Filling the Void

28 02 2016

It wasn’t all that long ago that China was seen as one of the weakest, poorest and most backward countries in Asia.  My how the times have changed!

Ever since Deng Xiao Ping’s visit to southern China in 1992, where he indicated a willingness to revolutionize China’s economic planning, the country has been furiously playing catch up to the economic prosperity of the western industrialized countries.

The fact that China has lifted so many out of poverty and become so powerful so quickly is remarkable.  But in the process, China may be in the process of becoming one of the most materialistic countries in the world!  If you don’t believe me, consider the following.

A few years ago an online survey was done to study what the important things in life are to people in countries around the world.  When asked to respond to the following question, “I measure my success by the things I own,” seventy-one percent of the respondents from China agreed.  Interestingly, 68% of Chinese respondents also agreed with the following statement, “I feel under a lot of pressure to be successful and make money.”  Most people in China are no longer concerned about where their next meal is coming from (although that problem still exists for many, especially in rural areas), but rather they’re more concentrated on making money.

For many young people in China, the Chinese New Year holiday period (also known as Spring Festival) is a time for them to travel back to their hometown to visit with parents and family friends. Earlier this year, on the Chinese version of Twitter (Weibo), the question was posed:  “What questions are you most dreading for Spring Festival?”  It didn’t come as much of a surprise that two of the questions had to do with finances: “How much money are you making?” and “Do you have a house and a car?”

Chinese shopping habits

Shopping for luxury goods – Image Credit: China Daily

And that drive to buy continues, as evidenced by an e-commerce survey in 2015 which showed that “Chinese consumers – especially younger generations – are less price obsessed … this opens new opportunities for full price e-commerce for premium and luxury brands.”  As one analyst noted, “Chinese consumers have a significant propensity to spend, they are technology savvy and want the best quality.

Not far from where we live is one of the busiest shopping malls in Hong Kong – Shatin Town Plaza.  Over the past several years we have noticed an increase in the number of high-end stores in this mega-mall. Stores such as Coach, Lacoste, Armani, Burberry (the list is extensive), all geared to attract visitors from China to come in and shop.  From clothing, to electronics, to women’s make-up, to jewelry, they can’t get enough.  And if you thought the crowds at your local mall were bad around the holidays, you would not believe how busy this place is on an average weekend.

Some in China are taking this ‘grab for things’ to a whole new level.  Last fall, on China’s largest retail holiday – also known as Singles Day (November 11th) – Alibaba, the Chinese online shopping platform, recorded $8 billion USD in sales in the first 8 minutes of the day!  I’m presuming it was mostly single men and women who indulged in a self-centered shopping spree that day, with Alibaba raking in a record $14.3 billion USD.  And they had a lot to choose from, with Alibaba reporting that they were able to attract more than 40,000 merchants and 30,000 brands (such as Macy’s, Apple, and Estee Lauder) from 25 countries.  With Daniel Craig, Kevin Spacey and various Chinese celebrities as part of the marketing push for this day, who couldn’t resist the buying spree!

One of the most popular TV dating shows in China is called “If You Are the One” (非诚勿扰).  The creator of this widely-popular program has said that its success is due to the fact that “the show is a window into Chinese society at large, and that through it, you can tell what China is thinking about and chasing after.”  If that’s the case, then China has some serious problems. One of their earliest contestants gained notoriety when she turned down an offer for a date with a contestant on his bicycle by telling him, “I’d rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle”.  If you think she’s the only who thinks like that, check out these stories.

Single's Day Shopping 2015

Rushing to fill Single’s Day shopping orders – Image Credit: Reuters

So how did China get here?  How did China go from being one of the more backward and poor countries in the world, to a country whose people are doing their best to “buy up” everything as quickly as possible?

Someone, I don’t know who, made the following astute observation that just might explain it all: “Mao set out to destroy Confucianism and succeeded; Deng set out to destroy Maoism; and succeeded. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to replace it with anything.”

Along those same lines, is this quote from Blaise Pascal: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

With nothing to fill this void, increasingly over the past 30 years, the people of China have tried to fill it with “material things.”  I would not want the people of China to return to the days of starvation and economic backwardness of much of the 1900’s, but I’m not sure that the path they’re going down will bring them what they’re really looking for.

King Solomon wisely noted in Ecclesiastes 3 that, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven,” which I believe even includes buying things.  But Solomon goes on to note that “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  God has given each of us an awareness that there is something more to this life than what we can see and experience in the here and now – something more than just the latest gadget, or the most expensive item on our wish list. We’ve been created with a spiritual thirst that nobody and nothing can satisfy … except God.

A Beijing professor may have summed it up best when he said: “The worship of Mammon (in China) … has become many people’s life purpose … I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied … will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”

Pray with us that Christ-followers in China will be instrumental in leading their family members, friends and neighbors to personally experience the truth of 1 Timothy 6:17 – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie Chute

ICS middle school camp will take place from March 22-24. Please PRAY for our speaker, who will give messages based on Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as what God’s purpose for our new life in Him. PRAY for the times of interaction that students have with teachers and fellow students. Nightly devotional times provide times to share openly. PRAY that teachers would have wisdom and insight (and energy!), and that the Holy Spirit would be guiding during all of these times – that walls will be removed and God’s Spirit would break through to students’ hearts.

With the extended Chinese New Year holidays coming to a close, students in Guangxi have returned to renew their studies at training centers across the province. These training classes are great opportunities for these men and women to go deeper in their understanding of Scripture, and also learn skills that will help them give leadership to evangelism and discipleship ministries in their local churches.  PRAY for God’s anointing on each of the teachers who lead these classes, as they not only share information with their students, but also help them apply what they have learned in their lives and ministries.