Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Impact of a Resurgent China

One of the more unusual speaker choices for the Global Leadership Summit last week was Peter Zhao Xiao, a Chinese economist. In keeping the Willow Creek Association’s philosophy of highlighting the convergence of global business and the Christian faith, Zhao was chosen because he has espoused the view that China’s economy would benefit from the spread of the Christian faith and the application of Christian principles. Although he is a Communist, Zhao is also a professed Christian. From his research, he has concluded that Christianity is the key to America’s economic success.

In addition to teaching, Zhao is the chairman of the Cypress Leadership Institute, an organization which seeks to help transform the business culture in China through the application of Christian principles. This can be as simple as embracing honesty by only having one set of financial books for an organization or as complex as expressing love by providing humane working conditions.

Dr. Zhao presented an interesting overview of the China’s history. He pointed out that in 1820 China’s economy was 33 percent of the world’s economy. Prior to the 18th century, more than half of the world’s books had been written in Chinese. Until the 14th century, China was a leader in almost very aspect of culture and civilization. He concluded this review with the statement, “China is coming back.” By 2020, China is expected to become the largest economy in the world once again.

The cynic in me responded, “And this is good news?” I must admit that during the Cold War, I was much more suspicious of the Chinese than the Russians. Although the USSR was supposed to have the nuclear arsenal that threatened the United States, the mainland Chinese where the ones who seemed to be most active in promoting conflict in places like Korea and Southeast Asia. This was a prejudice, and I have come to know some Chinese who are very friendly and open people. Still, am I ready for a resurgent China?

Zhao’s point is that since this is happening, Christians need to be involved and Christian principles (as he espouses them) need to be part of this movement. In fact, he talked about China as “a city on a hill” (a term borrowed from early American Christian leaders and often applied to the United States by contemporary leaders such as Ronald Reagan) and a potential “blessing to the world.”

Even without this economic impetus, the number of believers in China is certainly growing, although accurate figures are not available. An article by Philip Jenkins in the current issue of The Christian Century points out the difficulty of knowing the number of Christians in China, but he tends toward a conservative estimate of 65 to 70 million. Even so, he points out, this outnumbers “the total population of major nations like France, Britain or Italy” and rivals the number of Communist Party members in China.

Dr. Zhao’s message is a wake up call. Even as China’s economic dominance grows, we may well see a growth in the number of Christians there. Whether or not there is a link between the two, China is destined to play a major world role both economically and religiously in this century.

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