“The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!”

View from Victoria Peak

The announcement came over Facebook, “Are you excited for the Hong Kong Advance? We are!” That declaration came from one our administrators at the seminary encouraging our cohort to get ready for our upcoming trip. Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m excited but right now I can’t get past the thought of having to write about Hong Kong using material from Steve Tsang’s prodigious work on the history of Hong Kong aptly called A Modern History of Hong Kong.

When I say “prodigious” I mean 300+ pages of dense material, covering detail upon detail of Hong Kong’s humble beginnings as a fishing village in the 19th century to the global economic powerhouse it became a century and a half later. The in-between years is fascinating, more like inexplicable1 how a true partnership between Great Britain, the super power at the time, and China the “sleeping giant” to achieve what no other nation has in the modern era. What could account for this? One of my deepest interests and a hopeful outcome in pursuing a DMin is giving myself space and time to figure out the factors that cause human beings to flourish. Could those be identified? And before we answer that, could we come to a common understanding of what human flourishing is about?

These are big questions indeed. However I am convinced the history of Hong Kong has some important human flourishing lessons to teach us. According to Tsang in A Modern History of Hong Kong, “The greatest contribution of British rule in this regard was to provide the political framework and social stability that enabled Hong Kong’s economy to flourish”2 Elsewhere he states that the reason the economy transformed in dramatic ways in the 1950s “lay in providing the conditions for industries to develop and grow. It maintained political and social stability at a time when neither could be taken for granted in East Asia.”3 What is even more amazing is that all of this was accomplished in Hong Kong without the British formally colonizing it unlike, for example, Africa and India.

What made Hong Kong work in the way that even impressed unconcerned Chinese leaders? After all, they didn’t really care at all for Hong Kong, until it became their “goose that kept laying golden eggs.” Even Mao, so disinterested that he relegated governance, albeit undefined, to the British, so long as the Chinese people were respected and treated fairly. In fact for a good period of time, Hong Kongers lived relatively stable and peaceful lives without any intervention of a formal government. For several decades leading up to the 1980s Hong Kong was self-governed, enjoying democracy with officially having it. Sure, the British governors presided over the court systems and established basic laws but that was only to maintain an order that already existed. Anyone interested in matters of nation building would be very curious to know the formula that made this British pseudo colony successful.

I’m sure there is no easy answer to this question. And the possible answers will vary wildly depending on who you ask. However if one were to ask Tsang he would say this:

The vitality and strength of the British economy, politics, armed forces, science, technology and, in their own eyes, their way of life governed by liberal democracy and the Christian faith gave the Victorians venturing to Asia or, for that matter, Africa a sense of superiority over the so-called natives.4

There is no perfect society. That is stating the obvious. Sure there were inequities and discrimination against the natives as part of the backstory of the Sino-British narrative. But even the natives did not think it was any worse than what they had experienced in the mainland. In fact, the situation was so much better in Hong Kong that many Chinese started immigrating en masse to seek better opportunities. By the 1980s, missiologists and anthropologists recognized the problems, shortcomings and challenges of colonization that came with the era of pax Britannica. The history lessons were not wasted on the Britons and when it was time to plan for the eventual return of Hong Kong to China, the British showed genuine concern for the future and welfare of the people of Hong Kong.

I am not sure if Tsang meant to include the Christian faith in a disparaging way. But how else does one explain the incredible progress realized in Hong Kong? Fascism had been defeated, communism that built the Berlin wall demonstrably failed, USSR declined, eventually collapsed and socialism has come to nothing. Confucianism, with its emphasis on moral values and correctness of social relationships could only take China so far.

What else is left then? Perhaps the answer is Christianity. Yes, even with all the flaws, imperfections and hypocrisy of believers, nations and culture can thrive, and we see it first hand in the case of Hong Kong. It was Christianity that undergirded the careful transition and a genuine care for the wellbeing of the citizens even when Deng, the supreme Chinese leader at the time, doubted and thought it “too alien to take seriously.” It’s in Christianity that we find any sort of cultural mandate (Gen. 1:22; 2:15) to have responsible dominion over all his creation. No other worldview has this view of reality. This point is often times overlooked and glossed over in political and social theory. However, the impetus behind colonization, the thing that drives it and its attachment to the West, namely Christianity, comes from the fact that we (disciples of Jesus) are called to take responsible dominion over creation and extend the Gospel to the farthest reaches of our planet. Of course this interpretation is fraught with controversy which this paper may address at a later time.

