JRF's #29- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

This was the second novel I picked up during my trip to China last winter.

It is a beautifully written story about two young men from well - to - do backgrounds who are sent into the Chinese country side for "re-education" after their parents are imprisoned for being wealthy and educated during Mao's Cultural Revolution.  They eventually discover a horde of western literature and make it their goal to use it to "civilize" the beautiful young village seamstress they have fallen in love with.

While I think the intention of the author was to praise the power of Western Enlightenment thinking to free the passions of those under repressive communist regimes, as I tried to apply a Biblical Worldview to this story I noticed a deeper truth being affirmed: we are all sinful and lost without Christ.  While creativity, hope, and love are suffocated in communism while power, corruption, and poverty thrive, the passions and liscence and greed promoted by Enlightenment thinking are just as deadly.  Christ-less communism and Christ-less capitalism all lead to the same place - hell, although I admit one route might be more fun than the other.

I enjoyed the writing style and some of the themes of this book.  I enjoyed the praise of the power of the imagination and the discovery of beauty.  Sadly though because of what I mentioned above, the purpose for that power and the source of that beauty were never discovered by the book's characters and thus they ended in the same place they began - lost.

JRF's #16 - The Cambridge Seven by John Pollock

This true story recounts one of the key moments in modern missions history, when God seized the hearts of 7 Cambridge students, all very different from each other, and compelled them to give up their all to join Hudson Taylor in bringing the Gospel to the lost of China.

The book focuses on how God beautifully worked and weaved these men's lives together in a way that not only brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to hundreds in China, but also awakened thousands of Western Christians to embrace the long neglected command of their Lord to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Although at times difficult to follow due to the stilted writing style and many names to keep track of, this book was a thrilling and encouraging read.  It was thrilling because the hand of God is so clearly seen as He responded to the prayers of His children, from a missionary professor in China to an old widow in a poor English cottage and countless others, so that at the right time and the right place the right men would respond to His call.  It was encouraging because the author was not shy about conveying not only these men's victories but also their failures.  In particular, Stanley Smith, the foundational member of the Cambridge Seven, was a man of great ebb and flow in his spiritual growth.

As my wife and I move towards pursuing missions in Indonesia, the story of the Cambridge Seven will be a clear reminder of the power and necessity of prayer and the truth that, "God does not deal with you until you are wholly given up to Him, and then He will tell you what He would have you do."

"...the very content of the word 'sacrifice' seemed reversed: and each man wondered whether he could afford the cost, not of utter devotion and worldly loss but of compromise and the loss of spiritual power and joy.  Nothing less than the experience of these two men was worth having."

- the reflection of an undergraduate who had heard Stanley Smith and C.T. Studd speak of their surrender to God's call

JRF's #6 - Village of Stone by Xiaolu Guo

This book was recommended by my Lonely Planet China guidebook and I found it in an English bookstore in Beijing so I thought I would give it a try.  While I would be hesitant to whole-heartedly recommended this book, due to its somewhat graphic content, I am glad to have read it.

This is a book about shame.

The story weaves between the past and the present of the narrator, a 28 year old woman named Coral.

Coral's past is one filled with the shame of sins committed against her (neglect, abandonment, horrible sexual abuse, and ostracization) and sins committed by her (seducing her middle school teacher, jealousy, hatred, and abortion).  She was born in the Village of Stone, a small fishing village ruled by superstition and the sea and known as "Little Dog" a nickname given to her by her despondent Grandfather.  Survival occupies the first 15 years of her life.

Her present is Beijing, where she shares a bottom floor apartment with her unemployed boyfriend "Red".  The bottom floor apartment, which receives only a few minutes of sunlight a day, serves as a metaphor for their inability to be upwardly mobile, both economically and emotionally.  Even in this exciting and bustling city of 22 million people Coral is unable to find something powerful enough to drown out her shame.  Equally unobtainable is someone with which to fight the loneliness that has always haunted her.

While the book ends with a slight glimmer of hope, the overwhelming feel of the book is bleak.

So what were the redeeming qualities?

  • Xiaolu is an exceptional writer and her poetry is beautifully transferred into English by Cindy Carter.
  • I believe this book is an excellent parable of the spiritual state of the younger generation of China.  Migrants are fleeing the countryside and flooding the cities in search of a new life and new opportunity.  The old superstitions and repressive traditions of the past are being left behind in favor of the glittering promises of modernity.  Yet aching loneliness and shame still haunts those without Christ.
  • This book helped to break my heart for the lost of China and the urban lost around the world.  The fact that I bought it and began reading it in Beijing made its bleak message all the more vivid.  Although she is very different in some ways with Coral, I found myself thinking of and praying for often our tour guide, Jenny, as I read this.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope that its empty message moves you to pray for the millions of Chinese souls who struggle each day, along with the rest of the unbelieving world, under the suffocating burden of guilt, shame, and sin.  Pray that they would know the freedom and peace that comes not through modernity, power, wealth or fame...but through knowing and being known by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

And if you think of it, pray for Jenny specifically.