a 13 square meter office in his home, his Qianxi Company now owns a 10,000 square meter shopping mall and employs 370 people with more than US$12 million in sales. He reads the Bible daily, is well-known among his business colleagues as a Christian and attends church regularly with his Christian mother. Sadly, the authors note that the church in Shanghai “is in no position to offer assistance to Jiang or use his gifts for the kingdom,” and that entrepreneurs like him “are lonely sojourners struggling through the complex business world with no spiritual guidance.”

These stories, told in Part Two in the book, are its real strengths. Part One, called “Foundations,” has some helpful insights into history, culture, sociopolitical dynamics and WTO accession, but often lapses into jargon-laden prose. The China that has emerged on the world business scene with such impact in the last decade was probably much more deeply scarred by the impact of totalitarian one-party rule than the book relates. Some readers may question the assertions that the Chinese Communist Party has ruled the country rather pragmatically “except for brief flings with idealistic radicalism” (p. 18), that the government “disbanded” the Jesus Family movement (p. 63), and that the government “endorsed the Three-Self principle in the hope that it would help the church to be more nationalistic” ( p. 72). The book’s “how to do business in China” aspect is helpfully supplemented by an appendix of resource materials. The text contains a number of irregularities in the spelling of Chinese names and the use of pinyin as well as some other minor mistakes.

The book concludes with a challenge to Christian entrepreneurs to take their gifts into the marketplaces of the unreached world. May God allow us to see how much the church misses out when she fails to see that the greatest antipoverty program is the creation of productive and lawful jobs, and that the Lord is as much the Lord of the workplace on Monday as He is of the church building on Sunday.

John A. Swem

John Swem is the director of ChinaInsight, Inc. and a researcher for the Intercessor for China prayer calendar series. He lived in mainland China for more than a decade with his wife and their five children. View Full Bio