The relative openness under China’s previous president, Hu Jintao, has changed under Xi Jinping’s leadership since 2013. Xi’s message of Chinese culture trumping all religious beliefs and practices and a return to Communist Party values in all facets of life has changed the cultural landscape significantly. Xi’s recent restructuring of military and police forces, placing all functions under his leadership, coupled with the removing of any term limits for himself, insure that the change will dominate Chinese culture for the foreseeable future. Moving many functions previously overseen by the Chinese government to be under Communist Party leadership will ensure implementation as Xi desires.
One of the most significant changes is the institution of a Social Credit Score, set to be fully implemented by 2020. While Americans are familiar with a financial credit score, China’s version encompasses multiple arenas of life. It will include your legal history, your friendships with the “right” or “wrong” people, your social media posts (considered positive or negative towards the government), complaints from your neighbors, your workplace, and more. A low score can impact your ability to get a loan or a job, buy a train ticket, or get a good school placement for your child. It is Orwellian “Big Brother” control of the population personified. Initial reports from cities where it has been fully implemented are that people are being nice to one another, obeying traffic laws, and promoting harmony between people. The Social Media Score is the ultimate carrot and stick! It will take some effort for returning students to adjust to this after living in the relative openness of U.S. culture.
Chinese students who have come to Christ in the U.S. will face a more difficult time finding a church when they return. The new religion law which went into effect in February 2018 has changed many things for Christians, especially for the unregistered church in China. The new law forbids the existence of unregistered churches. Registered churches are under governmental control and use facial recognition software to record one’s presence at each service. Those under 18 years of age cannot attend a registered church. Unregistered churches had in many cases grown into hundreds of attendees, but not now. Group religious meetings as large as twenty people would be considered illegal by local police. Thus, those who have been attending unregistered churches (which were once free to worship as they choose) now meet in house churches with ten or less people in the home. Training in how to start small group Bible studies will now be more important than ever for Christian returning students. They will inevitably have to start their own group in an apartment to continue to worship.
These new issues only add to the reality of reverse culture shock that students experience upon return to their home country: parents treating you like the child you used to be, old friends having replaced you as their best friend, missing the things you loved about the U.S. and your college friends, getting a job in a culture which feels strange, to name a few. Americans following up friendships with international students once they return can help the transition, even if we must be careful about what we say and write in communications with the students. (All forms of communication in China are monitored, even if the student tells you they are not!)
Principles cited in this blog: Chinese students face many new and daunting issues when they return home after studying in the U.S., all in addition to traditional reverse culture shock issues.
Application for ISI ministry: We need to help students become aware of the implications of the changes in China for them personally and make a significant effort to follow up with students after they return home (being careful of what we say since all communications are monitored by the government).
Next blog topic: Issues Indian students face returning home
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson