When I arrived at Yannan, I have envisioned my role in the team as that of a bridge; a bridge that connects Chinese and Western co-workers. I was born and raised in China, and I have lived for many years overseas. I should understand the cultures of both sides, right? When I put on a Chinese dress, I understood Chinese culture; and when I know how to lay a napkin on my lap during dinner, I understood Western culture. As it turned out, I was too simple-minded.
The love-hate relationship between Chinese and Western people has been an entangled mess for hundreds of years. I have first hand experience while working in the field. While serving the Lord, ‘general conflict’ often develops into ‘special conflict’ between Chinese and Westerners. The local Chinese still kept some distance between themselves and foreigners; distance breed courtesy. However, they did not have such courtesy toward me, a ‘false foreign devil’. They would bang the table, roll their eyes, and use their fingers to point at my nose tip; as if they wanted to hold me accountable for all the old misgivings and new hurts brought about by Westerners. At that point, I began to appreciate how the Lord had suffered. Unable to withstand such pressure, this bridge of mine eventually collapsed; I held on to a plank and drifted away with the flow. I cried out to the Lord, “Lord! I cannot be this bridge; I need your help!”
Stimulated by the cold water, I became much more alert. Other than historical reasons, the tension between Chinese and Western workers comes from our respective traditions and cultures. For example, a Chinese would ask, “How does this task-empathy came along?” The Chinese links a task with empathy; the empathy mediates the task, thus the task and the empathy are inseparable. However, for Westerners the task and the empathy are separate entities; a task is a task, empathy has no room in it. Our Chinese co-workers are quite confused; every time when you wrote to me you start your greeting with ‘Dear’, and finish your greeting with ‘Love’. When we meet again, you would hug me. If I am your ‘Dear’, and you ‘Love’ me, why do you pull out the policy manual when I ask you to perform some simple task for me? Are you a hypocrite, your outward expression do not reflect your inward thinking? Another example is the Western mind, which is straightforward. They speak out what they think. However the Chinese mind is like a crooked path; only half of what he thinks is revealed in speech, the other half has to be speculated. This type of understated culture can drive Westerners to turn around in circles!
Due to the differences in our backgrounds and living environments, we tend to view the same issue from very different angles. In one occasion, it was requested that each co-worker bring a dish. But when it came to who would make a fish and who would make a potato dishes, a conflict arose among the Chinese co-workers. The Western co-workers did not understand: the fish and the potato are both dishes, so what difference did it make who cooks which? Later someone shared a story: the animal kingdom got together for a potluck dinner; every animal was to bring a dish. The hen told the pig: “Let’s cook a ham and egg dish. I’ll provide the egg, you provide the ham.” Immediately the Westerners understood.
We may have thousands of knots in our inter-human relationships, but we have hope in the Lord. The Lord Himself is the bridge; He is the bridge of love between God and sinners. His salvation reached different countries, and worked in the interactions among people of different races. I have seen a beautiful picture: a newly formed mission team is to be sent out afar. All twelve of them stand in a row, but they came from nine different countries or regions. Among them were Chinese southerners, northerners, African blacks, Americans. Everybody there walked forward and encircled them, lay hands on them, pray for and bless them.
I have a wish. If our Chinese co-workers are willing to let go of their historical baggage; our Western co-workers are willing to increase their understanding and identify with Chinese tradition and culture; and all are willing to lookup to the bridge of Christ’s cross, then we can realize unity in Christ.
I have a dream. I dreamed that my broken bridge is already repaired by the ropes of love of my Lord, and I can smell the flagrance of fresh wood.
The author came from Shanghai and was involved in helping the poor in the Southwest region of China. The first five installments were published in ‘Behold’ issues # 5 through # 9.