– When one notes that the history of imperial China includes the imperial reign of “foreigner invaders” or “northern barbarians” such as the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and the Manchurian Qin Dynasty, the Chinese criticism of “Western Imperialism” over China appears to be nothing more than sheer hypocrisy. No one goes round blabbering about “Mongolian imperialism” or the oppression of the Han Chinese under the Mongols or Manchurians. What makes Western Imperialism so special that it is the exception to the policy of us Han Chinese accepting “foreign imperial” rule as a matter of indifference?
– The fact of the matter is that the Chinese mode of thinking was highly pragmatic. We didn’t care who was in charge (or what race!) or how they ruled as long as they ruled competently and efficiently and well. This is simply the famous Chinese concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” as the ultimate source of legitimacy for any ruler. As Alexander Pope Puts it,
“For forms of Government let fools contest.
Whate’er is best administered is best.”
As long as a rule was just and competent as judged by the material prosperity of its people, the relative peace, harmony and order throughout the empire, and the security of one’s borders, then the ruler has the “Mandate of Heaven”. But when one’s rule is incompetent, the people suffering from widespread poverty, disorder and discord throughout the empire, and the borders porous and subject to invasions and bandit raids, then one has simply lost the Mandate of Heaven whose removal and overthrow by more competent powers will be thoroughly justified. The Mandate of Heaven is “granted” to anyone who is a competent ruler regardless of aristocratic status or race. This is simply a variant form of “Might is Right” or in this case more accurately described as “Competence is Right”.
– Thus, given the weakness of the Qin Dynasty and the incompetence of their government, by every standard, the Qin Dynasty at that point has simply lost the Mandate of Heaven to the West who was clearly the superior and much more competent power. Nothing more than irrational sentimental to outward culture or fripperies justifies the rejection of Western supremacy.
-From here I wish to draw a connection between the “Mandate of Heaven” or “Material Power is Right” sort of Chinese mindset and the Chinese adoption of the “Western” Christian Religion. I’ve been reading a native Mexican lapsed Roman who makes a very interesting point about how many “folksy” Mexican Roman Catholicism, .e.g. the invocation of uncanonised “gangster” saints and the many odd quirks and rituals of Latin America, has less to do with exalted spiritual motives than very basic material and economic needs of, getting a cure of some illness, getting a job or new household appliance or whatever. The question therefore which we have to deal with is, what is the relationship between material power, empirical success, and the Christian faith.
– I have of course criticised the “Prosperity Gospel” on many occasions, however, the fact of the matter remains that behind the exaggerations of the Prosperity Gospel remains a core truth. We do believe that somehow the Christian faith has to be “relevant” to our material needs. To paraphrase St James, what sort of religion is it which merely tells the man without clothes to go in the peace of God? To repeat once more a refrain of mine from Thatcher, the Good Samaritan didn’t only have good intentions, he had money as well. Therefore, we do believe that there is an intimate connection between material power, wealth and success on the one hand, and the relevance and credibility of Christianity.
-In this regard we can easily make the connection between the highly “empirical” Mandate of Heaven and the “credibility” of the Western Christian Faith. I have no qualms admitting, a very large part of what motivates me towards the adoption of Christianity is the superiority of the imperial West Civilisation. The Westerners, with their superior knowledge of the sciences, their rationality, technology, and competent social and economic organisation, have clearly acquired the “Mandate of Heaven”, therefore the Divinity whom they worship must be the right one who has so blessed and prospered their Empire and given them the Sword (or Canons!) to judge the superstition and idolatry of us Chinese still living in the darkness of our ancestral worship and Asian religions, etc.
-We might balk at such a blatant admiration of sheer empirical and material power, but the heart of the Mandate of Heaven and the Mexican invoking uncanonised criminal saints to grant them a job or cure a disease is the same: We do believe that there must be an “empirical” and visible component or sign of the credibility of a religion. Although of course I would say that the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven” is slightly more sophisticated in that it is concerned with empirical competence and “realisation” at the level of ideas, societies and civilisation in comparison to the Mexican more “immediate” and individual material/empirical tests. The fact that the material and empirical superiority is realised in superior science and reason, technology, canons and guns, changes nothing about the core principle.
– In this sense, we might have a partial explanation for why the Chinese are converting to Christianity at such a rapid rate. No matter the superficial and farcical rhetoric of “Post Colonialism” or nasty nasty “Western Imperialism”, no Chinese truly wants to return to the state of pre-Newtonian Science or the days before the anaesthetic. No Chinese seriously considers adopting Confucian methods of research consisting of mindless regurgitation and debate over key classical texts over more Western forms of “rationality”, etc. We do largely like the social and civic and economic organisation of the West which has brought much prosperity to Asian. For all the faux claims of how the Westerners “imposed” their alien Victorian sexual mores upon us, does any Chinese truly want to return to the days of concubage or polygamy which existed in the not too distant past of the living memory of even our parents? We therefore cannot help but see that the “desire of the nations” is truly realised in the Christian religion which constitutes the root of all that we think is great and good about Western Civilisation.
– The difficulty of Asian evangelism seems to me that we have to avoid on the one hand, the crudeness of the “Prosperity Gospel” or the case of the Mexican invoking his local saints just to get a new washing machine or a bigger car. We have also the avoid both the materialism of the Chinese for empirical wealth and success as well as the innate moralism for “respectability” which would obscure the Gospel of grace and forgiveness of Christ which receives one’s into God’s love anterior to our good works.
– It seems to me therefore that our cultural instinct for the “Mandate of Heaven”, the notion of the superiority and competence of a set of civilisational norms and ideas, seems to be a very good meeting point between the common grace by which God sustains the worlds, cares for all peoples, and prepares them for the Gospel, and the special regenerating grace of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ, whose Gospel has been communicated to Western Civilisation, which has been prepared for centuries by our Lord who now reigns above at the right hand of the Father for the evangelism of the whole world. And when the fullness of time had come, was granted the Mandate of Heaven, that they might subdue the heathen nations, suppress the evils of superstition and idolatry which remains in us, and restore in us the image of God lost by sin…