Reflection on a Developing Path of Christian Literature in China

A long curved bookcase.
A long curved bookcase.
By Da MoJune 28th, 2021

Jesus Christ left a great mission to his disciples before his ascendence to Heaven after he resurrected. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). For more than 2,000 years, in order to fulfill the mission of the Lord Christ, Christians have always been walking against the worldly trend, being constantly challenged by the secular world. This kind of challenge is mainly reflected in ideology. Christians of all ages are also in the conflict and game with secular ideas, setting apart as holy, forging ahead, and going upstream to preach the name of Christ and illuminate the whole world.

Evangelization is always ideological, which is closely related to one’s ideas and spiritual life. To achieve the goal of evangelization, Christians generally adopt three methods: one is to preach the gospel by word of mouth, the other aims to influence people around them by words and deeds, and the last one is targeted at spreading the gospel through culture, such as distributing leaflets, writing books and establishing studies, creating various artistic products (movies and songs), etc. Cultural communication is older and more influential than word of mouth and words and deeds, which can be passed on to future generations.

The category of culture is very broad, including history, geography, local customs, lifestyle, music, painting, sculpture, philosophy, literature, folk customs, and so on. It is in these fields that Christians in the past were struggling to “expand”. They built a rich world and a grand field where the living water of the Christian faith met, that is, “Christian culture”. It is precisely this kind of cultural torrent that has impacted and subverted the old cultural and social order, lighting the dark human world and bringing hope to mankind which is deeply mired in sin and looks forward to being redeemed by God.

Literature is an indispensable and important part of Christian culture, and literature achievements are magnificent. According to statistics, more than 90% of the world-famous or Nobel Prize winning works contain Christian elements. Moreover, there are quite a few works whose subject matter and theme are directly taken from the Bible. For example, Dante’s Divine Comedy, being famous in the history of world literature, is a literary work with biblical content as its theme. Its content links the stories in the Bible with important political events and some politicians in medieval Italy and constitutes a great epic with religious mystery. Although Dante criticized and exposed the darkness in the church in his works, he still pursued pure Christian thought.

Another example is the historical novel "Quo Vadis", by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Polish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905. Its theme derives from the historical events of the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero, 60 A.D. The novel portrays the tortuous and moving love story of a Christian girl, Lydia, and a young general, Nizius, reflecting the extravagant life of the Roman tyrant Nero, inhuman tyranny, and persecution of Christians. This novel also portrays the tragic image of Peter, a disciple of Christ Jesus, who was persecuted and crucified.

There are numerous Christian literary works in the West, some of which reflect characters and stories in the Bible, some reflect the lives of church believers, and some reflect the ideas and consciousness of the Bible. However, due to historical and political reasons in China, there have never been significant works in Chinese Christian literature. What is worth mentioning most is that in the history of modern literature, there have been literary works created with Christian ideas and consciousness, such as Bing Xin's poems (Evening, Gethsemane Garden, and Calvary Land), Xu Zhimo's poems (Decision, The Last Day, Inspiration of Love, and In Vain), Ai Qing's poems (The Sick Watch, and Manger), and Chen Mengjia's poems (Who am I, and Songs for Oneself).

Concerning novels, there are Xu Dishan's Businessman's Woman, and Jade Officer; Ba Jin's Death, and The Fourth Ward; Guo Moruo's Fallen Leaves; Yu Dafu's Southward Migration; and Lao She's Lao Zhang's Philosophy, and so on. Whether it is poetry or novel, its theme is about Christian confession consciousness and love, and dedication. Christian literature in that period can be described as "blossoming". However, since then, this phenomenon that flashed just once has never appeared again.

Even so, novels and poems that reflect the Christian spirit and consciousness always exist, but they are just intermittent. Mo Yan's novels, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature, have a strong Christian color. His novels such as Big Breasts and Wide HipsThe FrogFamily Stories of Red Sorghum, and Fatigue of Life and Death very obviously illustrate the consciousness of repentance and sin. His short story that was published last year, Waiting for Moses, is directly based on the Christian life. Besides Mo, a group of writers such as Bei Cun and Shi Wei are trying to create Christian literature and have made corresponding achievements, especially Shi's novel, Renegades, which has had a wide influence overseas. However, this is far from the rise of Chinese Christian literature.

At present, the Christian community is discussing the issue of the Sinicization of Christianity, trying to find a Christian path with Chinese local characteristics. This discussion is not to enclose Christianity into the framework of traditional culture and let traditional culture replace Christian culture, nor does it let Christian culture change traditional culture, but to give them an opportunity to integrate. Advocating and calling for the rise of Christian literature can complement this discussion because literature is a reflection of society and the times, which is undoubtedly beneficial to promote the progress and development of social civilization by integrating the confession consciousness, the original sin consciousness, and the spirit of love and dedication in Christian culture into Chinese traditional culture, and expressing it in the form of literature and art.

The Bible has already become a classic masterpiece with the widest spread and far-reaching influence in the world, both for Christians and non-Christians. It is also a great literary work that is universally recognized. Each volume is a different genre. There are poems, biographies, novels, plays, essays, stories, and so on. It can be said that the Bible is the source of the whole Christian culture. In addition, when a Christian is restricted by the spirit of the Christian faith, his spiritual and physical life will inevitably change, which will greatly affect his choice of survival, ideological interest, cultural mentality, value, and aesthetic orientation, thus forming a group with unique thinking and living style. When this group collides with other groups and strata in society, a series of life stories unique to Christians will inevitably occur. All these can be the source of our creation.

Christianity here includes Protestantism, the Orthodox Church, Catholicism, and many other denominations. Because of its loose religious policy and freedom of belief, the church has poured in a large number of cultured Christians. There is no shortage of talents in literary creation, but what is lacking is the understanding of church leaders and pastors on this issue. We are confined to the church in evangelism, lacking a necessary preparation for extending and expanding God's tabernacle. In fact, not all activities within the church are blessings. The so-called blessing is relative to the outside of the church. For those who have entered the church and become believers, what is needed is pastoral care and life promotion. For non-believers, the only thing is to spread the blessings to them through Christian culture. The subtle function of literature is the most powerful, and it is also a key to the souls of non-believers.

In knowing the works of Christian literature, we should be eclectic. The standard of consideration should not only be whether the author is a Christian, but whether there are Christian belief elements in the works. All works that reflect the original sin, confession, love, and dedication, should be regarded as Christian literature. Belief should avoid narrow and extreme ideas when recognizing Christian literature so as not to obstruct the development of Christian literature.

At present, there are many media platforms for publishing Christian literature. As long as we work hard and pray for God to give us wisdom and ability, the rise of Christian literature is bound to come.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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