Category Archives: Asia

Chinese Academic Dress for a Christian Cleric

Cassock? Mortarboard? What is that?

Álvaro Semedo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest in China at the end of the Ming dynasty:

Nicolas Trigault, a French Jesuit priest in China around the same time:

Though a Protestant should know not to trust the Jesuits, in this case the Jesuits made a sensible choice, to adopt Chinese dress in China, specifically the dress of Chinese Confucian scholars. Two centuries later, Protestant missionary Hudson Taylor made a similar choice to adopt Chinese dress, much to the chagrin of his English missionary colleagues.

James Hudson Taylor – Church History Review

Even though the everyday clothes of ordinary Chinese are much more Westernized today, the everyday clericals worn by Christian priests and deacons ought to reflect the native meaning system in clothes, rather than shout FOREIGN. For this reason, something like the above, analogous to English cassock, gown, and college cap, is what we should come to expect in China of even priests that are come to serve from overseas.

Lawful and Prudent Treatment of Departed Saints in Chinese Culture

Arilje : Sanctuary: Officiating Church Fathers

There is one law of God, because God is one, but in human society it takes multiple concrete forms. The morality of the same outward acts can vary between cultures, even though the inner law, the moral law of God, is unchanging as God himself. How Christian saints are treated in Chinese culture, then, should be calibrated for the existing Chinese symbol system. Evelyn S. Rawski describes part of this system in The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (University of California Press, 1998), 205–206:

Christian Jochim argues that ritualized obeisances are ‘acts both of humility and privilege’. By kneeling and kowtowing before Heaven and his imperial ancestors, the emperor partakes of their numinous power; by kneeling and kowtowing before the emperor, ministers, princes, and others participating in an audience ritual partake of the powers flowing through the emperor. The emperor’s obeisance to his mother carries a somewhat different symbolic message, one that reifies the hierarchical relationships within families that lie at the core of the Confucian order.

The symbolic significance of sitting to receive ritual homage was broadly understood in Chinese society. The same action confirms the submissiveness of the young bride to her new parents-in-law, the subordination of a concubine to her husband’s wife, of a maidservant to her mistress. By extension we find in Chinese society the symbolic vesting of authority in both a specific chair and in the pose itself. By at least Song times some of the legitimacy conferred by this symbolically charged act had been transferred to the chair itself. Chan Buddhist monasteries during the funeral of an abbot placed the deceased man’s portrait in the ‘dharma seat’ – the seat occupied by the abbot – until a new successor was installed, thus drawing on the same symbolic vocabulary found in discussions of the throne in the Taihedian.

The argument that Chinese ritual culture gave primacy to performance of the act rather than to a specific throne or chair can be supported by popular religion, where deities in Chinese temples are portrayed in a seated position, to receive the worship of the people. The tablets denoting Heaven and the imperial ancestors in the Temple of the Ancestors were also ‘seated’ on thrones during rituals. Deities in the popular religion are depicted in this seated pose to the present day. The popular woodblock prints known as zhima, which continue to be produced in the People’s Republic of China, show the deity in a seated frontal pose, ‘like a statue in a Chinese temple’: ‘This effect is no accident, since prints of this type (some authors have called this an ‘iconic’ print) were the focus of domestic religious ceremonials and received offerings, such as incense, from family members.’ As with deities, so with the emperor – or perhaps the statement should be reversed. When the new emperor sat on the throne and received the obeisances of the nobles and officials, he was performing a ritual action that not only echoed those of ordinary persons in the society but also replicated that of the gods in Chinese popular religion.

So the Chinese should not, I think, depict departed saints sitting in a frontal pose, because these saints must not be seated to receive homage. We are, after all, not servants of Mary and the other departed saints, but servants of the Most High. Rather than sitting, then, a departed saint could be depicted standing to praise God together with the living, since dead and living alike ascend to heaven to join the angels and archangels in worshipping the one holy God.

Necessarily an avoidance of depicting the dead as seated would call for changes in ritual depictions of dead parents, for instance, but some changes in standard practice are to be expected. A Christian who has gone to be with the Lord is no longer in a position of living authority on earth. The rites should be modified to exclude all ‘sitting’ of the dead, so that ritual homage in the full sense is done only to living authorities: the reigning emperor, a person’s parents, a bride’s new parents-in-law, a concubine’s mistress (her husband’s first wife), a maidservant’s mistress, and so on. It was customary to depict the dead both seated and facing the viewer, as if God had placed them as intermediate authorities between himself and the living; the truth of the gospel, however, suggests that we should depict them not only standing to praise God, but also facing upward toward the left or the right, wherever God may ritually be imagined to be.

In contrast, when my younger brother married, he and his bride knelt to serve tea to my parents, and my parents sat in chairs side by side to receive this act of homage; my parents then gave them advice and symbolic red packets of money. After order of seniority, I myself also sat to be served tea by my brother and his bride, though they stood rather than kneeling, and like my parents I also gave them words of advice. It was a touching moment for me, to receive thanks from my younger brother and his new wife, and to urge them in turn to do all things by the word of God and raise up godly children. A departed ancestor, however, is no longer in a position of living authority delegated by God, and therefore cannot rightly take a seated posture in relation to the living on earth. Therefore it is right to treat them differently when the Lord has called them to leave this earthly life and its authority, and to await the resurrection of the dead.

Su Shi’s ‘Riverside City’ Poem, to Share with the Non-Chinese

Some poems are so powerful that I cannot help showing people, even if they have almost no experience of poetry in the language in which the poems are written. Recently I was showing my American friend a Chinese poem in the ci 詞 lyric genre, written in 1075 to the tune ‘Riverside City’ 江城子 by the Song dynasty poet Su Shi 蘇軾 (art name Su Dongpo 蘇東坡):

  1. 十年生死兩茫茫,
    不思量,自難忘。
    千里孤墳,無處話淒涼。
    縱使相逢應不識,
    塵滿面,鬢如霜。
  2. 夜來幽夢忽還鄉,
    小軒窗,正梳妝。
    相顧無言,唯有淚千行。
    料得年年腸斷處,
    明月夜,短松岡。

The whole poem is what you hear at night after, in the daytime, having heard a shi 詩 genre poem by the Tang dynasty poet He Zhizhang 賀知章:

少小離家老大回,鄉音無改鬢毛衰,
兒童相見不相識,笑問客從何處來。

Both poems have the years away from home (十年, 少小離家), the greyed hair on the temples (鬢如霜, 鬢毛衰), the being a stranger to someone at home (縱使相逢應不識, 兒童相見不相識). If Su Shi in the Song dynasty poem was not intentionally alluding to the Tang dynasty poem, he might as well have been doing so. But if the Tang dynasty shi poem in the daytime was bittersweet, with the children in the speaker’s hometown being strangers to him, asking this foreigner where he was come from, then this Song dynasty ci poem is a very different, nocturnal poem.

Su Shi wrote his poem ten years after the death of his wife. After ten years, he says, life and death are vast, unmeasured, boundless, the distance between them oceanic. He may not dwell on it, to ponder and to reckon, to consider and to measure, yet the thing by nature is hard to forget: a thousand miles, a lone grave, and no place to speak of his bleakness. Even if they were to meet, they might not know each other. Dust fills his face; his temple hair is like frost.

The second stanza begins with a striking line that shifts the mood, and the poet and listener’s location: 夜來幽夢忽還鄉. It also is the favourite line of one of my father’s college friends. We can try to understand it by prosody and sound.

Let’s hear the line with a cæsura after the fourth syllable, as is usual in a Chinese line of seven syllables: 夜來幽夢 || 忽還鄉. Thus: night comes, dim dreams – sudden return village.

In Cantonese, this line sounds like ye loi yau mung || fat waan heung. The sound of the line’s first half is soft. Of the four syllables, three are open (no consonant after the vowel), and the fourth ends in a nasal consonant. All the consonants in those four syllables are sonorants: semivowels, liquids, or nasals. (If you want to hear the sound, even if you speak no Cantonese, it’s always possible to look up the Middle Chinese sound of every syllable on Wiktionary.) Because of the correspondence of sound and sense in this line, the netherworld dreams, or dim dreams (幽夢), have a sort of charming, romantic Southern Gothic feel to them, like a lazy, warm summer night breeze on an old South Carolina plantation, with Spanish moss hanging from the trees. That’s the kind of mood I get from 夜來幽夢, just on the edge of spooky. Now you get to the last three syllables, 忽還鄉. The first syllable there, 忽 (‘sudden’), sounds like huət̚ in Middle Chinese: first a fricative, then a reduced-sounding vowel followed by a stop! like a strong wind that suddenly stops. ‘In the night were dim dreams, and suddenly I was returned home.’ Through the texture created by the sounds in this line, the audience is suddenly transported with the author.

He shows us a little high window, and right there is combing and adorning. His and his wife’s care for each other has no words, only tears’ thousand tracks. One can guess every year the place where his guts snap: a night with a bright moon, a mound with short pines.

Our Future Belongs to the Lord

This 1978 Cantopop song, which I recently learned, has sentiments of James and Ecclesiastes, but in a happy light:

無論有幾多變遷,何必諸多掛牽?
過了今天,再有一天,仲有幾個十年。
願望係做個預算,夢幻係自我去編,
無謂去搵個道理,把你欺騙。

命裡係注定從前,夢境係一片胡言,
唯有我永遠面對目前。
明日話今天,昨天亦提到
想到舊年 更多挑戰。

迎面有幾多變遷,誰知道邊一個先?
這裡高山,那裡滄海,在那天變良田?
實在係話變就變,預伏在樂趣前面,
前面有千變萬化,不會睇見。

(Approximate English translation on Lyrics Translate.)

Why Secondary Burial? Tradition, to Stand Against Globalism

A master of disposal of skeletal remains demonstrates the meticulous sequence for placing the remains in the ‘golden pagoda’ (urn). Photo by 陳亮華, for Apple Daily.

Some people may ask, Why? I ask, Why not? I don’t even care why we deep-southern Chinese originally began to bury the dead and collect their bones seven years later for secondary burial 執骨: if it’s lawful and not burdensome, it should be done, because it’s been done for more than 2000 years, before the region was even Chinese. If we Christians need to, we can invent new Christian reasons for maintaining or reviving the practice. My instinct is just that we have to do this kind of thing to stand against globalist forces bent on destroying our culture.

Ancestral Religion v. Marketplace of Ideas

On the one hand, some people wanting a religion to practise (or else just affiliate with) go with what their ancestors have done; on the other hand, some go with what appeals to them, with no regard for historical connexion. Many Christians today are likely to think the latter is better, but I disagree. It’s natural to start with the deity worshipped by your ancestors and try to understand that thoroughly first. I have less respect for people who judge all religions on an æqual footing, trying to choose as if religious belief is a ‘marketplace of ideas’. After all, the instinct that your ancestors were probably right about something in religion is a pious one. It’s just that, when the word of God himself comes to you, you must kowtow, because he is the God who made and sustains this whole world, not a god of some but the one God.

This is true even of someone from an Islamic or Hindu or Sikh background: rather than treating all religions as æqual and starting from nowhere, he must start from somewhere, and humanly that somewhere is whatever religious tradition his family and his nation already have. When the ray of God’s word pierces into the darkness, then either he will love the light and discard what’s wrong in his religious tradition, or he will hate the light and set himself against the gospel, to his own destruction. But a person purporting to judge religions out of nowhere, even if he does outwardly become a Christian, will have much difficulty in the Christian life because of his impiety toward his parents and his forefathers. Indeed, such a convert may make shipwreck of his faith and show himself to be reprobate and destined for hellfire. But if God has chosen him to be saved, the word of God is enough, and encouraging him to pose in a false neutrality will tend toward impiety rather than genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

Chinese Canopy at the Lord’s Table

A Chinese Protestant æsthetic has a lot of opportunity for expressive decoration that promotes biblical reflection on the things done in church.

I’m imagining a Chinese ciborium over the Lord’s Table, at which each of the four posts is a tree, and the column’s bracketing is the tree’s branches, and the leaves are (as St John says) for the healing of the nations. On each tree trunk is a carved dragon-seraph in relief, outlined by gold or mother-of-pearl inlay, with the face of a man, a lion, an ox, or an eagle (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). The canopy’s pinnacle is in the form of a pearl, the pearl of great price that is the gospel. The altar rail has opportunities for motifs as well: lingzhi for immortality, pomegranates for the blood of abundant martyrs and the resurrection.

Now you just need infinite money to also commission gorgeous pieces of the finest Chinese brocade and embroidery for richly symbolic altar frontals.

Chinese Brocades for Copes?

The cope is a churchly cape of splendour, generally having a border (called an orphrey) along the straight edge. It is often worn on state occasions, and in the Church of England required by the Canons of 1604 for the ministers in cathedral churches at Holy Communion.

Elizabeth II at St Paul’s Cathedral with two ministers wearing copes.

Usually, a cope has an ornamental hood on the back, which may be decorated with a symbolic picture.

Queen Elizabeth II - Commonwealth Day Service 2020
Commonwealth Day Service, Westminster Abbey, 2020.

In the Anglican tradition, however, we have ample warrant for variation. As the 39 Articles say, ‘It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.’ Still less is it necessary or even desirable that ornaments in Asia follow those of England in every particular; rather, to illustrate the principle of national independence in churchly communion, it is desirable that ornaments be somewhat different but show a family resemblance. Imagine if copes in China, offering the best of local crafts in churchly ornaments, used Chinese brocades.

Nanjing yun (cloud) brocade used in a Qing dynasty costume.

Certainly elaborate brocades have been used in religious settings in Chinese culture, as in this Buddhist cape, whose central rectangular panel depicts a qilin while, outwith the panel, four dragons fly up from the water below:

Buddhist monk’s cape, Qing dynasty.

With the rich Chinese artistic tradition of symbolic animals, clouds, flames, waves, and plants, it would not be difficult to produce brocaded copes with highly textured imagery that aptly expressed the spirit of the occasion intended. The rectangular panel above, in this case depicting a qilin, could easily be adapted into a cope’s hood and show any number of embroidered devices: a lamb, a lion, a lotus, or even several sinograms combined in a round seal (e.g., 聖民承國, ‘the holy people take the kingdom’, referring to Daniel 7.18). When the gospel takes hold of the Chinese empire, it may have centuries to drive development in the arts, and copes worn in church are no exception.

Ci Lyric as Anthem After the Third Collect

Just as the Song of Songs is in the biblical canon, there is a place in the worship of God for the sensuousness of the teahouse, a woman singing a ci 詞 lyric as she plays the pipa. This too, after all, is part of the piety of the Church: the desire for the beloved, the Lord’s Anointed.

According to the ci genre, the musical vehicle would be existing Chinese tunes suitable for songs about love. In the first stanza of a two-stanza ci, the singer could render a piece of the Song of Songs in verse; in the second stanza, her lyric could unravel that piece of silk according to what the New Testament has shown us about Christ.

Ancient Greek for Classical Christian Schools in Hong Kong

In the Abendland, or Western Christendom (including Germany), knowledge of Latin as a classical language used to be de rigueur for top students, and remains important today; in Hong Kong and the rest of China, the question remains of what classical language should be used as a vehicle of education in ancient cultural traditions.

Local students in Hong Kong should, by graduation, have decent command of 3.5 languages:

  1. Cantonese, spoken by the vast majority of Hong Kong’s population;
  2. Mandarin, written in formal communications since the early 20th century, including all standardized tests in Chinese, and important for spoken communication with the rest of the Sinosphere since the 20th century;
  3. Classical (or Literary) Chinese, a continuum of Sinitic that ranges from the writings of Confucius and Mencius to the most literary and formal registers of modern written Chinese;
  4. English, which remains one of the official languages in Hong Kong, necessary for day-to-day life and part of the basis of any particular œconomic advantage Hong Kong has in Asia.

Because of a vast increase in Hong Kong’s number of K–12 students in the postwar period, even having enough schools to support basic literacy was a huge logistical challenge. At that time, there was more than enough work teaching children to speak good Cantonese, write good Mandarin, and read some classical Chinese, as well as to read, write, and speak English.

On top of that, today, the political situation calls for decent spoken Mandarin as well, even as the South China Morning Post’s chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo has expressed his consternation at today’s ‘appalling English standards’: ‘There’s something terribly wrong with our education system when it’s churning out graduates who need serious help with their English.’ The need for good Mandarin and good English has never been greater, and few of my friends from Hong Kong have both. The situation for language proficiency in Hong Kong today is, to say the least, difficult.

Though the education system in Hong Kong as a whole is a problem too great for me to address briefly, I do want to suggest that, on the smaller scale, it would be useful to teach ancient Greek in classical Christian schools, and to require it for graduation with honours or an advanced diploma.

My suggestion is counterintuitive, I know. On top of 3.5 languages, you want local Hong Kong students to learn one more language? But the benefits of Greek would be, I believe, incalculable; it would have only to be done in earnest.

Until 1997, the uses of English in Hong Kong were utilitarian: the British empire needed a local élite whose proficiency in English would allow it to serve the British administration in civil service and in trade. In other words, British imperialism needed servants, not free men. To this end the education system was oriented, that Hong Kong might reliably provide compradors for Britain’s imperialist operations.

Today, however, such an orientation is manifestly unsuitable. Even civil servants who passed through English-medium education under the British empire often chafe at having to answer questions in English at press conferences. While Hong Kong’s place as a hub of international trade and a ‘free city’ in the Chinese empire requires that enough people be both able and willing to speak good English, it is not entirely surprising that the end of the colonial æra has changed people’s feelings about English. Rather than being about serving as a comprador in colonial society and moving up the social ladder, mastering English has to be about understanding of non-Chinese, not on the level of pidgin trade talk but on the level of civilization. Unless Hong Kong’s students go through these growing-pains, especially the city’s best students, Hong Kong cannot succeed.

For any school, an advantage of ancient Greek learnt on its own terms is a much better ability to deal with the grammar and literary style of English, as well as a deeper understanding of the ancient literary and philosophical roots of Western society. If the peoples of the world are to speak in rich cultural languages, expressing rich cultural heritages, they need more than a generic neoliberal pidgin English: they need deep culture, both in identifying with their own peoples and in speaking to other peoples. A Hongkonger able not only to parse a Greek verb but to write in the manner of Thucydides, and to read Plato in the original, could with much greater confidence find his voice in speaking to the West.

For a Christian school, the advantages are even greater. Even one cohort of secondary-school graduates who can read Greek is a number of students who can read the New Testament, the Septuagint, and many of the Church fathers, of whom the young men can already be further trained to serve as deacons in the Church, and some of those as elders able to teach people the word of God. The use of Greek rather than Latin also gives them access to a broader range of theological resources, by which the Chinese church can find its identity within the one Holy Catholic Church with reference not only to the theology of the Reformation but also to non-Western concepts that can speak to the Chinese. In this way, the Chinese churches will be independent from the West, but also catholic. One cohort may be but a few students; but cohort upon cohort, year after year, brings to the Sinosphere a growing number of students who already have the language skills that seminaries want their graduates to have, and others who with training will be able to teach ancient Greek themselves, and others who can begin to deal philosophically with both Plotinus and Zhu Xi.

This can happen. We need books in Greek that use the method that Hans Ørberg’s groundbreaking textbook Lingua latina per se illustrata (a.k.a. LLPSI) uses for Latin, with context and illustrations, and by using only the target language go farther than the ‘Italian Athenaze’ has gone; in Greek, Seumas Macdonald’s project in progress (Lingua Græca Per Se Illustrata; Patreon here) looks promising, though it does not yet have the kinds of pictures on which LLPSI relies. From experience using LLPSI with visiting students from mainland China, I know that even students with relatively weak English can learn some Latin inductively using that book in the space of a few days, because it relies on no other language than Latin. If we have something like that in Greek, we can achieve the same results with Chinese students learning Greek. We also need teachers who are able to teach Greek immersively, ideally with a good command of the pitch accent – a phonological feature to which native speakers of Cantonese, also familiar with Hong Kong English, can relate. If parents and students and teachers are commit to achieving the results, both for better command of English and better understanding of Hellenistic Christian civilization, it can be done.

To Recover Cantonese Literature in Hong Kong

I’m not a fan of purportedly Cantonese poetry littered with the particles 了 and 的. That’s Mandarin, not Cantonese. Pronouncing Mandarin as Cantonese no more makes it Cantonese than pronouncing classical Chinese in the Sinoxenic pronunciation of Japan makes it the Japanese language. So something like Dorothy Tse’s 布鳥 (‘Cloth Birds’) doesn’t feel like Cantonese to me: even though every word is read the Cantonese way, it’s not grammatically Cantonese.

The problem is not unknown. As Jennifer Feeley wrote two years ago in her essay ‘Reimagined Cities: Fabulist Tales from Hong Kong’,

There are writers, especially graphic novelists, who have incorporated Cantonese into their work, and perhaps the future will see the rise of a Cantophone literature. At present, however, Chinese-language literature in the territory is primarily composed in standard written Chinese, including the three stories in this feature. Standard written Chinese has a different grammar, and often a different vocabulary, than Cantonese, creating a gap between the written and spoken word. As Andrea Lingenfelter observes, most outsiders, and many in the mainland, regard Cantonese ‘as a dialect, a language that sinks beneath the surface of the written word (standard written Chinese) and is thereby rendered inaudible, unless a Cantonese-speaking author is reading his or her work aloud.’

But the fact is, the problem Feeley describes is virtually artificial. There is actually a rich tradition of literary writing in Cantonese, from the Cantonese operas of Tong Dik-sang 唐滌生 and Nam Hoi 13 Long 南海十三郎 to the Cantopop lyrics of James Wong Jim 黃霑. To speak of Cantonese literature as underdeveloped, or low in status, is belied by the fame and quality of these literary luminaries in Hong Kong.

That these kinds of writing fell by the wayside, and the linguistically Cantonese voice was muted, is due to Hongkongers’ own abandonment of Cantonese literary writing. In the 1980s, Hong Kong had a vital voice in the Sinosphere. The theme song of the television series The Bund 上海灘 (1980), sung by the inimitable Frances Yip, is known all over the Sinosphere. The popularity of Mandarin-speaking singer Teresa Teng in the Sinosphere existed alongside a literary space that Hong Kong writers had carved out for Cantonese in a Mandarin-dominated world, to the extent that Teresa Teng herself recorded songs in Cantonese and spoke Cantonese. Those of us who care about the literary future of Cantonese cannot afford to blame a spectre of Communist erasure of Cantonese and expect such a petty accusation to be vindicated. The plain fact is that almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese, but Hong Kong has silenced its own Cantonese literary voice.

What we need is to rebuild whatever was lost in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, and to support the writing and singing of literature that can speak to people’s hearts as Cantonese literature from Hong Kong has done before. This is done neither by mere nostalgia nor by bitterness against Mandarin. A Cantonese muted by its own speakers must find its own voice again.

Chinese Archery Good for a Chinese Classical Christian School

For a Chinese classical Christian school, Chinese archery would come to be de rigueur because of the native classical tradition: the Record of Rites 禮記, part of the Five Classics 五經, has a whole chapter on the meaning of the cæremony of archery (射義). Now that traditional bowmaking is coming back, and so perhaps is instruction in Chinese archery, I hope Christian schools can be at the fore in recovering the traditional rite of archery in Chinese society.

Traditional Chinese archery: bow makers on target to resurrect ...

子曰:「射有似乎君子,失諸正鵠,反求諸其身。」
The Master said, ‘In archery we have something like (the way of) the superior man. When the archer misses the centre of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.’

Classical Christian Education in Hong Kong, Decolonialized, as Part of the Great Commission

In Greek pottery style, the Allegory of the Cave features the shadow of a bird cast on a cave wall while a man watches

Εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.
Only one omen is best – to defend the fatherland.
– Hector, Iliad 12.243

In the face of the spiritual and academical decline of Christian education in Hong Kong, classical Christian education is very much needed. Local Christian schools that have declined to institute patriotic education according to the Party’s programme have often opted for the International Baccalaureate. They have, in effect, become international schools of the globalist type, serving the human-resource needs of neoliberalism rather than the discipleship needs of the kingdom of God. Regardless of when the rot set in, it is clear that something is rotten in the state of Hong Kong, and it is high time that the Church did something to disciple the nations as commanded by the Lord in Matthew 28.