Nonetheless, we would be remiss in our day not to consider the lessons in Hong Kong. Naysayers can point to everything that went wrong but Britons got it right for the most part and deserve the credit. The question remains, as it has for the 7.3 million who live in Hong Kong, will the “one country, two systems” model continue to work long after SAR status of Hong Kong ends? Will China along with neighboring nations like Singapore figure out how to modernize without being Westernized? Will the strong presence of human rights and freedom of religion in Hong Kong remain a key central value in the new Hong Kong in 2047? God only knows but Christians must be guardians of everything that is good, true and beautiful. These are uncertain and yet exciting times when God’s people are called to disciple nations. Do we sit back and do nothing or do we answer the call?

I had fun coming up with the title for this blog post. It was sort of tongue in cheek. A century before Hong Kong was even on the map, Paul Revere rode to warn the settlers of the impending attack of the British forces. A century later, with no armada of warships, with little more than a desire to trade, the British landed bringing with them a new way of life, a culture that is embraced even to this day.

Am I excited to visit Hong Kong? Yes I am.

Simple to Understand, Mysterious to Comprehend and Difficult to Practice

I was listening to a sermon on the radio the other day and the pastor preached on a familiar passage. In his talk he mentioned that the verses were simple to understand, mysterious to comprehend and difficult to put into practice. These words resonated with me as it brought me back to the story of Jackie Pullinger and how she followed God’s calling to Hong Kong despite opposition from naysayers. Common sense tells us we have to dot the i’s and cross our t’s, fill out the proper forms, wait patiently and prayerfully before we can expect a response from the Lord. After all we’re taught that yes, God can do anything, but typically He accomplishes things through normal means, i.e., blessing of the church elders, etc. At least that’s how we’ve been acculturated in the church. I know I have been, and collectively we call this approach wise.

Discerning the Holy Spirit’s promptings is, for me at least, as the preacher said “simple to understand, mysterious to comprehend and difficult to practice.” Jackie knew she wanted to be a missionary growing up and was convinced of that early on—simple to understand. But she experienced roadblocks when the time came for her to go. So that must have seemed mysterious to her and her support group who was convinced she should go. And if that wasn’t enough, the more difficult thing to think about was actually to go. But go where? After all no missions organization she applied to would help her. Nor did she sense any specifics from the Lord.

This is where I’m reminded of Abraham’s story in Genesis 12 and how uncannily similar it is to Jackie’s. It was exhilarating to read the first few chapters of Jackie’s missionary journey and I was on the edge of my seat not knowing how things would turn out for her. There she was, ready, willing and able to do the Lord’s work. But was she going to wait for a green light as the missions agency advised? Was she going to push through on her own strength and make things happen? Was she going to pray more to ask for a definitive sign from God? 

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) says “…go and make disciplines of all nations…” I’m convinced the most important word there is “go.” Apparently this oft-quoted passage is similar in construction, tone and meaning in the original language as the ones we find in Genesis 1 in which God tells Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” There’s something about the “going” itself; going to different places God wants us to go in order to accomplish His will of restoring fallen creation for His glory.  It appears Jackie was simply desiring and fulfilling the original “cultural mandate” to be part of God’s redeeming work of salvation by going from where she was to a place God would eventually disclose. Not sooner or later, but at God’s perfect timing. 

When Dr. Jason Clark helped and encouraged his cohort of doctoral students the other day to begin writing, I asked a question: What should we write about and what tone, voice, style, etc. are we to use in our writing? He said we ought to focus on one thing that resonated with us in a profound way. Once we figured that out, that was what we ought to write about. That was super helpful because I couldn’t stop marveling at Jackie’s incredible faith, the same incredible faith demonstrated by Abraham, except his seems so distant, so removed from today’s hustle and bustle we call life. How can anyone relate to that today? How can I relate? Is this only for the special believers out there? Then we learn about people like Jackie Pullinger who essentially did the same thing as Abraham did thousands of years ago. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Jackie. She’s like you and me except that she actually put her faith into action.

When I think about her story (Chasing the Dragon), I’m encouraged and challenged at the same time. Encouraged because I see in modern times that God is the same yesterday, today and forever; and is still committed to redeeming those he has called. Challenged because in many ways I have a long way to go to have the kind of faith. But with practice and discipline, my hope and prayer is that I take steps of obedience and simply go when God says go.