Building Better Mousetraps:
Globalization’s Challenges for
by Diane J. Allen
The late Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader after Chairman Mao Zedong, lives on in his legendary pragmatism: “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” Since 1979, Chinese leaders have concentrated on putting rice on the table, roofs overhead, and televisions in the living room. Today, citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) enjoy greater economic success, political stability, and international influence than in centuries past.
In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded by the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Many historians agree that, while Mao was a tremendous revolutionary leader, his beliefs led to some extreme campaigns that caused human tragedy and economic disaster. The Chinese now refer to the Great Leap Forward (1958), the unrealistic attempt to industrialize the nation through communal backyard factories, as the Great Leap Backward. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) is now seen as political ideology gone wrong—Mao sought to rid the country of “the Four Olds”: old culture, habits, customs, and ideas.
One of history’s great ironies may well be that Mao so discredited himself through these failures that it opened the way for immense change later on. Since Chairman Mao died in 1976, China has transformed itself from one of the world’s greatest opponents of globalization to one of its strongest advocates. Deng Xiaoping’s “Open Door Policy” has contributed to making China one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Today’s visitors are struck by the plethora of skyscrapers, handheld devices, and advanced motorways. Most urban households have television sets; 35 percent have savings accounts. The number of personal computers doubles approximately every two years. In 2005, I participated in the Amity Foundation’s Summer English Program, supporting Chinese teachers of English in remote parts of southwest China. Every teacher in my group, while coping with 80 students per classroom, often as the only teacher in the village, owned a mobile phone.
An emerging middle class has aspirations and lifestyles that include holidays abroad and overseas boarding schools. The World Trade Organization estimates that by 2020, China will become the fourth leading generator of tourists worldwide. China has the highest consumption of meat and grain to the most franchise systems in the world. Forbes’ 2005 list of billionaires included several from China’s mainland. Modernization and globalization are ridding the country of the Four Olds much more effectively than the Cultural Revolution did.
Is the glass half full or half empty? For China, globalization is not only a matter of economics. Environmental concerns, drug and human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, the Avian Flu, and internet fraud all have profound implications on its relationship to the world.
Jean Woo, former China Program director, National Council of Churches, tells of a recent trip to China in which she was met on the streets in Chongqing by several respectful eight-year-old “young pioneers” conducting a survey. They politely asked to interview her.
“Why is it important to keep our water and air clean?” they asked. “Tell us, what do you do at home to save electricity and water?” “Is it the government’s or our responsibility to protect the environment?” China is often blamed for putting profit first. These children embody hope for China’s future. The balancing of economic growth with sound ecological practices is in the world’s best interest, not just China’s.
The past several years have also seen China’s move toward a rule of law and away from central power. Legal reform is allowing the average citizen to seek reparations when wronged. The 2005 New Regulations on Religious Affairs, a series of laws protecting religious expression, is yet a further affirmation of the practice of faith already guaranteed in China’s Constitution. Aside from national justice, notes the China Development Brief, China’s legal reform also provides a framework for the rest of the world to do business with China.
Globalization requires increased cooperation. The I-win-you-lose Cold War mentality must be replaced with “everybody wins,” says Professor Luo Zhaohong from China’s prestigious Academy of Social Sciences. “Globalization means that the interests of different countries are interwoven even more closely.” Chinese strategic thinkers see cooperation and integration as powerful messages and a model to diffuse any one country’s predominant influence over another.
Mr. Zhang Liwei of the Amity Foundation, an independent Chinese Christian social-service organization, warns of growing inequalities between the rich and the poor, urban and rural areas, and the coastal areas and inland provinces, particularly in China’s western region. “Sixty-five percent of China’s population lives in the countryside, yet the central government spends only 10 to 15 percent of its tax revenue in rural areas.”
As the Chinese government downsizes from direct supervision in matters of the economy, perhaps nowhere are the effects of withdrawal more acutely felt than in the provision of social services. As cradle-to-grave care becomes detached from government responsibility, the acquisition of health care, education, and social services has morphed into a “consumer pays” phenomenon, in which most poor people can’t pay.
While the coastal areas, where investments are heaviest, see a population that can (mostly) afford to purchase services, rural areas, especially in China’s inland, see governments struggling to pay even the meager salaries of school teachers, doctors, and nurses. The inequality between the rich and the poor is so pronounced that one-fifth of China’s richest population consumes 80 percent of its goods, while four-fifths of China’s people must share the remaining 20 percent.
The Amity Foundation
Amity was created in 1985 on the initiative of Christians in China as a way to live Christ’s gospel in Chinese society. This independent, voluntary Chinese social-service organization promotes rural development, health care, education, social welfare, blindness prevention, special education, relief, and rehabilitation. The Amity Found-ation is also one of the General Board of Global Ministries’ main partner organizations in the People’s Republic of China, a valued relationship of 20 years.
A glance at Amity’s 2006 project proposals reveals a wide range of innovative projects (in more than two dozen provinces) addressing economic and social imbalances. To name a few: HIV/AIDS training for church workers; a back-to-school project that enables poverty-stricken children to return to primary school; correspondence and training courses for village doctors; bio-gas and solar programs in western China; reforestation in the deserts of Ningxia; a small hydroelectric power station in west Hunan; an extension wing for the Nanjing Counseling Center, a Christian-based service; legal advocacy for the rights of children and migrant workers; and continued work in more than 60 orphanages, which includes the Amity Grandma Project, foster care, equipment purchase, and education sponsorship.
Among Amity’s beliefs is that the people of China must assume leadership for China’s development. One of Amity’s greatest strengths is that it dares to work with everybody—grassroots people and local governments, the young and the old, the politically entrenched and the creative, Christians and people of other faiths, ethnic minorities and Han Chinese, people from within China and from overseas.
Amity’s general secretary, Qiu Zhonghui, was asked at a recent seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, if Amity works with “house churches.” He answered: “House churches are now called unregistered churches in China. No matter what the group, as long as they really want to help those who are in need and have no [hidden agendas], we would like to cooperate with them.”
Historically, especially in the countryside, the Protestant missionary legacy was somewhat disconnected from social concerns. Even today in rural areas like Wuding, individual salvation and strict interpretations of what constitute “not being conformed to this world” (see Romans 12:2) still shape people’s understanding of the Christian faith. After 1949 and until a few years ago, religious life was largely confined to what went on inside church buildings, since the government considered itself the sole provider of welfare needs. This is no longer the case.
While the Chinese government may be officially atheistic, it has now openly recognized that religious believers can assist in addressing some critical issues the government now faces. AIDS is near epidemic proportions in Henan Province, where, in the early 1990s, impoverished farmers sold plasma to blood-donation centers that did not sterilize needles or screen its products. Christians in Zhoukou, Henan, with the help of Amity, have supported nearly 2000 AIDS orphans whose parents have died from the disease. This foster care and adoption program was one of the first in the nation. In the last three years, the Henan Christian Council has organized 40 HIV/AIDS training programs that have qualified 4700 individuals who now conduct community education programs. The Zhoukou Evening Post, the county’s newspaper, said: “The government’s AIDS trainers usually get 100RMB ($12) for each training session they conduct. These Christians do it free of charge. Imagine how much money these Christians are saving the government!”
There are now hundreds of church-run medical clinics, kindergartens, community centers, and homes for the elderly throughout China. They are the face of God for hundreds of thousands of Chinese people. The difference between social services offered by the church and those run by others is that church-run initiatives are aware of God’s love as their motivating force. Christian witness is not only about doing good but also about transforming people’s lives, both the givers’ and the receivers’.
Still Catching Mice
Diane J. Allen is a General Board of Global Ministries missionary serving as China Program Associate with the United Methodist China Program.
Diane J. Allen can be supported as a covenant missionary through the Advance. Her missionary code is 10163Z.
Date posted: Mar 07, 2006