Mandarin videos for children on youtube

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Thank you Xi Yangyang!

Two years ago when we came home briefly, I fed my kids a partial diet of two or three Chinese-language shows, and the truth was they mostly kept up the Mandarin. This was a big improvement over two years earlier, when we were back longer, and Sam pretty much lost it all. I think hearing and watching probably works pretty well for helping hold on to Chinese, and this time we even brought back our DVD collection, harvested partially from 2nd hand video sales at a nearby DVD store.

The DVD collection includes a lot of Disney/Pixar (Incredibles, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Toy Story, Madagascar, Ice Age), but also some more local productions or animated movies from China.

The easier thing to do, however, especially with youtube + chromecast or roku, is youtube vidoes. This time we’ve kept our old favorites:

  • Granny Ice Cream 水果冰淇淋 (a Taiwanese public television show) and
  • Qiaohu 巧虎, the tiger

But I’ve also found a lot of others, including

  • 喜羊羊 “Peasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf”
  • 《Hello Kitty》
  • Taiwan, our island 我們的島 (like Granny Ice Cream, this is public television in Taiwan 公共電視台)
  • Mr. Bean 豆豆先生 or 憨豆先生
  • Le Petit Prince 小王子
  • And sometimes you can find oddball Mandarin pronunciation versions of things like Power Rangers, Dinosaur Train, My Little Pony or other shows

Another success is popular movie trailers and some dubbed songs (“Let it Go” 冰雪奇綠 is great, if, for instance, your daughter is willing to watching this song from Frozen a million times). And sometimes if you are looking for a movie you’ll find someone has uploaded the whole film in Chinese.

I don’t think AV can totally replace conversation, teaching, cultural environment, and so on, but it can provide a steady diet of alternate programming. In general, I think people way underestimate how many hours it takes for a kid to get comprehension, basic communication skills, or fluency in Mandarin. There is certainly variation among kids also. Last Sunday our kids had their “final exam” at the local Mandarin school, and it was pretty clear Eva just nailed it. Eli held his own, but spoke some in English and needed a little prompting. They’re the same age, raised in the same family, and living in the same context, but there’s still variation. Maybe some kids can get decent Chinese with a few hours of instruction and the occasional summer abroad, but my sense is most need a lot more time in language to do that. And video is one possible aid.

70 days in Cincinnati…

Getting out of Taiwan was a whirlwind, especially after the Asia retreat and with finals to grade. We’ve been back in the States for about 70 days (2+ months). We’re here at least through the summer, visiting congregations, reconnecting to family, and doing a mix of training and our catch-up on almost-forgotten projects. I did a quick trip already to Birmingham, and have future trips planned to Chicago, DC, and probably New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Kids have done well. A trait of third culture kids is “high mobility,” which seems true of ours. The upside of high mobility is that they’re fairly adaptive. Sam transitioned seamlessly into second grade, “caught up” on math in a couple of days, joined a cub scout pack (and won first place in his den for pinewood derby), and has been fairly happy to tagging along to different churches, kids’ clubs, family events, and so on. He’s doing soccer now, did his first scout campout last weekend, and finished his final violin skype lesson yesterday. With music, we’re not sure what to do. He’s most of the way through Suzuki book 1 but is wanting to stop violin. We may see if we can talk him into trying a class here or switching to singing or piano. His life is pretty busy between church, scouts, soccer, music, and language. He loves riding the school bus, checking out his own books from the library at school, and recess with his friends.

The twins are basically home with us for now, which is fairly intense. It was too late to enroll them in preschool. Eva’s started some piano with grandma, they’re both able to listen to chapter books during rest time (a nice development), and we do a lot of library, church, and YMCA time. Emily took Eva to a Lollipops conference and there are several nice parks nearby. The Y here has a drop-off you can do with kids up to two hours a day, which is a potential game changer. I’m trying to exercise more after a fairly sedentary stretch this winter. It’s nice to have the use of a back lawn–yesterday they spent several hours digging at the back edge of the lawn.

We have all three kids in a Taiwanese-run Chinese school in Cincinnati. It’s a great match for the twins and they chatter, play, and learn for a couple of hours every Sunday. Sam’s group is mostly speaking in English, but at least he gets some reinforcement. We have about a hundred DVDs that are dubbed into Chinese, and I use chromecast to play Taiwanese PBS shows from youtube on the tv. It’s still not a lot and they’re losing some, but hopefully they’ll at least keep the tones and some of the vocab. When we were first back, Eli impressed us by answering vocab queries for words like “skunk” and “skiing” (which our language courses certainly never covered).

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Cincinnati Chinese School

I’m getting to know congregations better. I visited three presbyteries (Cincinnati, Miami Valley, Scioto Valley) and talked to the exec at a fourth (Sheppards and Lapsley). We’ve visited about a half-dozen congregations so far. This last week I offered to be the on call pastor (in case of emergencies) for the presbyterian church down the street, which has been pretty interesting. Our big travel dilemma is that I have to return to Taipei in May to deal with our apartment.

That’s the news from here. I’ve grateful for small moments of bliss along the way–starry midwestern skies, grandparent babysitting, smoother car trips, and interactions with old and new friends. This return to the US was kind of rushed, so I wasn’t sure how it would come together, but so far it is about exactly what I was hoping for.

Asia retreat

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We’ve just come back from a week-long trip in Dumegeute Philippines. It was nice to spend time with coworkers, talk to others doing this kind of stuff, and learn about PCUSA’s plan and vision. I’m always moved by the types of work others do. On this trip there’s a pair of doctors who have worked in South Asia for a generation, an English teacher in Japan who has raised his kids pretty much entirely in Japanese (they’re adults now), and a coworker in Hong Kong who has worked with a church council that has emphasized human rights. It’s an eclectic mix and there are a lot of strong personalities, but in general it’s been nice.

The kids had a blast. Originally we’d only planned to send one adult and Sam, since he’s a fairly good traveller. On the last retreat like this there were at least four families in the region but we were the only one where all of us travelled, and although people were very accepting, infants and a toddler were a pretty rough go. This time, our kids were the oldest ones there and there were four great child care workers who looked after them. The kids travelled very well, but it was a pretty intense eight days: a 4:30am departure from our apartment, lost baggage, Emily’s eye swelled up from a mango allergy, and Eva had a 24 hour flu. That’s pretty much par for the course for us. It was redeemed by meeting great people and some time spent looking out at the ocean and different critters. I met some new staff members and also connected to ones I’m working with on different projects. PCUSA has usually done these retreats every year, rotating between different parts of the world. They’re expensive, but there’s also no cheap way to do them. Dumaguete is basically a college town on a tropical beach, but cities (Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai) are not cheap and going back to the US isn’t a great option.

The highlight for me on this trip turned out to be the speakers. I’d gone into it saying to a colleague ‘I’ve heard both of these people before—I wonder what I’ll get out of this,’ but then they really spoke to where I was. One speaker was J. Herbert Nelson, who runs PCUSA’s DC office. He travels intensively and advocates for PCUSA General Assembly policy (right now, this might include a focus on responding to gun violence, immigration, education, and health care concerns; to opposing drones and militarizing trends; to advocating for refugee situations, trafficking and other issues raised at recent GAs). However, I was especially grateful for his personal stories. He is a third generation black Presbyterian pastor. He talked several times about starting a church for the poor in Memphis and having his salary cut by nearly sixty percent months into the call. How do we live with integrity when institutions, especially the church, so often fail us? He also discussed work he’s doing on gun violence, and how challenging it can be for (often white, elite, suburban) congregations to hear how this work plays out in daily life for black congregations. The other speaker was Cynthia Rigby, who talked about the idea of wonder and a theology of play (highly appropriate given days of mandatory meetings). I’d forgotten but she’d organized a panel at AAR’s Reformed History and Theology group, where I talked about PCT and the problem of schism. She also was a keynote speaker (along with Jurgen Moltmann) at the first Princeton Institute for Youth and Theology I attended in summer 1999. I still remember her talk, which was a bright point and an encouragement as I waited to start seminary.

Now the challenge is that we’re down to our last days. We have basically three days to pack and move out. It’s a lot happening on a very short deadline. It’s also quite possible I’ll be back in a few months to pack us out for good. We’re in a “farewell for now stage.” I am happy that I’ll get to connect to some friends and do some transitions. Yesterday I took books up to the seminary to donate. I just saw Peter Chen, a classmate and coworker. Sam got to spend some time with his buddy Emile on Sunday and our church had a big cake and a lit-up plaque. Yesterday we saw Kevin, Sam’s other best friend. Tomorrow we fly to the US. So much going on I can barely stand it all…

On our Bi-Cultural Experiment

Last night I took the kids to Tianmu to visit our old baomu/nanny, Lee Chiung-Ling. Chiung-Ling was a nearly perfect help for us in all things parenting in Taiwan. She helped with the twins for about a year and a few months, from March 2011 until June 2012. Chiung-Ling had been a bao-mu (保姆lit. “protective mother”) for about seven or eight years at that point, mostly working abroad. Before that, she worked at facilities at Taiwan Seminary for nearly twenty years, so she knows a whole generation of pastors and teachers in PCT and stays on good terms with my school’s staff. She did her baomu work in Vancouver, where she helped people do the traditional Chinese “month of sitting” and did nannying for (I think) six or seven years. I learned a lot from her about life and culture here. She still lives with her husband and her extremely healthy, seventy-something (probably mentally ill) mother-in-law. It can’t be easy.

I think Vancouver was a mixed experience for her. She told me stories sometimes about being stuck in transit and unable to leave a small part of the airport, or being kicked out of Costco because her boss insisted she use her card, even though she was dubious. Her grown children are very bright and are wonderful human beings, but moving into an all-English environment in high school was hard on them. She understands all of the cross-cultural life issues we’ve had here: paperwork in triplicate, driving in a foreign country, being misunderstood, working on kids’ schooling, etc. I’m sure we were confounding to her at times, since in the past she’d always worked with first generation immigrants in Canada, and we are instead more-or-less first generation immigrants here.

She was able to help translate institutions and cultures for us. She knows my specific school, church life here, and kid culture–that’s a very rare combination. We talked her into coming back half-time from early 2014 to mid-2015. She really was a life-saver. In the past when one of us was traveling she could help the other cope. She attended a retreat with us abroad. When her daughter got married, I did the wedding, and then she’s helped or is helping her kids raise their grandchildren (she is returning to Vancouver next week). One of the things that always surprises me is how culture is often so invisible. Often we only confront a new set of vocabulary when we’re faced with an immediate crisis: childbirth in a local hospital, enrolling children in lotteries for schools, negotiating work situations. I really feel grateful to have had such a wise guide for several of our years here.12490024_10154443923242678_114710381_o

Last night I took the kids to Tianmu to visit her and her daughter and two granddaughters. It was one of those rare nights where everything goes smoothly. The kids all switched to Chinese at dinner, which I know they can do but rarely see myself.  Eva bonded with her old friend, 3 1/2 year old Tong-tong. Eli told Chiungling he’ll miss her. We played in the empty dark park for an hour and said goodbye. Not a lot of people read this blog, but the ones who come here almost always come here looking for the few posts I’ve written on bilingual schools and bilingual education. I think part of what has made us viable here bilingually and biculturally has been a mixture of a few stellar teachers (Sam had a beloved preschool teacher for five years, who basically taught him Chinese twice; and the twins have saintly teachers at their school now that they adore); a few families, including Chiungling’s; and having several contexts (churches, the General Assembly office here, after school activities) where people look out for our kids. I’d sort of thought my workplace would be the main support network, but ironically it’s often been these other settings.

Daddy Fun Week

It always amazes me how different an experience is for the kids versus for us, the parents. Once, we’d come off a particularly harrowing series of flights (24+ hours) and Emily and I were commiserating on how terrible it had been. I asked the kids what they thought and they all responded enthusiastically–I think one of them might even have suggested doing another flight right then! Not fun for us, but for them nearly blissful.

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Approaching 101 on New Year’s Eve

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Playing in the dirt at Daan Park

I’ve tried to seize on this disconnect to help me realize that what is challenging for me can still be really great for the children. Somewhat euphemistically, I refer to times when Emily is away as “daddy fun week.” The goal is to emphasize to the kids that they’ll have fun and that there will be some changes while Emily is gone. My record for taking the kids solo was 17 days, although I did have some help during the weekdays then. In the past, things were actually much worse. Once, Eva got her first stitches the night before Emily left and then ten minutes after her flight departed, the kindergarten notified me the twins’ class was going to close that week because of a high number of children with the flu.

This time things are going much better. The first three days I did fun excursions. On New Year’s Eve we walked part of the way to Taipei 101 and bought snacks and had a jolly time. The next day I took them to Daan park, which is a truly great park. There’s a pond with a multitude of birds and other critters (turtles, lizards). Yesterday I took them to another set of parks nearby. On day 2 I upended our two boxes of legoes and over the next week my plan is to use up every lego we have. Amazingly, Emily’s friend Jane took all three kids for an overnight last night and is planning to take them again on Thursday so I can get to my early morning Friday class.

I think it really will be a fun week for the kids. For the first days, there’s a sort of parenting euphoria, where you can do pretty much whatever you want (skip a bath, cook whatever you want, force kids on trips, etc.). However, usually by the end of it fatigue sets in. That said, things really are changing as they get older. It’s hard to believe how hard it was a few years ago when we had three under three, and how progressively better they are getting now.

Contingencies

We are in a transition period for the next six months and are planning to be in Ohio February-July. For seven years we have been here via the Presbyterian Church USA, which has helped us handle a lot of the challenges in working between two places. Being here officially with PCUSA has meant:

  • Salary and pension come from the US and we are in the social security system
  • We have some choice in housing
  • Most kids’ schooling options are open to us
  • We have US health care in the States
  • Some travel is covered
  • We received extra training, language study, and the like
  • We have some flexibility in relating to the Seminary–I’m outside of the normal rank system and get a pass on some language-intensive work (evaluating Taiwanese sermons, etc.)
  • PCT “accepts us,” whereas those who come from outside–even related Reformed churches–often struggle to have basic recognition for ministry here

Lately, the PCUSA system has been under financial stress. Our direct employer made cuts in 2015 and seems likely to make much larger cuts in 2016. If we are cut, we’d have salary extended through the year 2016. After that, it might be possible to negotiate a mixed support, where we’d have some funding from the US and some from Taiwan. Still, it makes me nervous. Here are the questions I am asking:

  • Would we be viable holding two full-time jobs in Taiwan, especially where full-time in local contexts often means weekend and evening work and a 9 hour workday (with a commute)?
  • How reliable is Taiwanese-based employment? Since I started at my Seminary, the four foreigners who received local salaries have all been fired or left.
  • Could we self-fund retirement or the equivalent of social security?
  • How sustainable is our housing? Moving off campus has been nice, but since our landlord is returning, we have to pack out in May one way or another. Some people move essentially every year. Are we willing to do this? After the twins were born, we tried for four years to move out of a 2-bedroom apartment on campus and it is hard to see returning to the campus system, where we were low-seniority, but also paid rent.
  • What are the consequences of leaving the US medical system? Could we still buy a low-level Obamacare plan abroad? If we had a seriously sick kid, could we take them back for care?
  • If we can stay with PCUSA but fundraising requirements go up, how much of our time will be spent in the US? Currently it is 20%, but would it need to go up to 30%, 40%? At what point is it too much?
  • How would kids’ schooling look if things changed? Could we teach them in local school and teach all three English ourselves? Find a US-based online school? Find a public bilingual school (Taipei doesn’t have these, but other places do)?

It’s totally plausible to see a scenario where things would work here if we are cut, but it’s also possible to see how an already challenging situation would become too much. In February we are moving to Cincinnati, but I’ll return in May to either put our things in storage, move them to a new apartment, or pack out. A lot of possibilities…

Presbyterians and Women in the Church

The last several weeks I’ve been thinking more about women in the church, particularly in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. There are several points I’ve been trying to connect together into a picture:

  • At the conference I attended last weekend, there were no women among the 17 PhDs/ThDs.
  • I found out recently that the mother church I attend has a session (church council) of something like 22 and of those only four are women.
  • I’d had a student assigned to me (and another person) to write a thesis on women in the church. I think she realized the topic was too sensitive or politically challenging to write and didn’t go through with it.
  • The last weeks of my Taiwanese religions class we talk through different social issues, and gender is one of them.

By way of preface, I should say that Taiwan is often more progressive nationally (and sometimes ecclesiastically) on gender equality issues. When I first started in Taiwan, I met a PCT pastor (Minnie Lee) who had been ordained in the 1950s and who served in Brazil. She gave me a published collection of her letters, which I still have. Taiwan is also set to have elections this year, and it looks like Tsai Ing-wen will win. Until a few months ago, two women were the main contenders. About half of our students at the seminary are women. These are all places where Taiwan was faster or earlier than the US.

Still, Presbyterian Church of Taiwan also has the same negative general trends as PCUSA and many other mainline churches: women are still less likely to be senior pastor, are more likely to be slotted towards family, educational and caring/compassion work, are likely to face much higher hurdles over family issues (leaving ministry or being “pastor wife” tracked after having children; needing to care for aging parents; or sacrificing their careers for husbands), and continue to face covert and overt discrimination. In Taiwan, there seems to be a higher rate of singlehood in the church and a lower birth rate, so this changes some of the dynamics. Clergy couples are also a trend. When the thesis student looked at some of these topics, she found there was almost no formal research on most of this.

Ironically, polity also skews the gender dynamics. In my home denomination polity (=church governance) is very important, such that people often think of Presbyterianism as fundamentally a system of church government (we elect leaders we believe are called to different posts). However, what I didn’t know until a few years ago is that how we elect leaders is very different. In the US, self-nomination or nomination via committee are the norms, whereas in Taiwan you start with a blank ballot with every member eligible for election (easily 100 names for a presbytery), and you keep casting ballots until someone is chosen. When I went to 7 Stars Presbytery for the first time, they were voting that day and they essentially voted all day. The voting was primarily for the sequence of main leaders who serve as assistant clerk, clerk, assistant moderator, and moderator. I’ve seen this in committees too. I’m on a “juridical committee” that manages several small plots of land in Taiwan and a large office building. When we first voted for new leadership I received a call from the outgoing chair asking me to vote for a specific member as the new chair (this is a pretty big no-no in my church). In that committee too, each of the 11 members were eligible and it was slowly whittled down to 6 votes for one candidate. There are strengths to this system: you always elect someone who is a core member of the group with strong supporters, you often elect people who are politically savvy, and you deal with cultural issues about not appearing arrogant or self-promoting or having cronyism in nominations. The flip side is you often get all-made leadership selected out of members who have had time to build constituencies.

Culturally the “all male leadership” model is one that makes me cringe. My mother is a pastor and my wife is an elder. The main denomination here has never had a female moderator or general secretary, most presbytery and church leadership is male, and the theological teaching positions at my seminary are 80% male. Given the way voting is done, I don’t see how this would change in my life time.

Chinese Christian Thought

Taiwan Seminary has a “Center for the Study of Christian Thought” 基督教思想研究中心 which holds several seminars or symposia a year on different topics. This weekend there was one on theological thought and formation 神學人學思──心路歷程. Several fairly recent PhD grads shared about how they came to the point they are at. It was an interesting group, with several mainland and several overseas (Malaysia, Singapore) scholars, as well as a mix of faculty from my seminary, China Evangelical Seminary, Taiwan Baptist Seminary, and Zhongtai Seminary. It was probably 70% Reformed and of the 17 PhD/ThDs I counted today, 100% male (which I think is very unfortunate but tends to be the norm in this group). That said, I am grateful for ecumenism in all its forms, and this particular conversation (1) is relatively new, (2) reflects friendships and collaborations between traditions that have often been challenging (China, Taiwan, SE Asia; Taiwanese and Mandarin churches; evangelical and mainline denominations), and (3) invites conversations that are probably good for the broader church.

