Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series on decision making. In this post, we explore how the strong relational nature of Chinese culture affects how an individual makes his or her choices.

Behind The Scenes

In America, children are raised in an environment that teaches them to be independent, both emotionally and financially. This is not necessarily the case in China. Growing up, Chinese students are immersed in a culture which values what is good for the community much higher than what is good for the individual.

As John Trent and Gary Smalley note in their book, The Blessing, every child desires that blessing which Esau and Jacob wanted from their father Isaac (Genesis 27), the blessing of unconditional love and total acceptance. Everyone yearns for it; even more the Chinese who will spend their lifetime trying to achieve it.

Most decisions made by Chinese students, in fact, are made with their parents’ approval foremost in mind. It is ingrained from birth – the need to respect and honor. Their decisions must not bring disgrace upon the family. Though those from the West may assume such a motivation is rooted in fear, Chinese students aren’t necessarily scared into deference. Rather, children truly do believe that their parents have their best interests at heart. This underlying trust grants parents the right to speak into every aspect of their child’s lives. Often, this may mean that parents make decisions on their children’s behalf. As a result, many students have a hard time making their own choices, even simple ones like what to order for lunch.

This poses a great challenge for students as they come halfway around the world to study. Though the distance between them and their parents has increased, their parents’ say on their life remains unchanged. Mindful of the incredible financial sacrifices their parents made to send them abroad, Chinese students wrestle constantly with how to spend their time here. If the ultimate goal is to get a better education, if indeed, students are sent to America to insure their future financial security, their lives and their schedules must necessarily reflect that. Social and religious activities are secondary to getting excellent grades.

When Chelsea was invited to a Chinese New Year celebration, she could give no immediate response. “I have to ask my aunt” was all she could say. As she represented Chelsea’s mother back in China, Auntie had the authority to speak into all of Chelsea’s decisions that fell outside of her education.

When May, a new Christian, volunteered to be on the registration committee for her church’s young adult retreat, she grew progressively more anxious knowing she did not have her parents’ approval to attend. Though it embarrassed her to step down, May decided to tell the committee she would not be able to continue as registrar without her parents’ blessings. In fact, she wouldn’t even be able to attend the retreat.

The Implications

Though it may not be immediately obvious to the outside observer, when a Chinese student makes a decision, it is very possible that he or she is not the only agent involved. Spiritually, this could mean a Chinese student may never pray to receive Christ if their parents are non-believers. Even if they make a decision, they may not be able to involve themselves in Bible studies, mission trips or even social activities because they take too much time away from their studies.

Understanding and patience therefore go a long way when you interact with a Chinese student. It is important to understand that there are many unseen factors that go into the final response you hear from your friend. Additionally, decisions may take a long time and not be what you would expect. Keep quoting the Scriptures and allowing His Holy Spirit to work in the heart of Chinese friends. The power of prayer to change the hearts and minds of Chinese students and their parents may bring surprises. (Luke 18:27, I Cor 15:58).

Through the prayers of many intercessors, May and Chelsea, were both allowed to attend their extracurricular activities. God can find a way even in what appears to be impossible situations to man.

Thoughts to Ponder

How would you make decisions if you considered pleasing your parents or pleasing others before yourself in your decision-making process?

How can you encourage the Chinese students you know to draw closer to Jesus keeping in mind their desire to please their parents?