Amidst the rapid and relentless change taking place in China today, three dynamics in particular are profoundly affecting the role of faith-based efforts in the country.
On the one hand, the central government is exhibiting an increasing distrust toward foreign NGOs resulting in not a few being forced to scale down operations or to quit certain areas of China altogether. While the vast majority of NGOs and those who support them may have the best of intentions, China's leaders see in the NGO community the potential for social movements beyond their control. Furthermore, since China lacks a non-profit tradition, the Chinese government is immediately suspect of organizations established for a purpose other than making money and quick to conclude that such organizations, particularly if funded from outside China, have ulterior political motives.
Meanwhile, the worldwide economic crisis has severely impacted the traditional funding sources of foreign NGOs forcing a reconsideration of priorities and raising questions about ongoing sustainability.
On the positive side, Chinas burgeoning business sector has opened up new space for creative, faith-based efforts to both impact individual lives and to have a transforming effect on whole communities. While traditional doors of engagement in the non-profit sector may be closing, other doors within this space continue to open. This is not to say that NGO leaders facing challenges should now simply exchange their NGO hat for a business identity. Successfully serving through business requires, first of all, a passion to succeed in the business. Without this, adopting a business cover to conduct activities that are traditionally done under an NGO umbrella is a recipe for failure. Neither the business nor whatever efforts one is making to serve the community will last, and outside observers, including those within the government, will quickly see through ones supposed commercial identity.
Last May several dozen NGO leaders, entrepreneurs and researchers gathered in Hong Kong to consider the opportunities that business and, in particular, social enterprise, present for the advancement of kingdom purposes in China. Their discussions are captured in this issue of ChinaSource (2010 Winter). In addition, weve include here a remarkable case study in sustainability from Walmart's supply chain (the largest in the world). Some may ask what legal compliance, reducing waste and green manufacturing have to do with advancing the gospel. I would submit that the Walmart story provides an all-too-rare example of how people of faith can choose to courageously live out the Gospel in ways that have had global implications.
Together, these articles provide valuable food for thought on the role of business in China as a vital expression of both kingdom presence and purpose. May they serve to broaden our vision of what faithful service in China should look like amidst Chinas rapidly changing political and economic environment.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. 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 China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio