I think about China all the time. (I probably didn’t need to tell you that, huh!) In our home we talk about China every. single. day. We are learning Mandarin Chinese. We eat at least one meal a day with chop sticks. We have Chinese friends, watch Chinese movies and read books about China. Our house is decorated with Chinese paintings, cloisonné and memorabilia from our trips. Most of my American friends are from the “China Adoption Community” and our vacation dollars have taken us to China pretty exclusively.
I first visited China in December of 1983. I was 15 years old. The country had only been open for tourists for 4 years. I literally fell in love with the people, the culture and the country! Back then it was a pretty primative place to visit. There were very few cars; government, police and tourist buses comprised almost all of the traffic. The regular people rode bikes. They also still wore black cotton mary-janes and Mao jackets. The skys were grey with coal smoke, everything was dirty and the hotels less than comfortable. (We would lay awake at night and listen to the rats running across the floor!)
My second trip to China was with my husband in 2001. We were headed there to adopt our first Chinese daughter, Chloe. We arrived a week before the adoption to see all the sights in Beijing. The country had changed dramatically. The bicycles were still present but there were more cars and scooters. The airplanes had interior walls and were now commercially owned, not military junkets. The hotels were definitely westernized, though the beds were still like sleeping on plywood, there were no rats…at least not in our rooms!
In 2004 I returned to China, all alone, to adopt my daughter Eleanor. People, to this day, ask me if I was scared to do that. Honestly, not one bit. Again the pattern held true: fewer bikes, more cars and scooters, and better hotels. Airplanes were now crowded with more Chinese and they all had cell phones that were turned on the second the plane touched down!
My 2006 experience was magnified because it was the first time I had traveled with children to China and also the first time I was there to do something more than adopt or be a tourist. I took Bella, Chloe, and Eleanor with me, and on the first day we received Meg. (Eric stayed home to work!) I
dragged traveled with four children under 10 all over the country. We visited Guangzhou, Shantou, Anqing, Hefei and Beijing. We rode in taxis, on buses, on trains and in several airplanes. (LOVED trains! Will do that more in the future!) We visited two orphanages and three foster homes. Bella had her first experience working in an orphanage and Chloe & Eleanor saw where they came from.
And finally, we arrive to our most cultural experience in China, our trip in 2010. I don’t need to go into much of that here, because most of you read about it (or can) on this blog! Despite some naysayers at the beginning (most being people who actually live in China full-time who said, “living in China is different than being a tourist in China.“), I managed ‘living’ in China with 4 kids. We found food at the grocery store and open markets, learned how to cook bread in a toaster oven, found our way around on the bus and the subway, and figured out banks and the postal service. We hired no guides and relied on our own meager language skills. It was charming and we’d love to recreate the trip someday, but it just wouldn’t be the same ever again because now our language skills have moved from “meager” to “better.” Update 2014: Bella and Chloe are now conversational. Bella has completed 1 year at Nanjing University in China, has a 4 on the Chinese AP exam and has finished Chin 202 at BYU with an A. Chloe continues to work with a private tutor and is reading The Book of Mormon in Chinese.
Over the years our interest in China increased, not only because the number of Chinese people in our family had increased, but because the many spiritual experiences we have had while increasing our learning about China.
One of the first things we came across is a talk, given my Elder Dallin H. Oaks about China. Getting To Know China has been resource material for us over the years for many discussions about China, esp. when we are talking to fellow members of the LDS Church. Most of the time I tell the story of President Kimball from this talk:
“President Kimball spoke of our obligation to take the gospel to what he called “the uttermost parts of the earth” (see D&C 58:64). His message was electrifying. No one who was present will ever forget the witness they felt that this was a prophet giving the Lord’s message to the leaders and members of his restored Church.
The prophet pleaded for us to move forward, saying, “It is better for something to be underway than under advisement.” He referred to various nations where we had not yet taught the restored gospel. He singled out China for special praise, saying:
By comparison with the widespread breakdown of morality and discipline in the western world, the Chinese are a disciplined, industrious, frugal, closely knit people. Their moral standards are very high by modern western standards. . . . Family life is strong, with old family members still given great respect and care.
When we are ready, the Lord will use us for his purposes.
