During my years in grad school, Foucault and Derrida were leading the way in the postmodern revolution sweeping academia. While my fellow students struggled to properly pronounce the names of these and other postmodern luminaries, this nevertheless did not deter them from engaging in animated discussions about power relationships or from deconstructing literary classics in order to discover new meanings, found not in the context of the literature itself but in the interaction between it and its modern critics.
"Why do we spend all our time reading DWEMs (Dead White European Males)?" students asked, and professors dutifully rebalanced curriculums and added new and exotic course offerings. The curriculum overhaul was long overdue. However, the idea which occasioned it, namely, that all truth claims are valid and thus equally worthy of study signaled the delinking of knowledge from any objective criterion. In essence, all truth claims were equally valid and equally irrelevant at the same time since there was no way in which to demonstrate that one was of more value than another. The whole question of value was left to the subjective interpretation of the interpreter.
China, meanwhile, was entering its own postmodern revolution through a very different door. Studentsnot in classrooms but in a huge square in the center of Beijingcame face to face with the violent reality that they could not pin their hopes on any of the institutions or "isms" they thought would save China and bring meaning to their lives. Their hopes dashed, a whole generation turned inward to find whatever fulfillment they might gain through enriching their own lives in the spirit of their leader who said simply, "To get rich is glorious."
Watching the aftermath of the Beijing events on TV with a fellow student, a medical doctor from China, I wondered aloud, "How could they do this to their own people?"
"There is something wrong with their hearts," the doctor, who at the time was not a Christian, replied.
At that moment all of the intellectual arguments we could have had about the veracity of the Bible, evolution, the origin of the universe, the evidence for the resurrection and a whole host of other topics became irrelevant. The doctor had voiced the fundamental question: the condition of the human heart and what could be done about it.
As Dr. Pan points out in this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, "Disillusionment with faith, hope and love leads to confusion for this new generation of young people, but it also creates opportunity for spreading the gospel. Postmodern man fails in his search for life-stabilizing and soul-anchoring faith, as well as in his quest for goodness and for finding a future hope that modernity provided with modernism as the basis. Yet, man craves the satisfaction of these three crucial needs "
The upside of postmodernism is that it leaves people asking the right questions. Online in blogs and weibo posts a new generation surveys China's social landscape with its food scandals, official corruption, unbridled consumerism and rampant abuse of women and children, and asks, "What's wrong with their hearts?"
In the context of genuine relationship, as searching hearts are brought near to their Creator through the unchanging truth of his word, the answerand the solutionare found.
Image Credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio