Chinese Church Voices

The Unexpected Journey of a University Student

From the series Stories of Faith from Chinese University Alumni

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

This is the fourth in our series of testimonies from alumni of Tsinghua University and Peking University. These testimonies are translations of selected chapters from books published by ReFrame MinistriesThe Reason for You II: Tsinghua Testimonies and three volumes of Peking University Testimonies. In each case we post an excerpt from a testimony and include a link to the full testimony in downloadable form. Watch for more in the coming months.

For more information about these testimonies, see “Capturing Chinese Stories.”

Intellectual Vomiting and an Unexpected Journey

LI Jing (Peking University, Sociology Class of 2000)

In 2012, the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit cinemas around the world. As a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, it continued the cinematic glory of the trilogy. Bilbo Baggins, like the other hobbits in the story, passed his days in leisurely tranquility. Yet, when a wizard and some dwarves paid a visit, Bilbo’s long-hidden passion was awakened. After some struggle, Bilbo joined the party on its expedition. At that point, he veered completely off the expected life path, and set off on a danger-filled, but ultimately legendary, unexpected journey.

As a young adult raised in an atheistic education system, I would, time and again, puzzle over life. To “believe in God” was the most ridiculous, most impossible option. Yet, the creator God has a sense of humor and makes choices we cannot fathom. Indeed, that was, against all odds, exactly what happened. I not only became a Christian believer, I also was called to be a preacher. This, then, is my unexpected journey.

Peking University: I Got In

I was born in an old revolutionary area of China in the early 1980s; my grandfather was a loyal party member, a loyal revolutionary. As for my hometown, it had long been known as a “land of milk and honey” that had produced its share of illustrious sons, a place where enchanting scenery was paired with ages-old cultural history.

Perhaps I was influenced by the beauty of the scenery, but since I was young, I’d always loved reading books and reflecting. I felt that life was more than eating and drinking, that it was about intellectual and spiritual pursuits. However, because of my hometown’s geographical isolation, my intellectual pursuit could feed only on communist atheism and nothing else.

Thus, the Confucian ideals of “improving self, bringing order to the family, governing the nation, and bringing peace to all,” as well as the communist ideal of “serving the people” became my religion, and the way to realize my personal worth. As a humanities student, my highest goal was to attend the legendary institution—the best in the country—Peking University.

In the summer of 2000, I had the great fortune to test into Peking University’s sociology department and I became a “native” of the Yan Yuan campus. I was off to a bright start on the journey of life.

Becoming A Prodigal Son

However, I was only half right.

One of the beliefs of Peking University was “All rivers run into the sea; and acceptance allows greatness.” In the rich environment of the Yan Yuan campus, my horizons widened exponentially. I’d never thought that my long-held communist and atheistic beliefs would encounter a fatal blow.

As I came to a truer understanding of modern China’s history, I was startled to discover that the ideological education I had received since childhood was packed with absurdities and lies. To get closer to the truth, I had no choice but to experience what the scholar Liu Xiaofeng called “intellectual vomiting.” That is similar to what happens in martial arts novels when the hero relinquishes his existing martial arts and experiences a process of death and then life.

I remember one time in class when a student asked: “How is it truly possible to completely fix, to resolve, the problems in society?” The professor was silent for a moment and then responded: “There is no real way to fix social problems such as corruption and crime.” Such a candid response astonished us; the frankness of it left me even more shaken.

Later, I slowly started to grasp that while sociology could help in understanding and expounding upon societal problems, it could not solve them. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the current situation in China dictates that the views and opinions of sociologists mean little, while the likes and dislikes of the authorities squash all other factors. Second, all societal problems come from the deep-seated, incurable corruption and ugliness of human nature. If human pride, selfishness, greed, and jealously are not dealt with at root level, how can societal problems be solved?

Thus, for the first time I turned my mind towards the subject of human nature. But human nature took poorly to being scrutinized. Even in Peking University (which I so admired), in the midst of the cream of the crop, from time to time I would see disgraceful actions, actions running counter to moral philosophy and the law. I must confess that often I also had thoughts that were not good. To this day, I still feel ashamed when I think of some of the things I have said and done.

When I first entered Peking University, I felt as if everyone there wore a halo and walked with integrity and confidence. After a while, however, I had no choice but to extinguish my own halo and silently remove it. Not only did the state of human nature leave many questions unresolved, but it also left humanity deeply mired in an enslavement of frustration and powerlessness, and caught in the strange cycles of history.

This being so, how could people possibly establish a paradise-like communism?

Another time in class, the teacher said that the health and progress of society necessitated moral philosophical resources; that such resources would drive people to build up society, instead of destroying it. Since time immemorial China has possessed traditional moral philosophy. But in the past several decades, communism and the heroic spirit of Lei Feng have been popular and considered a type of moral resource. I asked the teacher: “What effective, moral philosophical resources does China currently have?” The teacher shook his head helplessly. I once again felt a feeling of emptiness.

Experiencing all this, my seemingly indestructible faith gradually fell to pieces. It was pitiful that at Peking University’s library, purportedly the best in Asia, I could not find truth or hope that could endure testing. My thoughts could not cope with the burden; my heart became unsettled. Day after day in my diary, I would agonize: “So where, after all, can my spirit rest?”

My dream of Peking University was an ideal that had been smashed. Thus life is full of unexpected drama. I was at Peking University, the temple of intellect, a holy ground gilded in gold. Yet, I had become a wandering prodigal.

An Uninvited Guest

Alone, wretched, and bewildered, I was unaware that God was softening my hard heart in this time of darkness, and he was quietly opening a door to eternal happiness. Like Bilbo, I also experienced an uninvited guest barging into my life.

In the spring of 2002, I took an elective that would fulfill general requirements. The class was particularly appealing, with a lot of material that prompted new thought. The teacher for the course was extremely kind; she would take two afternoons every week just to talk with students. Curious, I signed up to meet with her. To my surprise, we quickly became friends, and we both benefitted greatly from one another.

One day, the teacher said that she was a Christian and invited me to church to broaden my perspective. I was completely stupefied. Was not religion merely intellectual opium and the product of ignorance and backwardness? She was such a good teacher — how could she be religious? Due to my previous “intellectual vomiting,” I realized that perhaps I had preconceived biases against religion. In any case, Christianity was a social phenomenon and it would be worth observing and examining it.

After much deliberation, I finally agreed to go.

That April, I stepped into a church for the first time and experienced a type of holiness and universal love that the world does not have. The people at the church were joyful and friendly, without any of the safeguards or self-defensiveness commonly seen in society. My heart felt a peculiar warmth. The songs that the Christians sang and the Bible which the pastor preached caused me to marvel. Christianity was a world about which I knew nothing.

This is an excerpt from an English translation of the original testimony in Chinese which is available for download. The original Chinese testimony is found on pages 12–19 of《从未名湖到生命泉(一):百名北大学子的信仰之旅》(Peking University Testimonies I) available from ReFrame Ministries.

Read the full English testimony to find out more about LI Jing’s unexpected journey.

More about the Author

LI Jing was born in Jiangxi, China. He attended Peking University from 2000 to 2004, receiving degrees in sociology and law.

LI came to Christ and was baptized in Beijing in 2002. He has served many years in ministry organizations and in fulltime ministry. He received an MA from Talbot School of Theology in California and is in the process of obtaining a Master of Theology from Logos Evangelical Seminary in El Monte, CA.

His favorite Bible verse is Galatians 2:20:

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

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Image credit: Yuan Wang on Unsplash.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

Written, translated, or edited by members of the ChinaSource staff.          View Full Bio

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