Blog Entries

Connecting with Chinese International Students

A Book Review

Connecting With Chinese International Students: Sharing the Good News with Cultural Wisdom, written by an international team. Published by InterVarsity International Student Ministry, 2021, 148 pages, ISBN 9780997810530. Available from InterVarsity at Connecting with Chinese International Students Booklet—InterVarsity

Most of the Chinese I have worked among during the past 23 years were visiting scholars on a one-year appointment for research—but not all. One young professor came with just a one-semester appointment and yet had decided, with his wife, to try to save their marriage following an affair he’d had in China. 

When they arrived, they heard the gospel for the first time from many ministries, including ours, and quickly responded in faith. The husband said he’d heard a similar message, without the explicit Christian content, from a foreign counselor who had shared with him in China at a time when he was in despair about his life. 

Now, many years later, they still host a Christian group in their home in China and he shares Christian principles with his students in the university classroom. This is just one of many examples of the Lord using many people to reach a Chinese scholar unfamiliar with the gospel of Christ.

It often does take many people to bring a Chinese student to faith in Christ, disciple them in the faith, and help establish them in a Christian community when they return to China. A new resource is now available that will help prepare those many people to minister effectively among those arriving from China today.

Connecting With Chinese International Students: Sharing the Good News with Cultural Wisdom is a helpful, comprehensive introduction to the characteristics of Chinese students from China who are studying abroad and how to reach them with the gospel. The value of this slim but packed introduction to ministry among such students benefits both veteran and beginning campus ministers. The anonymous authors themselves are all seasoned Chinese and American campus ministers. Most have experience and training in the US, but some work in China and are Chinese citizens.

The guide is divided into four sections. Part one,“Building Relationships,” begins with revealing the practical realities of being Chinese during the four decades since Chinese students were permitted by their government to study in Western countries like the US. In fact, over 600,000 Chinese international students were studying outside China before the pandemic occurred and roughly half of them were in the US along with many thousands of visiting PhD students, visiting professors, and their family members. Many of these students and scholars are open to spiritual things despite their exposure to atheistic public education in China. 

Part two, “Gaining Historical and Cultural Understanding” portrays the typical Chinese student as a mixture of the distinctive traditional culture due to the family, plus the modern and post-modern public education which includes internet/social media influences that have become universal in many parts of the world. Central to this chapter and the traditional identity of Chinese individuals is Confucianism and other influences like Daoism, Buddhism, and folk religion. These ancient influences have made striving for perfectionism and group harmony play a dominant role in the forming of individuals and society. Chinese education stresses rote learning and long, tedious study where one absorbs the lessons exactly and can provide answers for the test flawlessly. There is little room in Chinese education for thinking outside of the box.

It seems clear that Marxism has appropriated Confucian thinking into their program of shaping the individual and society these past 70 years. It has dominated the educational and philosophical world of New China and has transformed the layered goals of Confucianism into a national family under the sway of the Chinese Communist Party. The vague supernatural tenets of Confucianism have mostly been consumed by the forceful atheism of Marxism in China. 

Part three deals with “Sharing Jesus.” Despite or because of the 70 years of atheistic education in China, there is great spiritual hunger among contemporary Chinese. They have responded to the gospel more readily than many other international students coming to the West.

Some charts, both in this section and the previous section, show the various religious and non-religious influences among the Chinese population. A survey done by the Horizons/Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2005, not cited in this book, indicates that a clear majority of Chinese believe there is a supernatural reality and that belief in Jesus has probably been doubling every seven to ten years since the Reform and Opening period began in 1980. 1 Many obstacles to belief still exist, especially the long-lasting commitment related to family connections as primary and difficulties of receiving the concept of grace and admitting the personal nature of sin.

This is the most practical part of the book with its patient advice about various ways to introduce the gospel to Chinese, nurture relationships with seekers and answer frequently asked questions. There are also many online links in the footnotes to other resources in this section and throughout the other sections as well. 

The final section, “Making Disciples and Preparing Students for Return,” begins with a sobering account of the China that seekers or new believers will be returning to after their studies. The current leadership has controlled China since 2012 and has tightened the reins on society making it much more difficult for religious believers to practice their convictions, gather together in church, or participate in the work world. There is still space for faith in Chinese society, especially online, but the situation is getting tighter.

The rest of this section is filled with advice about discipling new Christians from China before they return. Methods of study, spiritual practices, retreats for those going back and other suggestions are given. One theme includes the need to have Chinese Christians in the host countries involved in the discipling process since the returnees will probably be in an all-Chinese language world upon their return. Connection with Christians in China is also important to establish before they depart, so the returnee will have someone to turn to spiritually.

Although this manual is very effective, it barely touches upon a main impediment to successful evangelism of Chinese and reintegration into China for the new believer—probably for good reasons. This is because of the risk, especially for the new believer, of drawing the attention of their disapproving Chinese classmates in their foreign universities who might report the seeker/inquirer and their campus worker to the government authorities. Additionally, some students and most scholars will be interviewed about their religious activities by Chinese officials upon their return to China. Those that are suspected may be censured or punished. The ideology of Historical Materialism of the Communist Party must be seriously considered by every returnee believer because it is the overriding reality of contemporary China, which opposes all independent religions or thought. Historical Materialism is based on the premise that the material world is all of reality and that humans are subject to the supreme progressive forces of matter. It colors everything in China and is always in the background of human reality. Discrimination and stark persecution are together a major reality of the Party-State in China.

The emphasis on individual spiritual practices, such as memorizing scripture and learning to feed oneself from the Bible with the inductive study method to strengthen a new disciple, is addressed thoroughly. Incorporation into the community of believers as a necessity for the returnees is also rightly urged by the authors.

May the Spirit use this wise advice for ministry among Chinese students to bring many into the kingdom of God and preserve those who respond for life and service as they return to China.

This booklet is highlighted in the Resource Corner of the autumn issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “Building Bridges of Friendship and Introducing Jesus: Ministry among Liuxuesheng (留学生)” coming out next week.


  1. Rodney Stark and Xiuhua Yang, A Star in the East. Pennsylvania: Templeton Press, 2015, p. 115.
Share to Social Media
Image Credit: Blaz Photo on Unsplash.

John Friendly

John Friendly (pseudonym) has worked as a campus minister among Chinese university students, visiting scholars, and their families in various locations in the US over 35 years. His first experience in East Asia was as a seminary student for one year in 1984. He also lived with his family …View Full Bio

Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.