Red is China’s colour. Too often, the Chinese see Christianity as a western religion – something imported in the Victorian era by imperialist missionaries and successfully dealt with by the Cultural Revolution.
Atheist dissident Liao Yiwu’s latest book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, debunks that myth. Christianity is as Chinese as the Miao people. It is as much a part of many ethnic cultures as porcelain was part of the Ming dynasty. In fact, Yiwu shows that Christianity is far more Chinese than Communism is.
A spokesman for human rights in China, Yiwu realized several years ago that the underground house church movement was a rich, untapped mine of stories and ideology outside of the media spotlight. He began traveling around Yunnan province in late 2005, interviewing house church people with whom he gained contact through friends or other connections, often in Miao and Yi villiages. The transcripts of these interviews form the bulk of the book. From a Roman Catholic nun, to a former Communist neurologist turned itinerant missionary, to an elder, to a peasant cancer patient, the stories are remarkable.
In speaking with many Communist Chinese exchange students, I had glimpses of what was happening to Christianity in China. When hearing missionaries talk, I had some idea of what is going on. I’ve read the stats, read missionary biographies, and biographies of Chinese martyrs, but to have stories laid out – average person after person – was different. Chinese Christianity struck me in a new way. So did the response of the Communists. What amazed me as I read these interviews was the sense that the Christians and the government officials themselves had, that Communism would eventually collapse and the Church would continue to spread. On their knees for days with beatings, being starved, intimidated, shot, robbed, tortured, these believers seemed to recognize that regardless of what happened to them, God would preserve His church. These stories are not so much a record of an oppressive regime clashing with a religious minority. They are examples of the ongoing, world-wide clash between God’s people and the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:10-13). I don’t think Yiwu understood this as he interviewed and wrote, but it comes through anyway.
The groundless hatred of the government, even at a local level, and the persistence of God’s people is inexplicable apart from the spiritual realm. In one story, Yiwu tells of an entire village that was starving and the communists were too weak to beat the Christians, so they bit and scratched them. That behavior goes beyond political convictions: it is spiritually driven. So is the church’s persistence. One persecuted man told Yiwu that he continued doing what God had called him to becasue, “no matter who ruled China, people needed the guidance of the gospel” (119).
If you are looking for solid theology, you will not find it in this book. If you are looking for a defense of the five points of Calvinism by illiterate villagers, you will not find it in this book. What you will find is story after story about people who only have Jesus. Some of them do not have seminaries, church buildings, or even ministers or Bibles, but somehow they heard of Christ and they love Him for who He is and what He has done.
Their simple, incredible stories of faith being refined by fire are a rebuke to a western church that has a glut of money, buildings, theology, books, ministries, opportunities and freedom, and so often wastes them because it has so little love. God is Red is a book that humbled me and made me pray that the church in China would not be corrupted by heresy, or by the wealth and lukewarmness that so often comes with religious freedom.
The other thing that struck me when reading Yiwu’s book is that he only interviewed fourteen people. The government admits that there are at least 31,000,000 Christians in China. Independent estimates are closer to the one hundred million mark for professing Protestants. Fourteen out of one hundred million is almost nothing, and yet those fourteen are remarkable testimonies to God’s grace and providence. Multiply that by millions, and you have some idea of God’s glory in growing the church in phenomenal ways in one of the least likely places on earth. Looking at the western church can be so discouraging. Seeing another part of the church rise in strength because of Christ’s work is beyond encouraging. It is praiseworthy: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’… To Him be glory forever and ever.” (Romans 11:33, 34, 36)