A mainland pastor-scholar talked about the Chinese church as a “tradition-rejecting church” and also on his own search for a theological genealogy 家譜. In his personal pantheon of traditions, he included a pastiche of the great early 20th century Christian scholars (Song Shangjie, Wang Mingdao), the broader tradition (reflected through a study of Pelikan and others and an affinity for some periods, such as the pilgrim movements), and some appeal to modern translated scholars (from Calvin early on to Barth more recently). I found him very thoughtful and helpful to the overall conversation.

There was a also a recent Oxford grad who talked about his path via music and science into theology. He referenced Karl Barth a lot and I found his dissertation online, also on Barth. One of the things that has sort of surprised me is how popular Barth is among the under-40 crowd. My only contribution to the discussion today was to say that when I first came to Taiwan 10 years ago, I rarely heard about Barth, and after studying at PTS (where I think at one point 7 of the theologians were Barthians or had written on Barth for their dissertations), I was sort of grateful for a reprieve from him. In the last few months, when I’ve encountered Barth, he’s often been used how as I remember him, which is to say as a weapon. In Taiwan recently I’ve seen him used (1) to reject theological pluralism, (2) to repudiate contextual theology, and (3) as a safe all-purpose answer to various contemporary concerns (the guy today mentioned Barth’s usefulness for scripture). I understand that Barth is a major figure, but I still often feel like his total emphasis on revelation and rejection of natural theology means that he more or less ignores culture and has almost nothing to say to human-human (as opposed to divine-human) interaction. This is probably unfair of me, so I’ll try to read more in this area.

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One of the side conversations during the conference was over Confucianism and Christianity. When theologians discuss Confucianism they bring great nuance to their Christian theology, but then offer a fairly simple “teachings of Confucius” approach to Confucianism (it would be as if you compared 100 scholars from 2500 years of Chinese teaching to the words of Moses). In Taiwan, a compounding problem is that there’s a strong emphasis on Chinese classics in education and a sense that people have a grounding in traditional Chinese culture, but then there are not the public conversations over Confucianism as in Singapore. People feel like they *own* the tradition, but then often haven’t really thought through how Confucianism acts like a religion (or doesn’t), contributes to the broader cultural system, or is applicable (or not) to education, government, and so on. One of the things about conferences like this that drive me nuts is that we can lose so much time just trying to get on the same page (what do we mean by “worldview,” “Confucianism,” “Reformed,” “Chinese,” etc.). There is sometimes a core of theological shared texts within one or two traditions, but when we get beyond this (into other cultures, religions, disciplines) we lack even the basic ability to understand each other.

December is here!

December always keeps us busy. Sunday I took the twins to Sunday School while Emily led the baby class (and Sam now goes to the regular English worship service at Suanglian).

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Eva and Eli at 主日學

We also did a belated family Thanksgiving (with home-cooked mash potatoes and stuffing carried back from the US, but KFC in place of turkey).

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Two weeks late but still tasty!

Sam was part of a dance competition at his school. They don’t do a holiday performance (the twins will at their school on the 19th), but this served a similar function. There were something like 20 groups. Sam’s did a German style number with fairly complex choreography (I think his homeroom teacher also teaches dance). Sam is a surprisingly enthusiastic performer. Next up is a violin performance of “O Come, Little Children” as part of a Christmas service in about ten days.

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He’s got rhythm…

This has been a good semester for him. He’s taken to writing little stories on his own and we continue to read a lot of fiction at bedtime (this fall we’ve done some more Roald Dahl, a couple of Lemony Snicket novels, the Silver Chair, and some Goosebumps). His Chinese is pretty good but he’s not taking the full midterm Chinese exams (which often include matching 成語proverbs, sometimes memorizing poetry, and also doing word problems). He’s kept up on vocab. He’s a bit behind on math now, but seems to be getting the concepts.

The twins are also going strong. 5 is pretty intense, but they both seem happy and healthy. Their main loves are the pre-K trinity of drawing, playing in the park, and fighting with each other. They’re working on the alphabet and the bopomofo phonetic system.