Now, when the Lord rose from the dead, was announced by an angel, and appeared to the women who had gone to his tomb, there were two opposite responses to two opposite commands: the chief priests having taken counsel with the elders bade the guards spread the lie that Jesus’s disciples had come by night and stolen Jesus’s body (Matthew 28.11–15); Jesus himself, however, having appeared to the Eleven on a mountain in Galilee, bade them go and disciple all nations now that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him at his resurrection (Matthew 28.16–20). In contrast to those who had been instructed to lie to the Jews, the Eleven as they went were to disciple all nations. The command is to disciple someone; the object of discipleship is all nations. We are not speaking – Matthew is not speaking – merely of persons in those nations, but rather of those nations as nations. And this was to be done by baptism of individuals into the Name of the Holy Trinity, and then teaching to observe all things commanded by the Lord. The task of Christian schooling, then, cannot be rightly understood apart from this reality of the discipling of whole nations in response to the kingship of Christ.

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If it is to be part of fulfilling the Great Commission, then, Christian education must be national. That is, wherever done, it must be as justly adapted to the national culture as possible, not only to make the gospel intelligible but also to transform the national culture – that is, national life concretely experiened – into something that actually reflects God’s image and likeness. And just as the transformation of one Christian does not make him like everyone else in personality, even ideally, so too the transformation of a heathen nation into a nation that honours Christ from the heart does not require that that nation ape the personalities of other nations: though it must learn from others, its individuality is from God. China, in other words, does not need to adopt American values to be Christian, not even the values that Americans (very parochially) believe to be universal Christian values. We are not called to be inoffensive in every way to the sensibilities of the ‘international community’ – that is to say, to Westerners. God did not make us to be Whites in yellowface. Instead, Christian education is an education into the nation’s own cultural tradition as Christ would have it become, connected to the roots of Israel’s history as completed by Christ, to the ancient fathers of the nation’s civilization as the Holy Ghost worked there before Christ, and to the bodily return of Christ and the end of the world as God has determined its days. It is thus, and not by conformity to the standards of the Anglo-liberal culture dominant in the West, that the nation is brought up from the rudiments or elements of the world to partake in the fulness of the stature of Christ.

In Anglican terms, ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.’ In order to decolonialize Christian education in non-Western countries, Christians have to reach into the native cultural traditions, and to this need Hong Kong is no exception. There is an implicit Chinese patriotism in retrieving what God has provided for us from ancient times to the present, from the Book of Documents and the Spring and Autumn Annals even to the several times when God brought the good news of Christ to the Chinese. We can find useful not only Plato’s censure of what Confucius called the ‘sounds of Zheng’ 鄭聲, but also the ways in which Zhu Xi’s conception of li 理 and qi 氣 may enrich Maximus the Confessor’s theology of the Logos. Just as the wicked Balaam was a Gentile prophet of the LORD, and the Greek seer and philosopher-poet Epimenides is quoted by St Paul as a prophet (Acts 17.28; Titus 1.12), so too it seems reasonable to consider that the voice of God was not absent from the counsels of sage-kings Yao and Shun. Was the Holy Ghost silent, was he inactive, in all the centuries until the gospel was brought by Persian travellers and English missionaries? Was he not indeed, and Christ the Word through him, sustaining the whole world and speaking through prophets and the mouths of babes? Shall we, to uphold the supremacy of Christ now, deny that at sundry times and in divers manners he spake in times past unto our fathers through the prophets?

God forbid. But the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and God has in his person crowned man with glory and honour, and made him to have dominion over the works of God’s hands, and put all things under his feet. Whatever it means that China is to become a kind of Fourth Rome under Christ, the classical Christian education needed in Hong Kong is to be oriented that way.

