I was taught to be an atheist in China, but I am now a devoted Christian.
How I became a Chinese Christian
In China, faith is considered to be superstitious and against science. As a teenager, I was given the idea that intelligent people should not follow any religion. Communist Party members are supposed to be atheists. Textbooks also talk about religions in a negative way.
Most Chinese students did not get a chance to develop a deep understanding of Western culture and beliefs. In my childhood memories, Christianity was only about the huge Christmas trees in shopping malls, decorated with shiny lights and all kinds of wrapped gifts.
Growing up in Hangzhou in eastern China, I never paid attention to Christians or churches in my home city.
When I moved to South Korea for undergraduate study in 2012, I was like all the other college freshmen, eager to explore the new world and open to new ideas. After my Christian friends invited me to join a Sunday service at church, I decided to take a look.
At first, I was bored by the sermon, but I was captured by beautiful music people played and sung there. What was more appealing to an outsider like me was that people at the church were all extremely kind and lovely, as if by nature. At the church I found the joy, peace, kindness and gentleness that I had been looking for for a long time.
I was baptized in 2013. My parents did not understand when I first told them about the conversion. Like many Chinese, my family largely follow Buddhist customs. My parents had not known any Christians before, and became really worried that I was into some cult. They were confused that I refused to burn joss sticks when we visited our ancestors’ tombs.
I told them about Christianity little by little. It takes time for people in their 40s and 50s to look at the world in a different way. But my parents began to accept my beliefs when they saw me continue to make progress in my life and studies. I told them my faith is having a positive impact.
Now when I am back home, they will ask if I need a ride to church. I know they have acknowledged their daughter as a Christian.
I was surprised by the large crowd the first time I went to a Chinese church. Outside of the country, Christians say Chinese people are unable to attend church because of the state suppression of the freedom of belief.
In mainland China, all formal Protestant churches are run by a state-controlled authority. There are indeed limits on what can be said during preaches and on religious education for children. But despite various constraints, Chinese people are still actively seeking spiritual meaning from religions as they become more affluent.
At the biggest, state-sponsored church in downtown Hangzhou, I often attend the Sunday services with more than a thousand fellow Christians. The church is always packed. I sit with people of all kinds of occupations – students, university professors and migrant workers.
I was admitted to Duke University last year and have been attending church in the US. A growing number of young Chinese are studying overseas these days. They are getting more exposure to Western religions and are bringing the knowledge back home. Chinese society has showed more tolerance towards different beliefs than it used to.