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What Would it Take to Change?


In a lengthy article calling upon his colleagues to adjust their practices in China, Welshman Timothy Richard described the way in which he imagined the foreign community was viewed by Chinese people.

He wrote:

Perhaps their opinion of us is: that we are faithful against idolatry; have powerful influence; are true to our word; but are extravagant, independent, pray but little, love little (e.g. controversial tracts); don't make ourselves at home by adopting the habits of the people; learned and yet unlearned, because not learned in what Chinese consider important, viz, the art of winning people's good-will; too self-asserting, proud, unyielding; we are enigmas to them, because our sympathy is not at all in proportion to our charitable organizations; and by not making weak consciences the limit of our liberty, which as good Christians we ought to do, we do not show ourselves possessed of greater forbearance and larger charity than they. Also by claiming to be all equal among ourselves, which we are not, we thrust wisdom from its throne, and crush humility from our midst. It must also be a painful reflection to all who are inclined to be friendly with us, to find, that although we do not take upon ourselves official authority, we get into trouble far too often with their country-men. The fault can hardly be on the same side always.

Timothy Richard, "Thoughts on Chinese Missions: Difficulties and Tactics" in The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal XI, no. 6 (1880): 433-434.

I confess that nearly 130 years later I often find myself presenting my Chinese neighbors, friends and co-workers with a very similar picture to the one painted here by Richard. Especially in my conversations and interactions with other foreigners, these are precisely the impressions I leave in my wake. These are surely not at all the kinds of values we are trying to express; what would it take to change? How can we present less of our broken selves, and more of the priorities of the Kingdom for which we serve as ambassadors?

Image credit: change machine, by Tracy Shaun, via Flickr

Swells in the Middle Kingdom

"Swells in the Middle Kingdom" began his life in China as a student back in 1990 and still, to this day, is fascinated by the challenges and blessings of living and working in China. View Full Bio