The Lantern

Over 30 Years of Observing China

ChinaSource Senior Vice President Joann Pittman lived and worked in China for more than three decades. In this retrospective, she reflects on the significance of some of the changes she has seen in China during that time. These thoughts are drawn from a lengthier piece Joann wrote earlier.

Brent Fulton

Thirty years ago, I set off for what I thought would be a one-year teaching stint in China. Twenty-eight years later, I moved back to the States. Either I'm really bad at math or that was one very long year.

I worked in three different cities: Zhengzhou, Changchun, and Beijing. I wore many different hats. I learned lots, and of course, made many mistakes.

I count myself privileged to have had a front row seat to watch China transform itself from a country on the brink of social and economic collapse to the world's second largest economy.

As I look back over three decades in China, these are some of the trends that I have witnessed.

1. Ration coupons to Walmart

When I arrived in China, ration coupons were still in use. The political campaigns of the 60s and 70s had brought scarcity (and even famine), so essential foodstuffs were rationed: meat, flour, sugar, and eggs. In China today, there is no shortage of food or consumer goods available to those with purchasing power. Every major city has a Walmart or some other big box store with food and other items stacked floor to ceiling.

2. Isolated to Engaged

In the 1980s the world of a Chinese citizen was quite small, existing primarily of family and the work unit. It was difficult to travel within China, and almost impossible to travel outside of China. Today the nation of China is fully engaged on the world stage. Its economy is integrated with the global economy and China is seeking to establish itself as a major world power, a second superpower to act as a counterweight to the United States.

3. Conformity to Self-Expression

One of the enduring images in my mind of China in the 1980s is the uniform drabness of it all. In addition to the sky and the buildings all being various shades of grey, everyone was still wearing the same dark blue or green "Mao suits" (Chinese call them Sun Yat-sen suits, by the way). Today, one only occasionally sees Mao suits worn by peasants or construction workers, and everything from fashion to architecture seems to scream out "Look at me!" The post-90s generation is all about individual self-expression and their own (as opposed to state-mandated) social connections.

4. The Church: Hidden to Visible

In the 1980s the church was in survival mode, having just come through the Cultural Revolution during which religions were banished from Chinese society. Churches were slowly beginning to reopen and pastors were being let out of prison and back into their pulpits. As the church has become more visible, it has found ways to serve the needs of society. And today, there is even the beginning of a sending movement, with missionaries leaving China to go to other countries. To go from survival to sending in the space of 30 years is an amazing testament of God's grace and the power of the gospel.

Excerpt from "Thirty Years in China; Four Observed Trends" by Joann Pittman.

News and Notes

  • Joann Pittman attended the MissioNexus Conference in Louisville, KY September 29 to October 1.
  • Brent Fulton was interviewed by Christianity Today and by CBN News concerning the new draft regulations on religion issued in September by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs.
  • Brent Fulton contributed a paper entitled “Religious Pluralism and Loving Neighbors in 21st Century China,” as part of a Gordon College project on Evangelicalism in China, Brazil, and the United States.
  • Brent Fulton spoke at a Hong Kong Christian Action dinner.
  • On October 8 Joann Pittman and Brent Fulton spoke at a ChinaSource Connect evening in Colorado Springs.

Ways to Pray

  • Give thanks for God’s hand upon China during the past three decades, as the church has emerged from survival mode to become a significant influence in Chinese society. Pray for Christian leaders as they seek to present a gospel message that is relevant to China’s younger generations.
  • Lift up Christians in China who are equipping cross-cultural workers to go abroad.
  • ChinaSource, together with several other entities, has undertaken a long-term research project to better understand the current situation of the church in China. Pray that the findings might be beneficial to organizations engaged in China and to the Chinese believers whom they serve.
  • Many organizations currently serving in China are grappling with the implications of China’s new foreign NGO law, set to go into effect January 1, 2017. Pray for the ChinaSource team as they assist those serving in China to understand the new law.

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