There are almost three billion people now living on the earth in nations where the gospel is not now being preached. If we could only make a small beginning in every nation, soon the converts among each kindred and tongue could step forth as lights to their own people and the gospel would thus be preached in all nations before the coming of the Lord.
Eric remembers this talk being given and remembers being astonished that the Gospel would go to China in his lifetime! Much progress has been made in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but as we watch our daughters, esp. our Chinese daughters, grow up to be strong and faithful members of this Church we wonder, does the request, “We encourage our Chinese members to return to China. Their country needs them in China and the Lord needs them in China” apply to them?
There was more to President Kimball’s talk that day that was not included in Elder Oaks’ talk. President Kimball outlined the way for the rest of us to assist in this work.
“We asked last conference for all members to pray with increased sincerity for peace in all nations and especially China,” he said, “and that we might make entry with our missionaries. Since then many people have been to China and much interest has been shown. Let us ask our Heavenly Father to grant our petition and permit this great neighbor, China, to join the great family of nations now bowing to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
President Kimball then outlined other means for beginning the work in that great country:
“We need much more language training,” he said. “We need more people fluent in Mandarin.”
He also listed several things the Chinese people themselves can do:
“Chinese members of the Church, especially, should pray for this development. Every single Chinese young man in the Church should be prepared to fill a mission.” To help them prepare, Mandarin classes are being given in every meetinghouse in Hong Kong.
“Chinese children should be taught to save and put aside funds to be prepared to serve in China,” he continued. “In the United States and Canada, Chinese members of the Church need to be strengthened.”
President Kimball reminded those present that President David O. McKay and Elder Hugh J. Cannon dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel in 1921.
“They walked through shrines, pagodas, and temples fast falling into decay. Finally they came to a grove of cypress trees. A reverential feeling came and a presence seemed to be upon them. They were sure that unseen holy beings were directing their footsteps. There at Peking, in the heart of the most populous nation in the world, undisturbed by the multitudes, they offered the dedicatory prayer, President McKay being mouth.”
There is much trouble in our current world. I hear stories on the news about China threatening our security. Friends ask me how I can love a “communist” country. Our country is in debt to China and people’s fears range from “them owning us” to a future world war. I am constantly surprised by the attitudes of “right wing” talk radio, (esp. those who are members of our own church) who proclaim to be Christian! Strangers (and people we know) approach me in public and tell me all sorts of horrific stories, all while my children stand by listening.
My heart bleeds.
How can I not love the people? The mothers/fathers who chose to save my children rather than dispose of them. The orphanage workers who kept them alive despite being over worked and underfunded? The Chinese people who tell me that my children are lucky, pat them on the head and shake their hands. The old woman with crippled legs who lovingly stroked my cheek when I brought her a meal, or the orphan child who would not let me put her down. The old people who cheer and laugh when they hear that I have six, yes “liù ge” children and the young people who want to practice their English with me.
Today in sacrament meeting I was failing desperately to listen to the boy scouts talk about their adventures at camp. I tried again when the speaker changed, but my mind would not budge. I wished with all my heart that someday I am asked to tell these folks about China. I wish to tell them about little children who are missing limbs, about the small woman bent completely over with scoliosis or about a child who wanted nothing more than a family. I want to tell them the story about the young woman on the street who asked me, under cover of darkness, if I knew where she could buy a Bible. How badly I wanted to say, “I have one! It is in my room! Come up!” (I did not. A of F 12) I want to ask them to pray for China, her people and for the hearts of their leaders. I want people to understand that it is OUR responsibility to “be underway not under advisement.”
Dallin H. Oaks: People sometimes ask me about what can be done to “open China.” In response, I state my belief that China is already “open”–it is we who are closed. We are closed because we expect the Orient to be the same as the West, China to be the same as Canada or Chile. We must open our minds and our hearts to the people of this ancient realm and this magnificent culture. We must understand their way of thinking, their aspirations, and their impressive accomplishments. We must observe their laws and follow their example of patience. We must deserve to be their friends.
As we become friends of China, and as we learn from them, our Father in Heaven, who has made “all nations of men . . . and [has] determined . . . the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26), will bring his purposes to pass in that great nation “in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:68).