View the whole article on CityWeekend here.
View the whole article on CityWeekend here.
On a typical rainy September day in Pingyao we visit the wedding of Ma Zhiai (bride) and Wu Huabing (groom).
In the morning the groom visited the bride’s home to meet her relatives, prepare for the wedding and have lunch with the guests. When we arrive, workers are disassembling inflatable arches on the street that marked the walking route of the wedding couple to the bride’s home.
A few hundred meters further to the east, the groom’s home is being prepared for the second part of the wedding day. A big inflatable gate with golden elephants on both sides marks the entrance to the street of the groom’s home. In the courtyard of the house a stage has been setup where local artists sing festive songs. Because of the heavy rain, there is no audience in front of the stage; everybody stays inside the house.
When the couple enters the house, the bride is wearing a festive red wedding dress and the groom a dark suit with a pink tie. Under the groom’s suit collar there is a paper with imitation gold ingots and coins, folded to the outside in the shape of a little crown. It is an old tradition, but when asked, the elderly people do not know exactly why they do this, they just know that in order to ward off evil they have to do this.
At this point all of the groom’s family elders have to hide, not to see the bride, because the bride has to recognize every relative. The groom went through a similar test in the morning at the bride’s home. After the bride and groom have finished their made up they enter the lobby of the main building where two straight-backed chairs are setup for a tribute. Behind the chairs are two men sitting behind a table. They take care of collecting and administering the (financial) gifts to the wedding couple.
The bride and groom are standing in front of the chairs. Family of the groom will appear one by one, or if married, couple by couple. The groom introduces the family by the type of kin (e.g. “cousin”) and the bride will greet them with their names. Gifts are received as plain cash or as cash in red envelopes. If relatives are older, the bride and groom should also bow while addressing them. To spite the new wife, some older family members will let the couple wait a while before showing up. The process is quite lengthy and takes almost an hour.
As the last family members to pay respect to, the groom’s parents appear. The father must be dressed as a traditional character, such as the Monkey King or a pig. His relatives will dress him up and will paint his face in a clown’s make-up. The outfit is further decorated with a big red flower and a banana with two bell peppers symbolize his male productive organs. This whole process is called “pa hui” (*) and is meant to make the father of the groom realize that the bride is not just a girl he could fall in love with anymore, but that he should know that she is his daughter now. At the same time, the way the father is dressed and made-up “ugly” should prevent the bride feeling attracted to him on this wedding day. The mother of the groom also gets some make-up, but this is for fun and has no traditional meaning.
After the meeting with the groom’s parents, the ceremony has ended. The couple and the guests will go to a restaurant for a festive dinner and after that the bride and groom will be sent to their own room in the house of the groom’s parents.
Text: Xie Bing
(*) 扒灰, “pa hui”, literally means “incest between father-in-law and daughter-in-law”
M.O.E. Maid Coffee is located on Ruyi Li. A street name translated by my assistant as “dolls street”. A literal translation of “ruyi” could be “as one wishes” (adjective) or, in this case more likely, refer to an S-shaped ornamental object that was usually made of jade and used as a symbol of good luck. “Li” translates as “neighborhood”.
M.O.E. Maid Coffee, it is not only a café where female staff serves coffee, but also a place to play board games. Visitors are welcomed by a girl in maid clothes with greetings in Japanese.
The store owner is a 28-year-old young man, who introduces himself as “zhai”, a Chinese translation of Otaku (a Japanese term that refers to people with obsessive interests in anime and manga). According to my assistant, obviously more knowledgeable in the anime and manga sub-culture, he really complies with the character of an Otaku; he is very shy, uses few words and is obsessed with Japanese animation and related board games. Before opening his café, he used to work at an advertising agency for 2 years.
The business is very good he says and, although had has moved the location of his business three times since he started in 2009, he has a loyal group of customers – all of them anime fans – that come to play board games regularly.
The “Maid” is the biggest selling point of the store; lace scarf, black dress, white apron, knee stockings, with a slightly exaggerated “kawaii” (cute) makeup; all elements copied from the Japanese anime . Most of the dresses are tailor-made, sometimes bought by the girls themselves, for they are fans of Japanese anime and love the Cosplay (short for “costume play”; usually related to anime, video games or cartoons and very popular in Asia).
Zhai started his business in 2009 because of his love for the Japanese anime. “I got the idea of opening such a shop when I was still a student. I believed I knew the needs of the guests” .
“If people come here to play board games, they should, next to the price for coffee and snacks, pay a fee for the games: for 20 RMB per person they can play as long as they like. Apart from this, if you want a maid girl to play with you, you should pay another 26 RMB per hour. The girls will get a commission on the 26 RMB per hour. We have customers who will come specifically for a special girl.”
“There are about 8 to 9 waitresses in total, but only 2 or 3 at the same time, for all of them are part-time, and most of them are students. Their salary is 8 RMB per hour.”
When asked about the planning for the future, Zhai says: “It is not so clear, I just wish more people will like it here and come to relax themselves. Apart from board games, we host many activities, for example during the Christmas Day we will host a party with singers and, of course, Cosplay. “
BEIJING July 21, 2013. Two women with children are blocking traffic on the LiangMaHe South Road in front of the office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
I’m not sure what they were protesting about because, as soon as I started taking pictures, a plainclothes security staff approached me (he is visible in the background in one of the two photos, making a gesture to me to stop shooting). I walked away but he followed me and demanded I deleted the pictures. I ignored him, but he started pushing me. A few 100 meters further, just when he started pushing and blocking my way with more force, we passed the Dutch embassy. I pushed him away and said “zhe shi wo de dashiguan” (this is my embassy) and crossed the road, ready to enter the embassy.
Well, the embassy was closed on the Sunday, but he left anyway. Later I realized that in his view an incident of him harassing a foreigner in front of the CCTV cameras of the Dutch embassy was probably a bigger problem than me taking pictures of protesters on the street.
QIJIAWAN, NANJING, MARCH 2013. We walk around in the Qijiawan area of Nanjing (a previous post dedicated to the upcoming destruction and new development of this area can be found here). Qijiawan is located in the Baixia District. “Qi” means “seven”, “Jia” means “family” and “Wan” means harbor or bay. A Nanjing local tells us about the origin of Qijiawan. One day Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, visited the area incognito during the Lantern Festival. He saw a picture of a woman with big (unbound) feet and with a watermelon in her arms. This was an evident sarcasm referring to his wife and his big headed son. He got so angry that he killed all the people in the area, except for seven families who had no lanterns hanging out to celebrate the festival.
The name “Qijiawan”, however, comes from a true historical event. In 1413, General Zhang Ban succeeded in suppressing the Muslim rebellion in Ningxia. He settled the Muslim aristocrats in Shuiximen, a historical location in Nanjing. “Qijia” referred to the seven major family names of these Muslims; namely Tao, Ma, Ding, Yao, Ha, Mo and Bai. Hence, Qijianwan became the first gathering place of Muslims in Nanjing. These Muslims and their offspring have exerted significant influences on the culture in Nanjing. Good examples can be found in Nanjing’s cooking customs; the famous fried dumpling and boiled salted duck originate from Qijiawan.
We walk along the Dading Alley. “Dading” means “making nails”. The name of Dading Alley came from craftsmen who made nails during the Ming Dynasty. Once being a renowned business area in Ming and Qing Dynasty, and still bustling place during the period of the Republic of China, today this alley is no longer prosperous. It has turned into a residential area with muddy streets and a lot of graffiti on the walls of the residential buildings.
A middle-aged couple run a poultry shop in Dading Alley. They do not allow us to take photos of them as they are afraid that these photos could trigger city inspectors to visit them and ask questions about their business. They sell chicken for 22 RMB each, duck for 17 RMB and pigeons for 25 RMB each. They tell that their monthly income of selling poultry is nearly 2,000 RMB, which is as much as the salary a labor worker earns per month. Yet Mr. Ma, the interviewee we meet later claims that the couple lie about their real income. He says that they can earn 8 RMB per kilo, so guesses that their monthly income is a multiple of the stated 2,000 RMB.
Opposite of the poultry shop we see several fruit peddlers. Among the peddlers, there is a family from Anhui and a man who has lived in Nanjing for 20 years. They sell sugarcane and the man boasts about the quality of his sugarcane. Referring to my background he says: “Your country is much wealthier than our country.” We reply that a lot of Chinese people have become very rich as well over the last 10 years. The man disagrees and claims that only the upper class people are rich. “Most Chinese, like us, do not have a lot of money,” he adds. He then points to the new houses behind him and tells: “Only affluent people can buy these mansions, because they are sold at a price of over ten million RMB each one.” “Are these houses large inside?” we ask him. “Of course, they are all very large and expensive! Each square meter costs 50,000 RMB.”
Walking through the Dading Alley, we come to another alley named “Ganyu”, which means “dried fish”. Located near the Qinhuai River, this alley is well known for its specialty: dried fish. Deep into this alley, we meet Mr. Ma Deming at his home.
