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A Forgotten People

The latest issue of China Source Quarterly shines a spotlight on a people often overlooked in China.

According to the latest nationwide figures, China has nearly 83 million people with disabilities. These include:

  • Approximately 15% with visual impairment,
  • 24% with hearing impairment,
  • 1.5% with speaking impairment,
  • 29% with physical impairment,
  • 6.7% with mental impairment,
  • 16.3% with multiple disabilities.[1]

Taken together, those with disability constitute a people group larger than any of China’s numerous ethnic minorities. Of course disability is no respecter of ethnicity, age, or gender. People with disabilities are found across the spectrum throughout society. As China’s population grows older, the number of people with age-related disability will increase proportionally.

Steve Bundy, guest editor for this issue of the Quarterly, points out disability is more than simply a characteristic of an individual. The definition of disability is found within the relationship between the individual and society.

As with many of China’s ethnic minorities, people with disability will not naturally find their way into the church. It is only as the church intentionally embraces those with disability that they find their place within the family of God.

Many obstacles stand in the way of the church taking this step. Physical obstacles may be the most obvious, preventing many with mobility impairment from even getting into a church. Most churches are not equipped to effectively communicate the gospel to those who cannot see, who are hearing impaired, or who have mental or psychological disabilities.

More fundamental is the cultural stigma associated with disability. In a society that strongly emphasizes conformity to an idealized standard of perfection, there is little place for those who don’t measure up. Children born with spina bifida or other impairments are often abandoned by parents who cannot bear the social pressure or financial cost associated with raising such a child.

Dr. Jeff McNair notes that such attitudes are not limited just to China. In its attempts to serve people with disabilities, Western society tends to devalue such people and either segregates or congregates them in ways that are demeaning. McNair, a professor of special education and disability studies at California Baptist University, argues that Christians are uniquely positioned to counter this trend, both through their practice of community and by redefining the meaning of disability.

True inclusion exacts a high price. Yet no higher price has ever been paid than that which was paid by Christ to welcome into his kingdom all who would call upon his name. To his followers he gives this example, along with the promise that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Image credit: Wheelchair by Andrew Hefter via Flickr.  
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, 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 …View Full Bio

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