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The Monitor's View

Love in China

A new book by dissident writer Liao Yiwu chronicles the rise of Christianity in China, where even the Communist Party wants to adopt Christian values.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / September 12, 2011



Last July, a leading Chinese writer, Liao Yiwu, was on the run in China, once again facing jail and torture for his “illegal” books, when he escaped by sneaking into Vietnam.

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This week, the prominent dissident begins his first trip to the United States with the publication of his latest book in English. It gives an insider’s look at the surging interest in Christianity within the world’s most populous nation.

Mr. Liao is a “nonbeliever,” as he puts it, but he became mightily impressed with China’s estimated 70 million to 100 million Christians. (By comparison, the Communist Party has about 75 million members.) Their heroic tales of a reliance on the “life-sustaining” message of Jesus Christ “exhilarated me, lifting me out of my drunken depression,” he writes.

When they all go to worship on Sunday – either at a state-approved church or, more commonly, in private homes – China’s Christians tally more than all the churchgoers in Europe. But their influence as the largest formal religion in China (about 5 percent of the population) extends far beyond their numbers. Christian concepts, such as unconditional universal love, are now also seeping into Communist Party policy.

Published by HarperCollins, Liao’s book is called “God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China.” Its 18 interviews and essays are a journalistic chronicle of how Christians survived the repressive Mao era as well as a glimpse into why their numbers are rising so rapidly.

One clue: China suffers a spiritual crisis, caused by the collapse of communist ideology and a pell-mell race toward Western-style material prosperity. And China’s native religions, from Confucianism to Taoism, are not sufficient to meet the challenges facing Chinese youth.

“In our society today,” Liao writes, “people’s minds are entangled and chaotic.”

He sees essential qualities in Christians for building a new China – traits such as optimism, honesty, and a willingness to give – and forgive. His friend and fellow dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is in jail and won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, writes that this book “allows truth to shine in the darkness.”

All of Liao’s books tell tales of Chinese who live on the margins, the forgotten populations whose daily lives “help the world understand the true spirit of China, which will outlast the current totalitarian government.” His 2001 book, “The Corpse Walker,” is about the people he met in prison where he spent four dehumanizing years for publishing an epic poem, “Massacre,” about the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

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