People Of The Han: Are We Free Yet?

Why the Republic?

Last week marked seventy years of the People’s Republic of China. Seventy years since Mao Ze Dong declared “this Government is the sole legal Government, representing all the people of the People’s Republic of China. This Government is willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” A lot has changed in seventy years. A generation has come and a generation has gone. Wars have been fought and wars have been lost. And the Chinese people, once starving subjects of foreign countries, have become a full bellied population of 1.4 billion and masters of their own fate.

What was most significant for the Chinese people was that the people’s republic represented an end to a century of humiliation and chaos. Within the 20th century, China had lost vast amounts of land and control over their own people. Hong Kong was leased off in exchange for stopping opium. Taiwan, Mongolia and Manchuria became Japanese colonies. And throughout the east coast of China, cities like Shanghai and Tsingtao became home to British, French and German territories. The Second World War fractured the country at its foundations. While Chinese immigrants had already found homes overseas in many places such as San Francisco, the war led to the explosion of the Chinese diaspora over the Western world. By and large the common people saw the People’s Republic of China as a relief from war and the beginning of unity and freedom.

Do the Chinese have more freedom under their own people?

“Seventy years ago, China put an end to a period in modern history in which the country was torn apart and trampled upon,” China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, told the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. “We stood up and became true masters of our country.”

While hindsight is said to be 20/20, the past can be understood differently depending on what lenses you were wearing. For me, it doesn’t appear the Chinese have any more freedom under their own people than foreigners. While extreme poverty has been abolished, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. Tibet, Xin Jiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong are no more unified than a slave who hates his master is. And if I turn the pages of the People’s Republic back even further, the mass starvation of millions in the 60s and 70s hints that maybe the Chinese have simply exchanged the hair color of its oppressors.

True freedom is willful service

The right of reactionaries to voice their opinions must be deprived and only the people are allowed to have the right of voicing their opinions…To the hostile classes, the State apparatus is the instrument of oppression. It is violent, not benevolent. (Mao Ze Dong)

What I’ve learnt is that true freedom is willful service. True unity gathers around a shared truth. As Tacitus once wrote of the peace of the Roman Empire, “they make it a desert and they call it peace.” The loyalty of the Chinese to their government seems to have been traded like farms for mansions. But as Hong Kong’s protests show, they have not won their hearts. As the People’s Republic flexed and strutted its might around Tian An Men square, I was reminded of what Orwell once said:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

― George Orwell, 1984

But my prayer and hope is that the Chinese will one day see that only when the law of God is established in each of their hearts and the scepter of his kingdom rests on the merciful shoulders of his son that it is then that they will truly be free and united beyond the color of their skin. Until then, China remains trapped by what my history teacher would warn us about: ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.’

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this. Isa. 9.6-7.

For further reading:

China’s National Day: How the CCP revolutionised China through Mao Zedong

China celebrates 70th anniversary as Xi warns ‘no force can shake great nation’ | World news | The Guardian

Link

Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China – archive, October 1949 | World news | The Guardian

Link

Communist Party of China – Wikipedia

Qing dynasty – Wikipedia

The Tyranny of Freedom

In the beginning, God existed absolutely free. He was free to do as he desired, and constrained only by his own character. He made Adam and Eve male and female, giving them their very own radical freedom to live as his image. This meant that they too were constrained only by his character – goodness. They had the freedom to choose where and what they did except for one thing – to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Attempting to eat from such a tree however meant attempting to transcend God’s own character and know good and evil for themselves. They would use their very own freedom to determine good and evil outside of God, wrecking reality in the process. Sadly, the story has continued till today.

Today, we feel free to decide what makes us happy whether that’s the choice of our career or spouse. Yet these choices often makes us just as miserable, with a common outcome of anxiety over our decisions, discontentment with our current situation and a sense of meaninglessness. Our freedom to choose what makes us happy often seems more like slavery to whatever our current impulses are. Freedom is slavery and slavery is freedom.

Yet the key reason why is because freedom was not given in order to determine what makes us happy. Instead, true freedom is choosing what will ultimately make us happy. But how can we know what makes truly makes happy without it being revealed to us? Humans were made free, in order that we might use our freedom to transcend ourselves and live for another. But we were never made free to transcend God himself and live as though we were him. God’s freedom is to determine what is, while the freedom of man is simply to choose. The hope of the Christian is that in the dimly lit cave of humanity, God shone the light of his Son and entered it himself to lead us out, by pointing us back to where we belong – in the freedom of living for him. And he is continuing to do so today.

Religious Beliefs Are Not Private

This much is certain: The greatest thing each person can is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally—weakness, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guide of weakness.” ― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

I often see people irritated when others espouse political opinions based on their religious views. When it comes to issues like politics, money, or sex, religion is often seen as an unwelcome guest, like the distant uncle you only invite to dinners because he’s related to you. Their presence is begrudgingly acknowledged and then he is cast aside to the table of ‘faith’ and other opinions, along with the rest of the children. After all, this is the 21st century for goodness sakes. Behind this behavior is a question that isn’t asked but thought – why do people even need religion in the room for such things? After all, most matters of science or politics or economics or morality are worked out by individuals without any reference to religion. The scientific method has given us great progress in many areas of development. So the role religion now plays is no longer metaphysical or even moral authority but a mystical storeroom to house things we don’t understand. As the 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein put it, “of what we cannot speak we must be silent.”

It seems like the pressure to separate religion from other spheres of life is most clearly seen in Western politics. Religious beliefs are told to be discarded like shoes, before one enters the halls of public debate. To believe homosexuality is a sin, or that it is ‘morally’ bad for the whole society, is a private matter to be held but should be prevented from influencing public policy. Many Christians are surprised by the antipathy towards religious views in public. They shouldn’t be. The separation of religion from politics and other spheres of life is simply the consequence of allowing people who don’t understand religion to determine what it is. And by people, I mean secular humanists.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

To genuine believers of any religion, true religion is worship. And true worship is the dedication of one’s whole life to the object of worship, be it Allah or Jesus. If you’re religiously illiterate, or perhaps merely confused, then a quick way to avoid thinking too much about religion would be to parrot the line “it is about being a good person”. But that would be the religion of humanism and not anybody else’s. For Christians, worship is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It means conforming every thought, feeling and action to God. Muslim worship is the expression of ultimate submission in its observances.

I can understand that it’s scary for the agnostic or humanist to imagine submission to any one but themselves, especially if they’ve done it all their lives. But that is precisely what faith demands. Faith transcends what one does on the weekend, because its very claim is transcendent. Secularism sees religion as mere opinion but the religious man or woman recognizes it as truth. To a secular world, and those whom don’t understand, true religion and freedom of any religion is the freedom to get together once a week and be a moral person (I have yet to hear a valid consensus of what it means to be a moral person). It would be funny if it wasn’t so true. But to ask a religious person to have their beliefs at home but leave it at the door of public opinion is not just the opposite of religious freedom but hypocritical. Really, it is to ask the person to be you and to share your secular beliefs. If Muslims want to implement Sharia law in Australia, then the fairest thing would be to allow them to hold that view and tackle the claims of Islam itself. Or restrict such a view from entering Australia. But to spout phrases like “it’s a religion of peace” or that it’s about “being a good person”, like all religions, is to express one’s ignorance and escort religion back to the nursery room of faith. Religion is more than that because God demands much more than that.