Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Learning Chinese

With China’s president visiting the U.S. this week, news sources are looking for stories that fit with the theme of China. The first test flight of a next generation stealth aircraft and a visit by Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the country have provided the most recent fodder for news reports. Today I came across a news story from a different angle.

Apparently the Chinese government is providing some funding to American schools with a Chinese language program. Teachers, some of whom are actually coming from China, lead students in language acquisition and cultural appreciation.

Some school districts have had to say no to a Chinese program not because of a lack of interest, but because of the question of where the money is coming from. In short, some people don’t want their child’s education, even a part of it, to come from the treasury of a communist nation.

That is the scary thing for many Americans. “Better dead than red!” could become another popular slogan in the future, especially given the strong ties (or perceived strong ties) between China and North Korea. Naturally, China feels it has something to gain from sponsoring these programs, and after years of The Manchurian Candidate, Jason Bourne, and other thrillers, some people may suspect it includes twisting our children to become sympathetic to China and its goals.

On the other hand, a Chinese language program is beneficial for bilateral relations in the future between the U.S. and China. I know enough people who can’t tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, much less the other ethnic groups that make up each nation, to believe that my fellow Americans and I could benefit from some kind of cultural program.

China (and India for that matter) will certainly be influential on world economics and politics in this century, so American ignorance of Chinese culture and language could harm our nation in the long run, especially since our military prowess may not be sufficient to make successful political maneuvers in the future.

But on a more spiritual side, Chinese programs like this offer American Christians an opportunity to make an influence on China better than ever before. Short- and long-term missionaries could have easier access with the gospel to Chinese Christians. Teachers on loan to the U.S. may be exposed to the gospel for the first time in their lives.

One thing I’ve heard mentioned about China is the need for more educated Christian leadership. Many of the small house churches do not have trained leaders. This can allow for false teachers to infiltrate the church and lead spiritually immature believers astray. Through cultural programs, American Christians can connect with the better educated and social elite without as many dangers faced by Chinese nationals doing the same thing.

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