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The Western idea of missionaries in China, largely sponsored by media created romances is of a brave white man or woman penetrating into an ignorant, disease-ridden and dangerous environment to spread one or another of the branches of the Christian faith and to bring sweetness, justice and light to uncouth and ill-educated savages. Needless to say, this notion is not one commonly shared by the Chinese.
The communist view of missionaries is a perception of unwanted crafty, snide foreign intruders who forced their way into the country under the unwelcome protection of gunboats to subvert the traditional Chinese values, to undermine the way of life and to slyly implant perverted alien ideas. There is some truth to both sides.
Although a few exceptions have been made and an increasing number of religious figures have been permitted to enter and work in China in recent years, there are still deep suspicions harbored about missionaries. The great bulk of them were hounded out of their parishes and forced out of China in 1950 and there is no way a new generation is going to be allowed back.
The rulers in Beijing have grave - and largely justified - suspicions about foreign missionaries. They cannot control them, therefore mistrust them. The wildly irresponsible, downright stupid, attitude of some self-serving Western dogma-fueled maniacs makes those who know the realities of modern China flinch with horror. They go into the country, where they may have been financially supporting a church group, and urge their foolish followers to break Chinese laws. The results are predictable; authorities clamp down on what are illegal organizations, peasants are punished and the shrill protests of the self satisfied sect leaders lambast Beijing for a lack of religious freedom. The fact is, if people of any religion in China obey the laws and do not confront the authorities, they are usually able to pray and gather as they want without trouble.
That fact that leading converts (to Methodism) included Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, his widely detested wife and many other strident anti-communists who fled to Taiwan in 1949 merely reinforces Communist suspicions.
Many westerners, notably Americans, seem to cling to the idea that they have a God-given, inalienable right to enter China and go where they wish preaching their religion and seeking converts. The fact that they are not allowed to freely do so angers them intensely. They consider it monstrous that the atheistic communist state should be permitted to restrain them.
But have a look at the other side of coin. What would be the reaction of good Southern Baptists in Alabama or Arkansas if cadres of the Chinese Communist Party were to go traipsing through the Bible Belt distributing copies of Thoughts of Chairman Mao and urging the rural populace to rise in revolution? Can one imagine the screams of outrage if true believers of the party demanded the freedom to spread their doctrine in America with the same insistence that Christian missionaries press for the right to proselytize in China? Just as the American congress and people would resist the presence of Chinese communists spreading foreign political theories in their nation, so the Chinese leadership thinks it repugnant for aliens to demand to preach foreign ideas in China.
From Culture Shock! China - Kevin Sinclair