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Self-Reliance and the Chinese Male


During a recent conversation with a Chinese friend I listened as he recounted his conversion to Christianity and the difficulty he experienced overcoming his deeply ingrained tendency toward self-reliance.

In his opinion, this self-reliance along with an education system, which from an early age aggressively promotes an atheistic worldview, are perhaps the two most significant stumbling blocks for the Chinese male when presented with the message of the Gospel. Christianity, which at its most basic doctrine, recognizes man's complete depravity and need for a Savior, is a direct affront to the Chinese definition of masculinity — a self-reliant individual, able to satisfy all his basic needs and fulfill all his basic responsibilities without any outside help.

My friend believes, however, that once Christ overcomes these initial barriers, particularly the inclination toward self-reliance, many Chinese male Christians then experience significant spiritual growth and often become mature men of faith.

He also noted that this bent toward self-reliance is one reason for the appeal of Buddhism among many Chinese men. Although Buddha provides a source of power and protection outside of the individual, there remains within Buddhism a significant emphasis on doing good works and acquiring favor in the afterlife based upon such good works. As such, "salvation" is largely dependent upon the individual follower. In other words, a follower of Buddha must not only rely upon Buddha, but also upon oneself.

In my own personal experience I have met businessmen who maintain Buddhist shrines in their homes, complete with burning incense, food offerings and cushions on the floor for bowing to Buddha in prayer. It is also not uncommon to find small Buddhist figures on the dashboards of many taxis and Buddhist prayer beads on the wrists of many Chinese males from the working class to the educated university professor.

Every individual, of course, is different and taking a singular approach to sharing the gospel with Chinese males, or anyone for that matter, would fail to account for the complexity of human diversity and experience. Understanding more clearly, however, that there is a propensity toward self-reliance among Chinese men does shed light on possible approaches to sharing the Gospel as well as ways to encourage our Chinese brothers in their faith. Thankfully we have an infinitely gracious God who holds out salvation for depraved sinners like you the reader, me the writer and the many self-sufficient males (and females) from every tongue, tribe and nation. Praise God for this precious truth.

Image credit: smoking guy #2, by Ernie, via Flickr

Mark Totman

Mark Totman is an expat with over a decade of experience living in China. He enjoys writing on a wide range of China-related subjects including language, culture and history, particularly as these subjects facilitate greater understanding of the Chinese context and encourage beneficial lives of cross-cultural service. View Full Bio