Singapore – The work of United Bible Societies (UBS) in China is a remarkable testimony of God working through collaborative relationships with various partners, namely the national China Christian Council/ Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CCC/ TSPM), the respective provincial CC/TSPM and the Religious Affairs Administration of the Chinese Government (SARA). Had He not provided these friends, getting a Bible into the hands of a Chinese believer in such a vast land would not have been possible.
From October 2014 to January 2015, China Partnership had the privilege of helping to host one such friend in Singapore. Mr Wang Aiguo is a retired government official. As the Deputy Director General of SARA for 17 years, he had contributed much to the development of the Church in Yunnan while overseeing the religious affairs of the Christian community, especially in the translation and printing of Bibles in minority languages. (Photo above: Mr Wang at Trinity Theological College (TTC), Singapore)
After his retirement in June 2014, Mr. Wang was invited by Bishop John Chew to TTC for a 3-month Research Fellowship. China Partnership took the opportunity to interview this veteran administrator who has been a trusted friend and ministry partner of UBS for as many years as he had been in his post. Here are some extracts from that interview:
Question: Could you share an interesting observation about the development of the Church in Yunnan?
Answer: The Church in Yunnan is unique in that about 90% of Christians are of ethnic minority groups. How did that happen? Protestant Christianity entered China with Western colonialism in the mid 19th century and faced much resistance. Missionaries laboured for more than 20 years but saw very little effect, with just a handful of converts.
Then, suddenly in the late 1800s, a large number of Miao people came to faith, as a result of the ministry of Samuel Pollard. This also affected other minority groups like the Yi, Lisu, Wa and Jingpo. Over the next thirty years, Christianity spread throughout Yunnan’s ethnic minority groups. By the 1950s, there were already more than 130 000 believers in Yunnan. Out of 1 million protestant believers in China then, Yunnan believers made up 13%. Today, there are 600 000 believers in that province alone and the Church has been growing steadily.
These cultures had their own religious traditions. How was it possible that they should come to the faith in such large numbers? I think the answer lies very much in the Christian message itself. It has given the ethnic minorities a sense of identity, purpose and dignity. Historically, they suffered much persecution and oppression that adversely affected their worldview. Christianity radically changed that. The policy of the China Inland Mission to establish churches led by the locals also helped to develop a sense of independence and ownership. This strengthened the faith of the people so that the ethnic minority churches in Yunnan were able to survive tumultuous political upheaval and still thrive.
Question: What would you say is your contribution to the development of the Church in Yunnan?
Answer: Previously, Bibles were very scarce. Just to obtain one Bible, believers had to give a cow in exchange. To poor rural families, a cow could be the most valuable asset in their household. It was a high price to pay for one Bible. Our partnership with UBS started about that time. In 2001, I was put in charge of overseeing the affairs of the Yunnan Christian community. One of the first things I did was to ask to see the main UBS Bible translation consultants, Dr Yu Suee Yan and Dr Simon Wong. After that meeting, I decided to support UBS collaboration with the Yunnan Church for the translation of the Bible into minority languages. I felt UBS was the most reliable organization to work with for this matter.
It is of fundamental importance that the Word of God be translated accurately since it is the basis of the Christian faith. But there was a problem, because we could not decide whether the Bible should be translated into the language script developed by missionaries (the old language script) or the later one developed by the government-appointed language panel (the new language script). The government advocated use of the new language script but the people preferred the old language script.
I was able to come to a decision after a visit to an ethnic minority village. Sitting in the office of their district official, I noticed a Lisu newspaper lying on his table. Curious, I asked the clerk what language script it was in, old or new. He told me it was in the old language script. I asked why an official newspaper was not written in the new, government-approved language script and his simple short answer was, “The people prefer the old.” After that, I decided to adopt the old language script for translation since even newspapers were using it to suit public preference. From then on, translation of the Bible into minority languages has been going on smoothly with the support of CCC/TSPM, SARA and UBS.
Question: In your view, how has Christianity influenced China’s society?
Answer: Christianity’s socio-cultural impact on China is second only to Buddhism. That itself is an incredible thing because Christianity entered China with Western culture. But I think its success in penetrating Chinese society has to do with the ability of the missionaries to contextualize the fundamental teachings appropriately for the locals so that they can understand and accept it. On the other hand, the Chinese Government is also open-minded enough to allow the Christian faith to become part of China’s society. Christian teaching fills some philosophical gaps in Oriental thinking. For example the Christian concept of sin and repentance is non-existent in Chinese culture and philosophy. The Chinese understanding of sin has more to do with commission of crime and illegality than with the separation from a holy God because of disobedience. In the ethnic minority community, that teaching has effected tremendous mind-set and lifestyle changes so that the accommodating attitude towards casual premarital sex among young people has been radically and positively corrected.
The other important impact of Christianity is the missionary effort to give a written language script to minority races. Before the coming of missionaries, many minority races did not have a written language script. For the sake of preaching and teaching, these Christian missionaries spent many years developing a written language script for the minority race they were working with as well as translating the Bible into these languages. This contribution has made a significant impact to the intellectual and cultural development of the minority races.
Question: Would you say a few words of encouragement to the UBS management and donors?
Answer: UBS has done a tremendously good work among Christians in Yunnan. The translation of the Bible into minority languages has helped the growth of the Church in major ways. Whenever there is a publication of the Bible or hymnals in an ethnic minority language, the occasion is celebrated with festivities and great joy. Thanks to UBS donors, such progress and development has been possible. Today, Chinese Bibles are readily available but the translation and publication of minority language Bibles are still in progress. Do please continue to support this work.
Story: Angela Teo
Edited: Cynthia Oh
Photo: UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership