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Reflections on the Bombing of the Chinese Embassy

NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade this past May was tragic, and it led to open protest by angry Chinese university students both on the streets and through the media.  Many Chinese students in America also took part in demonstrations on their campuses or in Washington. Amidst the statements of apology by leaders of Western countries, many Americans—Christians or otherwise—have sent letters of condolence to the Chinese embassy in Washington.  For those of us involved in outreach to Chinese students and intellectuals, we find ourselves in an awkward situation, not knowing how to address the issue.  The bombing has impacted our ministry.

It is not difficult to understand the Chinese reaction. China has always taken pride in its historical glory and greatness, but its pride was deeply wounded when the British gunboats blew open China’s door in 1840 and Western “Christian” nations defeated China in subsequent conflicts.  That wounded pride has since driven the Chinese in a common quest to revive China by making it rich and powerful (Fu Qiang).  This is particularly true among China’s intellectuals who, following the Confucian tradition, view themselves as responsible for China’s destiny.  In the embassy bombing, China sees itself again as the “victim” in the hands of Western powers, and President Jiang vowed that China would never be “bullied” again.

Unfortunately, missionaries were not able to enter China until the British gunboats had blown open China’s door.  Since those days, Christianity has always been linked with Western imperialism.  It would be a theologian’s work to debate if God “caused” China’s door to open the way it did, or if God simply “allowed” it to happen within that historical context.  Whichever the case, we have to live with its consequences.  The embassy bombing has added to the disillusionment many Chinese intellectuals feel about Western style democracy and its geopolitical alliances.  Here are some perspectives that may be helpful.

Keep a healthy distance between our Christian faith and our respective governments. 

No country has ever been fully Christian in its true sense; there is an irreconcilable difference between the City of God and the City of Man, as St. Augustine points out.  The United States and Britain each have their own Christian heritage, but it would be misleading to label them as “Christian” countries.  In fact, almost all Western nations are becoming increasingly hedonistic and even pagan.

Remember that government at its best is only a mixed blessing. 

Caesar can’t help God.  It would be a mistake to look up to our government too much instead of looking up to God.  The government’s ability to address moral issues such as human rights and religious freedom rests heavily upon its moral credibility.  Once the credibility is gone, so also is its ability.  The current U.S. government with its scandals, coupled with the bombing of the embassy, will not be an effective spokesman on moral issues, at least for the foreseeable future.

Be aware that it is not enough to teach Christian faith only at a private, personal level.

This level focuses on personal salvation, devotion, confession and quiet time.  The relevance of our faith and its impact on our society and the entire world also need to be discussed among ourselves and in the course of our ministry to the Chinese.  For example, what does it mean to love, confess, forgive and reconcile in an international context?

Keep our ultimate loyalty to God alone. 

This important aspect of biblical truth should not only be applied to us but also be shared with the Chinese students and intellectuals we are trying to reach.  In this way, we may together transcend our earthly allegiance to find true fellowship and common identity as citizens of God’s kingdom where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Chinese nor American. God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.  As the Tiananmen Square bloodshed prepared the hearts of many Chinese for their spiritual journey, may the tragedy of the embassy bombing remind us of God’s call to be salt and light in society and among the nations.

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Daniel Su

Rev. Daniel B. Su works with international students and is assistant to the president of China Outreach Ministries in Fairfax, VAView Full Bio