Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a series of what it means to be a patriotic Chinese and a Christ-follower, and how the two intersect. The writer of this post provides insights of what “sanctified” nationalism might look like today.
Chinese Christians can love and appreciate China for all that is good and laudable in its history, culture, and contemporary society. Chinese have a rich cultural and historical heritage of which to be proud. In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis spends some time on the question of patriotism, likening this sort of love for country to a broader version of love for home—for old acquaintances, for the familiar places and faces, for the local customs and dialects. In the same way, and perhaps particularly for Chinese studying abroad who are away from their homeland, there will naturally and appropriately be a fondness for their own country and culture. As for the communist party, Chinese Christians can legitimately acknowledge its positive contributions, giving thanks for the way that God has used it as his servant for their good (Rom 13:4).
Yet such recognition does not imply a blind approbation of everything in Chinese history and every action of the communist party. It’s at this point that the Christian will differ from the party’s aims of patriotic education to produce a generation of students who will “always follow the party” and will view “negativity about the history of the party, nation, revolution and reform and opening up” as dangerous. Again, Lewis is helpful here. Speaking of the attitude of citizens toward their country’s past, he notes: “The image [of the past] becomes dangerous in the precise degree to which it is mistaken, or substituted, for serious and systematic historical study.” According to Lewis, a hagiographic attitude toward everything that a country and her purported heroes have done in spite of clear evidence to the contrary isn’t patriotic; it’s dangerous.
Perhaps an analogy is helpful. In the case of courtship and marriage, attraction due to willfully ignoring the flaws of the object of one’s affection is more infatuation than love. True love is choosing actively to love despite being fully and even painfully aware of your lover’s faults. In the same way, for Christians, loving one’s country doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the faults and even grievous offenses in her history. Rather, it means that, along with owning the glories of her culture and history, Christians will own up to the dark parts of her history. They will seek to learn from the lessons of history, asking for forgiveness where necessary, and praying that their country’s leaders will uphold justice and mercy in a way that would learn from and avoid past mistakes and transgressions.
Secondly, nationalism that believes one’s nation and people are superior to all others runs against the current of biblical teaching. In creation, God made all humanity in his image, equally imbuing all mankind with value and dignity. In redemption, God rewrote our identities in Christ, such that they supersede any national identities: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The gospel undercuts any source of pride that’s based in personal performance or national identity: we are sinners unable to help ourselves and desperately in need of God’s grace, and we are adopted children and heirs of the cosmic King, lavishly loved in Christ. The gospel reminds us that we are bankrupt in ourselves and that the richness of our identity owes solely to God’s free grace, so that we have no grounds upon which to look down on others.
Finally, Christians must realize that there are certain conflicts inherent with the communist party. With its insistence on the propagation of materialism, the communist party is philosophically opposed to Christian belief. This doesn’t necessarily mean that political policies will always overtly oppose Christianity. In God’s common grace, many times they don’t. But the philosophical foundations of the party are at odds with Christianity. All this makes clear that when it comes to matters of allegiance, Chinese Christians can’t simply “always follow the party” because their ultimate allegiance is to God. Even so, such allegiance is never to be a cover-up for evil (1 Pet 2:16). Rather, under the umbrella of their primary allegiance to God, Chinese Christians are to love their country and countrymen, honor and pray for their rulers, uphold their civic duties, and so bring glory to God.