Renmin University in BeijingJuly 24, 2006
Samuel Pearson – China
Some of China's ablest university graduates attain admission to graduate programs at Renmin University in Beijing. Some enroll in comparative literature where they prepare for careers as university and secondary school teachers of world literatures. Having been born and educated since China's "opening to the West," most of them have a particular interest in the literatures of Western Europe and North America.
At Renmin University these students quickly learn that the study of literature requires not only language skills, but understanding of the culture in which the literature was produced. A similar situation prevails among students admitted to the graduate legal program who have considerable interest in the Western legal system, and learn that the understanding of theselegal systems requires understanding of the undergirding culture. Renmin'sstudents are fortunate to find resources which can help them develop such understanding.
For many Chinese students, one of the most perplexing aspects of Western literature or lawis the role of religion in Western culture. Five religions are recognized and given legal status in China including Protestant and Catholic Christianity (the other three being Buddhism, Islam, and Daoism). Yet religions are not really encouraged in China. The Communist Party, which recently adopted a new policy of opening membership to capitalists, still excludes members of religious groups. The majority, even of the educated elite in China, often know little of religious teachings and practices. They know that Daoism is the only religion native to China that Buddhism entered from India in the seventh century, and that Islam is the religion of those minorities who entered China along the silk road, or the sea routes, into the ports of the southeast. Though Christianity first arrived in China about the same time as Buddhism, it was never similarly domesticated, and is generally believed to be the religion of the West, both foreign and exotic.
Global Ministries has provided a church historian for the past two years to offer courses for Renmin's students. These courses, along with courses in classical languages and civilizations offered by a European scholar, are presented in Renmin's Institute for the Study of Christian Culture and are available tograduate students. Student interest has been great, and questions as elementary as "what is the Bible" and as complex as "what is the relationship of Western science and economy to Christian theology" have been explored. A few of the students in these classes are actually Christians, and Christianity is a rapidly growing religious movement in contemporary China. For the majority who are not, these courses enable them to gain a better and, hopefully, more sympathetic understanding, both of what Christianity is, and of how it is related to Western culture.
Samuel Pearson works with Nanjing Theological Seminary, Nanjing, China. He serves as a professor of Church History.
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