Our main family news is that we’re planning to head back to the US in February for at least a semester. We realized it was a good time at the Seminary to take a semester, there’s a house open we can use in Cincinnati, and it would save us doing an intense move mid-semester with the kids around. It’s also a good chance for us to reconnect to congregations and family. So far so good…

Chinese Christianities Panel

This year was also the launch of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. Within AAR there were other papers on Chinese Christianities within the Chinese religions group, Society for the Study of Chinese religions, and world Christianity group, but it is nice to have a dedicated space. This year the panel was:

1. Christopher D Sneller, King’s College London

The Role of Union Theological Seminary (New York) in Indigenizing Christianity in Twentieth-Century China

2. Stephanie Wong, Georgetown University

Towards A Responsive Urbanizing Church: Chinese Catholics Crossing the Rural-Urban Boundary

3. Mu-tien Chiou, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Pluralism and Christian Ecumenism: A Theological Reflection on Post-Sunflower Movement Taiwan

4. Di Kang, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago

Historiography and Community Identity: Hong Kong Christians and the Recording of the 2014 Pro-Democracy Protest

5. Justin Tse, University of Washington

A Tale of Three Bishops: Chineseness and the Global City in Vancouver’s Anglican Realignment

Response 

I had about ten minutes to give a response, and I tried to highlight several of the major themes in our discussion. An emphasis we have is “border crossing,” and here some papers looked at border crossing within China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and others highlighted movement between different areas (Vancouver’s three Anglican bishops, borrowing between protest movements, historical flows between the US theological academy and diaspora groups). I said that I think the field has really grown in the last ten or twenty years. It used to be that there were still a few foundational figures that were always cited, but that’s not really the case any more. Social sciences are also more critical than in the past, and almost ever paper dealt substantively with theory pulled from soc/anthro or another field. “Chinese Christianity” used to really be “Christianity in the service of China,” and that’s clearly not the case.

Terminology

Someone asked me again about using “Chinese Christianities.” Why not use “ethnic Chinese,” as in the Ethnic Chinese Biblical Colloquium, which meets at SBL? I actually prefer Chinese Christianities, where Chinese is an adjective, to Ethnic Chinese, where Chinese is the noun. When we talked about this a couple of years ago there were real questions about how we understand China and Chinese. I often cite Henrietta Harrison’s description of China as empire, nation, and civilization. Here there’s not a single, changeless China. Instead Chinese-ness has been spread through the state, through empire, and through culture. China is still a nation, it acts or often has acted as a multicultural empire, and it is also something like a broad-reaching culture with shared aspects of worldview, written language, and history. So, in Taiwan, where I live, a good chunk of the Christians are aborigines and predate the arrival of Han/Chinese peoples. Chinese culture influences everyone here, but Taiwan has been de facto separate from Taiwan for more than a century, after having been part of it for three centuries. “Chinese” is hotly contested here. I have a colleague who really doesn’t like using the word “Han” to describe Taiwanese people, but most Taiwanese casually will still call themselves Chinese or Han. In Taiwan, citizenship is still related to blood ancestry, but there’s also an increasing sense of difference from China, and a broader range of meanings for Chinese. The plural “Christianities” also highlights the real disagreements about what it means to be Christian.

Other Discussions

Being in AAR situates us between theology and religious studies. At the same time, I came to this discussion first through Asian studies (Association for Asian Studies long had an informal group that discussed Chinese Christianity) and the Yale-Edinburgh group (which usually has a few papers). There are also theological discussions–Mark Toulouse sent us the invite for a conference on Christianity in China in the 21st Century that included many three self leaders. In Taiwan there’s a Jonathan Chao archives that has hosted some public discussions on Christianity in China and many of the seminaries here have daughter seminaries that run in Taiwan. In Taiwan Chung-Yuan University has a Sino-Christian studies program, and there are similar departments in Hong Kong and Sinagapore. As an academic field, Chinese Christianity is often part of philosophy or history departments in China (in 2004 I attended a conference on missionaries and translation). There is a broader and broader range of academic networks, including schools in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and among interested researchers in North American and Europe. I feel grateful that I got to be part of the tail end of an earlier wave of scholars but am now watching a rising generation that is truly interdisciplinary, interconfessional, and international.