English-educated Chinese Christians in Malaysia and Singapore faces a unique quandary. Their mindset, worldview and culture are influenced by the Anglo-American influences that come with an English education system. Yet, these Christians are ethnic Chinese brought up with their Chinese cultural heritage whether they are aware of them or not. No wonder they are often called bananas – yellow on the outside but white in the inside. That is one of the reasons why mainland Chinese when China was forced open to the West were very resistant to Christianity. They see Christianity as a Western imperialist tool. They recognize that embracing the Western culture will threaten their Chinese identity. Early Chinese Christian converts were regarded as no longer Chinese.
Present day English-educated Chinese Christians still struggle with the issue of whether they are Chinese Christians or Christian Chinese. This is especially acute in families that no longer speak Chinese or any of its dialects. In many such families their lifestyles are closer to Anglo-Americans rather than to their Chinese-educated brethren. Yet intrinsic to their identity is their Chinese heritage. The pull to their roots become stronger as these English-educated Chinese becomes older. This highlights an important point. As Christians were are not only called by God to be his people (special calling), to be his agent in redemption (general calling) but also to embrace our cultural heritage (cultural calling). Our cultural heritage shows the diversity of God’s people. Revelation 7 shows a heavenly scene where there is a mighty multitude of God’s people from every nation, people, tribe and language.
As Christians, we are to incarnate our ethnicity and its culture. This is especially true in our Chinese English-speaking congregations in Malaysia and Singapore. I am sure this will be same with Chinese Christians elsewhere. There is much we can learn from our Chinese Chinese-speaking congregations in the way they have contextualized the gospel and Christian living within the Chinese heritage. In Chinese culture, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important event in the year. The reunion dinner where the whole family comes together is the social event of the year. Family members travel thousands of miles to attend.
I have observed over the years, for many English-speaking Chinese Christians, the Lunar New Year celebrations are becoming less and less important. Similar to the Harvest and other Chinese festivals. It is just another public holiday. More and more are taking the opportunity during this period to travel overseas for extended holidays. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to celebrate Chinese New Year. However this may be symptomatic of the loosening of our cultural identity. There is no running away from our cultural heritage and identity. We run away at our loss. Recently many churches in Malaysia and Singapore are engaged in emotionally mature spirituality. I believe it is time for us to embrace our cultural spirituality too.