You must be the Yellow Peril you wish to see in the world.

Hong Kong Tramways

Cool Lingnan Regional Æsthetics to Develop

Cantonese folk metal (e.g. for some of the psalms) with tunes created in the tradition of Naamyam and Cantonese opera. The electric guitar or electric gaohu or whatever can carry the tones of Cantonese speech if itʼs not clean vocals. Also, pipa riffs.

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This but richer, and Lingnan rather than Jiangnan in inspiration.

Sino Deco architecture. Just think about the possibilities. This could take 19th-century Seiyap architecture and 20th-century Hong Kong vernacular, as well as classical Lingnan architecture, into fascinating places, in parallel with Shanghai’s developments, and it would really fit Guangdongʼs place within China as a centre of international trade and cultural exchange since the Ming and Qing dynasties.

(I’m trying to contain my excitement at the thought of an airport with a Deco dragon wall. Nine dragons for Kowloon 九龍.)

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Cantonese embroidery turned to the making of church altar frontals. Imagine how Lingnan articulations of Christian imagery could go, especially in the use of plant and animal symbolism with important Chinese characters in worm-style seal scripts from the ancient Chu state used as sacred monograms along with the Chi-Rho – or IC XC NIKA (‘Jesus Christ conquers’) in Chinese. These could be powerful textiles expressing the idea of Paradise and Godʼs victory over evil.

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Mammon Sniffs in Hong Kong at the Lands Resumption Ordinance

Hong Kong is infamous for its lack of housing, its expensive real estate, its subdivided flats in which people are packed like sardines. Everyone is compelled to agree, at least with his lips, that this is one of Hong Kong’s pressing problems.

SCMP reports on a proposal to use the Lands Resumption Ordinance to gain land on which to build public housing: ‘Hong Kong developers are estimated to own a huge land bank of 1,000 hectares of abandoned farmland. If the government seizes 150 hectares of usable land, it would [sic] be able to build 170,000 public homes within 10 years.’ I would ask how private developers came to own – or hold, anyway – so much abandoned farmland. If it was by occupying or claiming what others had vacated, in the fashion of squatters, then such developers should have no complaints about squatters coming onto their land and living there rent-free; but even if it was by buying land from farmers who could no longer use the land in profitable ways that could sustain their families, surely it is not only legally valid but also morally sound to compel developers to sell this same land to the state for a crucial public interest, namely the interest of providing 170,000 public homes in a city where average wait times for public housing have grown to ‘5.4 years, up from 2.7 years in 2012’.

Raising the spectre of ‘socialism’ and speaking of seizures without acknowledging that developers would be justly compensated is a scare tactic, not an honest concern. In America, except among radical œconomic liberals, the state’s right of eminent domain has been disputed mostly when the interest in which land is seized is arguably not public (e.g. Kelo v. City of New London); in Taiwan, where the vast majority of the land was once held by 20 families, Chiang Kai-shek forced landlords to sell their land to their tenants in exchange for shares in new light industries, and thus paved the way for a prosperous Taiwan. Allodial title to land belongs to the state because the land belongs to the people. In Hong Kong itself, SCMP says, ‘From 1997 to 2017, the government used the [Lands Resumption Ordinance] 154 times, including 13 times for building public housing. There were eight judicial reviews but none was successful.’ That someone has cried ‘socialism’, and appealed to the Basic Law in support of a hypercapitalism that gained wide currency only by the fall of the Soviet Union, is no reason to sympathize with private land-developers against the needs of the many in Hong Kong who are still waiting for public housing.

In Hong Kong are many, rich and powerful, who do not want to lose what they have. Whether developers who keep farmland idle to make a killing or speculators who buy up flats and keep them vacant to make profits from sales later on, they are the kind of people of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke: ‘Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!’

The judgement of God comes,
 But the wicked erect excuses;
The living God will judge,
 And as nothing are they swept away;
Like sticks in the torrent of his righteousness
 Or ashes of a forest fire,
When the Lord in his anger appears,
 To purge the earth by his grace,
Their bones are broken like matchsticks,
 And like wax melt their joints,
Before the coming of the Word,
 The judgement of the Holy One.