Peoples of China

The Cultural Crisis of Peasants in the Cities


Urbanization in China is proceeding at full speed with no return.  Nowadays, more and more factories are being established in Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These bring not only many opportunities to entrepreneurs, but many young people from villages seize the moment and rush to the cities for jobs. The city is a place full of possibilities and pitfalls. There are non-Christian peasants who come to know Jesus Christ in the city; however, there are also Christian peasants who lose their faith there.

Life Crisis in Cities

Many peasants, most of which are young women, rush to cities every day. Hoping to improve their standard of living, they leave their native villages and travel great distances to the SEZs to find jobs. However, once in the city, they find that urban life is thorny. It is beyond their imagination and they are seldom able to get on their feet. As new immigrants, they are often referred to as a “marginal community.” They are frequently discriminated against by urbanites and are regarded as poorly educated or even uncivilized. With such an exceptionally low social status, it is not surprising to find that no matter how able they are, they can only find menial work such as cleaning, working in homes as servants or factory jobs with unreasonably low wages. Mistreatment is very common and they suffer greatly due to harsh working environments such as fourteen hour workdays seven days a week, low wages, crowded factory dormitories and so on. Some of them are sexually harassed by their bosses or foremen.

The problem they face is more than just one of adaptation or culture shock; the harsh working and living conditions depress these young workers.  During this dreadfully tough time, they find very little support. Although most of them are accompanied by friends and neighbors, social support is meager as family members, their most important support system, are all far away. With their families far away, and unable to adapt to city life and its harsh living and working conditions, these workers are drawn into an acute life crisis.

Nevertheless, this crisis period is sometimes helpful in pushing them to a point at which a definite decision must be taken. Facing a life crisis, workers may be more receptive to the gospel than they have ever been. The positive witness of Christian workers among them arouses their curiosity; they become very interested in the special vitality of the Christians. The Christian workers then have a golden chance of leading lost or strayed sheep to Jesus Christ.

Traps in Cities

Multifarious city life opens the eyes of the newcomers to both the good and the bad. They are surrounded by all kinds of information and knowledge including that of the life and teachings of Jesus. Geographic accessibility in the cities helps pastors to preach and have Bible study classes or Sunday services with the factory workers. In addition, foreign investment attracts many foreigner investors and entrepreneurs. This enables many Christian industrialists to establish factories and then let the gospel be introduced.

The openness of the city, on one hand, helps the spread of the gospel; on the other hand, it may have a negative impact on factory workers. Not only the environment, but the values of the city and village are poles apart. City life may destroy many of the factory workers’ traditional values. Many Christian workers, who have already converted to Christianity in their villages, gradually lose their faith after working in the city for a time. While they were in their villages, they were able to spend much time in worship, Bible study and so on, but continuing these religious activities becomes difficult owing to the long working hours. How can young workers concentrate on Bible study after working fourteen hours without a break? The unreasonable and demanding work hours make them exhausted; many would rather rest or participate in relaxing activities instead of attending a Bible study class during their precious time off.

Back when the factory workers were still in their villages, they thought in a simple manner without much understanding of the secular world. In the cities, they learn new ways and ideas, but soon become confused and may give way to various temptations. Many factory workers, especially female workers, cannot resist the enticements and soon become involved in illegal businesses such as prostitution. Even though these women would never have thought of such degrading activity previously, trickery is often used. Many factories or stores claim to recruit clerks or sales women by offering a high salary. At first glance, these seem to be wonderful jobs; nevertheless, many female workers find it too late to resign when they finally realize that their actual job details involve immorality. They may strongly say no at the onset, but their cunning employers will ask them to stay and do just some cleaning work. As it is not easy to get a job in the city, most of them will, at last, choose to stay, but swear to guard their bodies. Sooner or later however, having been tainted by what they constantly see and hear, they become one of the prostitutes. These kinds of “getting the foot in the door” stories are easily found in SEZs.

Stories of Christians in Cities*

It is said that the city is a good place for conversion; it is also an appalling place for desertion. The following stories tell the struggles of Christians in the city.

Siu-nam’s story:

Siu-nam was an 18year-old girl who was born into a rural Christian family. Both of her parents are church leaders. She had attended church since her childhood and converted to Christianity in her teens. One day, her father became lost when he went out preaching; no one knew his whereabouts. Siu-nam’s mother had no choice but to take up the heavy burdens of the family and church. However, misfortune never comes singly; her mother was later apprehended by government officials. Siu-nam was told that her mother would not be released for three years. Siu-nam, with her younger ten-year-old brother, fell into serious financial difficulty. Having been encouraged by a neighbor, she decided to go to Guangdong for a job.

In the beginning, Siu-nam worked in a factory. She dedicated herself to hard work even though factory life was boring and exhausting. She intended to earn as much as possible so her father and mother would have a good life when they were discharged from prison. However, the factory she worked for suddenly closed one day without any forewarning. Siu-nam and her colleagues could not get even a dollar of the money they were owed. It was at the end of the year and the possibility of finding another job was dim; yet, the family financial crisis was pressing. Siu-nam was completely at a loss. She finally walked into a hair salon knowing it was a common place for prostitution activities. Siu-nam, just like other girls working in the salon, could not resist the temptation for material gain and soon became one of the salon girls (prostitutes). After that, she did not pray to Jesus believing that He would never welcome and forgive a “dirty” girl like her.

Thank God that his grace is everlasting. One day, on the street, Siu-nam met a pastor. He told her, “God will not reject anyone; He never despises a broken and contrite heart. He has never forsaken you. Don’t you know He might be the One who called me to meet you at this particular time and place? He loves you and hopes you will return and repent.” With tears and gratitude, Siunam said goodbye to the pastor promising to say goodbye to the salon and her unprofitable days in the city.

Wong’s story:

Temptation is not reserved only for factory workers, but for Christian factory employers. Madam Wong is the key person in a factory. At one time, she faced a struggle in obtaining a contract. This was a decisive contract which, if not signed, might imperil the prospects of the factory and upset the livelihoods of several hundred employees and their families. Her client gave her a hint that “rewards” (meaning money and sex) were needed for it to be signed. Wong brought the struggle to her pastor and prayed for a proper decision. Consequently, Wong signed the contract successfully without having to provide any additional rewards.

Chan’s story:

 Another employer, Mr. Chan, faced a similar situation, but was not as fortunate as Wong. He was also asked for additional remuneration as he strived for a significant contract. Like Madam Wong, he also brought the struggle to his pastor and prayed for God’s guidance. He lost the contract after refusing to provide additional remuneration and his factory went bankrupt. Although Chan lost his business, he gained back his family. He was once so busy that his family was left totally unattended, but following this event he was able to spend plenty of time with his wife and children.

Feeding Christ’s Sheep

With openness and accessibility, the city is unquestionably a key area for preaching the gospel to Christ’s lost sheep. However, it is also an easy arena for “thieves and robbers” to enter the “sheep fold,” creating a high risk that the sheep may be stolen away. It is crucial to open the front door while at the same time keeping the back door shut. In the Special Economic Zones of China, feeding and taking care of Jesus’ sheep is vital and urgent requiring the ability and vision to carry this great responsibility through thick and thin.

*Names of individuals have been changed.

Image credit: DSC02500 by ahdont™ via Flickr.

Janet Chan

Janet Chan, B.Soc.Sc., M.Div., is currently studying for her Th.M. and is a research assistant at the Chinese Mission Seminary with a concentration in the study of Chinese society and churches. View Full Bio