Today was our first full day in China since flying in and we experienced different faces of China: its history and its hi – tech modern aspect.
We met with a senior Chinese cleric at the national head office of the China Christian Council, the body which represents the registered Protestant churches. This was a really informative session describing the history of Christianity in China since the1949 liberation, the pain of the Cultural Revolution years and the joy of the recent years of massive growth in numbers of Christians in China.
We heard how crucial to the rebirth of Christianity in China has been the printing and distribution of Bibles. Bibles can only be sold on church premises and so Christians have given bibles to their friends.
We heard of the challenges now facing the Christian church in China – to sustain the uniting process, to increase the extent and quality of theological training and numbers of clergy, the rural churches losing their young to the cities and being unable to attract trained pastors, the challenges of increasing social and economic inequality and the impact of consumerism. The most memorable part of the session was the testimony of this senior pastor about how he maintained his faith in the years when churches were closed and all bibles and spiritual books were confiscated by the Red Guards in the 1960s and1970s.These edicts came into force just after he was ordained to the ministry. He worked as a tailor for 8 years instead but he and his family helped each other to memorise bible verses by singing them together every day at home.
After the meeting we were taken into the historic former cathedral of Holy Trinity Shanghai next door to the offices. For years it was used as an assembly hall with all religious symbols and artefacts removed – for a time as a cinema- but now it has been restored as a traditional style church with pews and stained glass windows. As yet though it has no worshipping congregation!
After a delicious lunch hosted by our cleric friend we transferred by coach to the railway station for the high speed train for Nanjing. It’s very new, hi- tech and very big, looking more like Heathrow Terminal 5 than a railway station! I was impressed by the courtesy of the station announcements in English which began “Dear passengers” – yes! I cheered inwardly – in China we are more than customers – we are passengers and dear ones at that!
The train ride to Nanjing was the quickest and smoothest train ride I’ve ever experienced and the railway station at Nanjing is as new and impressive as Shanghai’s.
Another little example of Chinese courtesy and consideration which impressed me as we travelled into the city centre from the station is the countdown on red traffic lights at major junctions to let drivers know how long they will be stopped for!
It’s also worth noting that the green man at pedestrian crossings is a suggestion, a basis for negotiation, especially where motorbikes and bicycles are concerned!
Historic and modern faces together – view of Holy Trinity Church (former Anglican Cathedral) in Shanghai.