The Experience of Growth of a Christian Born in the 1990s
Wei Chen, Fujian Province
I’m a Christian who was born in the 1990s. I was once a student in one of those famous schools that all parents want their kids to study at and will go to extreme lengths to get them in. In China, they are known as key schools, and I studied in one for 10 years. In China, parents have very high expectations of such schools, and rack their brains for ways to improve their children’s chances of going to these high-quality places of learning. They think that their kids will thus gain a first-class education that will put them head and shoulders above the rest and bring glory to their family and ancestors. In order to get me into a key school, my mother pulled out all the stops to develop relationships with the right people and also spent a considerable sum of money. But the schools run by the C.C.P. have already lost all their purity of purpose and have become dens of lies and falsehoods. The teachers and staff—who should have been upstanding models of fairness, humanity and morality—have become treacherous, cunning and immoral hypocrites who are cultivating batch after batch of similarly hypocritical students, the so-called “pillars of the nation.”
When talking about teachers in China, it’s common to use a line from an ancient poem to describe their diligence: “The silkworm doesn’t stop producing silk thread until it dies; the candle doesn’t stop dripping wax until it turns to ash.” But after 10 years in that school witnessing the actions and behaviors of my teachers, I feel that I have to repudiate this. I remember the second semester in my first year. The music teacher announced that our class had been selected for a music class inspection by some senior figures, and that we had to continually rehearse the content that she’d prepared for the inspection exactly as she wanted. During one of the rehearsals, one of the classmates was being a bit uncooperative and repeatedly failed to do what the teacher said. Suddenly, the classroom went very quiet, and when I looked up I saw the music teacher staring furiously at that classmate. She stood up with a crash, threw her musical textbook down onto the piano with all her strength, and strode angrily toward the classmate. She grabbed him and dragged him to the back of the classroom to stand against the wall as punishment. When we saw this, all 30 0r so of us became petrified, and immediately began to carefully do exactly what the teacher wanted so that we didn’t meet the same fate. Later on, our head teacher and the music teacher also had one-to-one talks with all of the naughty students to warn them to shape up. So when the senior officials came they saw a well-ordered classroom with a friendly and welcoming teacher who had a voice so soft it gave you goose bumps. It seemed that we students and the teachers had entered into an unspoken agreement to cooperate to achieve the common objective of seeing satisfied smiles on the faces of the senior officials. After the inspection was over, I got together with a few classmates. The question we all asked was: “Why has our teacher taught us how to deceive people?” When we reached the third year we were told that some people were coming to listen in on our math class. The math teacher told us: “In class tomorrow we’ll be doing the same stuff that we did a few days ago. So I hope you’ll all go home and revise it well.” After class, the teacher asked the class monitor and class cadres to join her in her office. The next day, the back row of seats in the classroom was all taken up by teachers and officials who had come to observe us. The class started, and the teacher asked the pre-arranged questions and allowed the class monitor and class cadres to answer. Their flawless answers brought a satisfied smile to the teacher’s face. This open class came to a successful conclusion after fooling the government officials all the way, and was definitely a case of “For every policy the senior leadership create the lower levels create one to deal with it.” Inspections and evaluations by the Bureau of Education always put the teachers on the defensive: They would make us memorize all the possible questions and answers and would repeatedly and sternly warn us. They’d say things like: “The Bureau of Education inspectors are coming today so you’ve all got to stay in this classroom. Stay in here and be good. If you mess up I’ll make sure you all suffer the consequences!” They even threatened to deduct points from our end-of-semester exam scores! We also had a full school assembly so that the teachers could lay down the law and drill into us everything we needed to remember. We were so well-trained that an inspector could have grabbed the most unruly kid in any class and asked them any relevant question and they would have got a concise and fluent answer guaranteed to bring a smile to their face. Even more ironic was the fact that the usually smelly toilets were cleaned and the trash heaps were tidied up. Then there was the time when the bell for class rang but my classmates kept on making a terrible din no matter how loudly the teacher banged on the desk. So the teacher shouted at us angrily: “You were all so good during the inspections, but now that they’re over you’ve gone back to being how you were originally.” When I heard this I had a quiet laugh to myself, as I thought that this was certainly an instance of “A strict teacher produces outstanding students!” Six years of elementary school life had helped our performing arts skills progress greatly: Whenever we heard that there was going to be an open class, or that some officials were coming to observe us, we all knew just how to work hand-in-glove with the teacher to put on a good show to fool them.
When I got into key high schools, both junior and senior, I discovered that the practice of faking things was even more prevalent and developed. Our physics classes were nearly all theory, with very few practical experiments involved. When the school inspectors were about to visit, our teacher told us to do all of the experiments in the few classes beforehand. But we all knew that we had to be ready for the inspection, so we didn’t actually do them but just went to the lab and waited for the teacher to read out the correct results, which we then copied down. The senior staff of our school was also always looking for ways to bring our school up to Grade 1 standard, because doing so would mean more recognition, better equipment and facilities—both hardware and software—and more funding from the government. But this was a challenging task that needed the teachers and students to work together closely to complete. In order to pass the inspection and evaluation, we began all the fakery again. A few of the strongest students in the class were sent to the office to get all of the boxes of reports, experiment material, tables and charts—all the stuff that we usually never heard of or looked at. Then the teacher wrote all of the standard answers and results up on the blackboard and we copied the information into the tables, charts, etc. Then we handed them over to the teachers (and then they were hidden away until the time of the next inspection.) After that, I went with a few classmates to the school canteen to buy something to eat for breakfast. One of classmates wanted a chicken leg, but the canteen staff told him: “Today’s inspection day, so we’re not allowed to sell cooked food.” We looked at each other in bemusement, because we’d never have thought that the canteen—which made piles of money through selling cooked food every day—would also have a rest day. Ha-ha! They really were putting on a good show of singing from the same song sheet as the school’s senior management! Eventually, the combined deceit of all of the staff and students ensured that the school was promoted from a provincial Grade 2 school to a provincial Grade 1 school. The senior staff was naturally delighted, and grinned from ear to ear all day long. When the news was excitedly announced at a special school assembly, the gathered students were also very happy to hear it, because we knew that if we hadn’t passed the inspection then we would have had to carry on wracking our brains to think of ways to trick the inspectors next time.
As a result of the diligent cultivation from an early age at the hands of our teachers—those “engineers of the human soul”—we matured into students well-prepared to pass exams. Our ability to fake things and deceive people also progressed nicely. In our school, the rules didn’t permit students to have girlfriends or boyfriends or smoke. So we got round this by continuing our teachers’ tradition of “For every policy the senior leadership create the lower levels create one to deal with it”—we didn’t hold hands or hug or smoke in public areas of the school but instead snuck into dark corners or waited until we were outside of the school gates before having our fun. Anyway, as long as we weren’t caught in the act then there wouldn’t be any evidence. Also, bullying and robbing other students of their money were common occurrences. And so I sunk lower and lower into this great vat of sin, learning all the time how to be two-faced and sly. In the eyes of most of my relatives and classmates I was a good boy: I didn’t have a girlfriend, nor did I drink or smoke. When guests came to our house, even though I just wanted to play computer games, I would instead bring up the learning Web site—a site I visited so infrequently that I’d almost forgotten my account details—on the screen in order to win the guests’ approval. It was only when I was totally sure that the guests wouldn’t come into my room again that I’d start browsing the Web and playing games. Whenever I was feeling upset or troubled, I’d call up a few of my close friends and we’d go to a bar near to my house to get completely drunk. Once we’d drowned our sorrows and maybe acted a bit crazy, we’d calculate what time each of our respective parents would go to bed so that we could sneak in without them smelling the alcohol on us. Then we’d stumble and weave back home and sleep the rest of the night away snoring loudly. I remember one time when I finished off half a bottle of 56° sorghum liquor in three swallows. Walking home I could barely control my arms and legs, but when I got to the door of my house I slapped my face a few times, steadied myself as best I could, took off my shoes as quickly as possible, covered my mouth with my hand, and walked straight into my room, locking the door behind me. In my room I was king of my own domain, and so no matter how hard my mother knocked on the door I didn’t open it. The next day before opening my bedroom door, I didn’t forget to open the window to let some fresh air in. When I could smell that there was no stench of alcohol in the air, I took my clothes—which did still have smell of liquor—out onto the balcony to soak them in water. And that’s how I got rid of all the evidence. Ha-ha!
Occasionally, I would think about how the Lordhad said that we must all be honest and always tell it as it really is. I was very dissatisfied with my various behaviors, and felt that I was totally phony and fake. I even felt that I wasn’t a real Christian, as I didn’t even have the courage to admit to my own faith in case I was mocked for claiming to be a Christian when my morals were so bad. Sometimes I’d pray and confess my sins, but my lifestyle didn’t change and I continued to feel lost, confused, and helpless. I knew that I wasn’t a good Christian, but I felt that the pastors and the deacons in all knew very well and could all discuss doctrines and teachings at length, so at least they were all good Christians, all apples of the Lord’s eye. But the reality once again struck back against my way of looking at things: It was during an election for church deacons, and as an impartial observer I was able to clearly witness just how absurd the whole process was. There were 13 deacons to begin with, and when the pastor announced the results of the election it turned out that the same 13 had been re-elected. There hadn’t even been any other candidates! I couldn’t help but shout out: “Cheats!” and then stormed angrily out of the church. I pondered over this event, but whichever way I thought about it I always came to the conclusion that religious elections were just as fake as the practice I had witnessed in school or the elections the local government held for village cadres. On another occasion, I was child minding for the pastor and struck up a conversation with her 7-year old daughter: “I bet your mother reads Bible stories to you pretty much every day.” She replied: “No, my mom said there’s no point in reading that stuff!” I was stunned, and asked her again, to make sure. But the little girl replied with certainty: “Mom doesn’t let me read the Bible and told me not to believe any of it. She said that only scientific knowledge has any use.” left me dumbfounded: This pastor was a total hypocrite who was teaching her child to ignore Christian teachings! I would never have imagined that the senior figures in my church were all deceitful atheists who were just putting on a show to further their own interests. I was terribly disappointed in them, and vowed never to go to any church meetings again. I felt that listening to them preaching was no different from listening to those falsely just and righteous senior school staff who got up on the stage and tried to fool us with their trickery. At a later date, my mother became one of the church deacons, which gave me even more of an insider’s view of how this so-called holy, God-worshiping “temple” had developed in the same way as modern society. The pastor and deacons had formed factions, and of course there were lots of differing opinions, so the dozen or so of them were frequently quarreling until they were red in the face. They also had the habit of finding spurious reasons for spending the congregation’s donations on trips and dining out. They once announced, in all earnest, that they were going to give 500 yuan to poor families to subsidize their children’s school fees. In fact, the parents who applied for the subsidies were all close to the pastor and deacons on a daily basis. One of these “poor parents” actually owned a 3-storey house and had a monthly income of over 1,000 yuan. As for the parents who everyone actually knew to be living with hardship, not one of them got the subsidy. Through personally witnessing all this, I became extremely disappointed and didn’t know what to do about the whole situation. I felt that only the return of the could put an end to these filthy and despicable affairs. I couldn’t help from calling out: “Lord, please, please, come soon!”