Last week the New York Review of Books blog published an interview of American-based Chinese pastor Yuan Zhi-ming conducted by journalist Ian Johnson. In the 1980's Yuan Zhi-ming was a documentary film-maker in China. Because of his involvement in the 1989 protest movement, he was forced to flee China, eventually ending up in the United States. He became a Christian in 1992, and started the China Soul for Christ Foundation, which produced the documentary The Cross: Jesus in China.
"Although banned from entering China," Johnson writes, "he has become one of the countrys most influential spiritual figures through his documentaries and videotaped sermons."
One of the reasons for his influence is his presence on Chinese social media. His Weibo account (@元牧师) has more than 125,000 followers, and he regularly posts his sermons and articles on his Sina blog. The fact that a Chinese pastor in exile for his involvement in the events of 1989 is so influential in China demonstrates the free-wheeling and open nature of Chinese social media.
In the interview Pastor Yuan talks about China's crisis of faith, the Chinese concepts of justice, benefit, and Heaven, and how Christianity has changed in the decades since he began preaching:
There are far more Christians now than in the 1990s. But it was more fervent back then. After the Cultural Revolution people were free and excited and could do what they wanted. Now people are faced with the problems we face here in the US. Secularization is a lure for people. They want to make money.
Another change is that its spread from the lower classes to the upper classes. In the past it was mainly just peasants. They had a tough life. People looked down on them. So Jesus's message appealed to them. Now, the upper classes in the city feel the spiritual vacuum. So now you see a lot more people in the world of arts and thought who are attracted. This means the intellectual level of Christianity is much higher. When we filmed The Cross there werent people like Jin Tianming [the intellectual pastor of the banned Shouwang Church]. I interviewed [the exiled writer] Yu Jie for the film but he wasnt a Christian yet. But all these people have emerged.
The entire article is worth reading.
Image source: Tiananmen Square, by Daniel X. O'Neil, via Flickr
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