Mr. Ma, 65 year old, was laid off in 1998 and got divorced with his wife the same year. Since his mother’s death ten years ago, he lives alone in his small one-story house with two rooms. He has no income except for a 2000 RMB pension every month. Mr. Ma’s house, built 50 years ago, looks old and shabby. He is rather unhappy with his living conditions and complains: “The officials merely concerns about their own profits. For all the time, they have been busy with auctioning lands in the countryside – who cares about us?”
Mr. Ma invites us into his house and introduces us to the Muslim elements of his house. “My ancestors were all foreigners,” he shows us a genealogy book of his family. The book contains a chronological recording of all the generations of his family and stories about them. In 755 A.D., his Arabic ancestors first came to China to help the Tang emperor to suppress the An Lushan Rebellion. He then shows us a picture album made by the Islamic organization in Nanjing. A number of his family members, including his father, once were imams and his cousin was the president of the Muslim organization.
Mr. Ma belongs to the Hui people. Unlike his mother who attends religious services every week, Mr. Ma only attends at times. “Due to my belief in Islam, I usually don’t eat meat,” Mr. Ma says, “However, lots of Hui people here no longer conform by the rule of not eating meat, because the mosques in Nanjing are not as strict as those in the Northwest area.“ At that moment, a neighbor wants to interrupt him. Mr. Ma stops him abruptly: “Shut your mouth! You are not Huimin at all!” His neighbor objects and they quarrel for a while.
At the end of our visit, Mr. Ma shows us some pictures of old buildings, especially of the largest mosque in Nanjing. He shows a photo with the emblem of the National Party on the gate of the mosque. Now, the Communist administration has changed it into the emblem of the Republic of China.
A couple runs a recycling station of waste material by Dingxin Road, together with their twin sons and two relatives. At first they are hesitant to be photographed for fear of the city inspectors, but later they agree it is all right. They purchase waste paper at 0.7 RMB per kilo, and then sell it out at 0.8 RMB per kilo to the recycling paper manufacturers in Ma Anshan, Anhui. Their monthly income is around 6,000 RMB, which is considered a very good income. They tell us: “Now that everything is increasingly expensive, few people are willing to do low-paying jobs today.”
QIJIAWAN, NANJING, MARCH 2013. We spot two giant characters “搬迁” (“BanQian” – “remove”) on Mr. Yang Guoshun’s house. These characters, like everywhere else in China, indicate that the house has been designated for demolition; most likely to make way for a new real-estate development project.
Next to the door, on a wall made of wooden planks, we see sentences written with chalk in the traditional top-down direction:
“It is easy to deprive the public for the sake of the government’s own interests. It is hard to serve the public for the sake of the people’s inviolable rights. (Lao Xuan, Republic of China)”
“Despite its shabbiness, our house is the sanctuary protecting us from bitter winds and rains. Despite its smallness, our house is the relic weathering political changes from Nationalist to Communist. (Yang Guoshun)”
“If the ruler himself is upright, nobody goes against his will even though he does not give orders. If he himself is not upright, nobody follows his leadership even though he forces his orders. (The Analects)”
Since he was born, Yang Guoshun, a 68-year-old Hui (a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in China), has lived in his one-story house in Ganyu Alley. As he once worked in the department of city constructions in his working place, he appears to be better educated than other residents here. The brick-concrete structured house has a history of more than 100 years. Mr. Yang tells us that before the government’s removal plans, the three generations of his family all lived here. His children and grandchildren lived in the small attic built on top of the house.
When the removal started 3 years ago, they moved out, leaving Mr. Yang in this house alone. Even though the officials have ordered him to move out for 5 times, he never followed the order. He insists that his house is a cultural relic, which should be protected rather than removed by the government. Mr. Yang shows us a document to the Department of Cultural Relics Preservation, complaining about the damage caused by the removal activity to his house.
According to Mr. Yang, the neighborhood is the gathering place of Hui people in Nanjing. The number of households has declined from 4,200 three years ago to 1,300 today. Without an effective leadership and a united organization, he says, they are taking the pains to prevent the unjustifiable removal activity all in their own manner. They hope the government will show concern for the real interests of the residents here, rather than merely expelling them from their living place.
Mr. Yang provides some materials he has collected in order to support his complaint. The government’s removal plan is not only for the improvement of the city’s image, but also serves the goal to establish a tourist spot in this area. Named “Jiangnan 72 Workshops”, the planned tourist spot will be built in an antique style based on the ancient “Ming 18 Workshops”. With this program, the government wishes to reconstruct the image of the old Nanjing and display the time-honored Jiangnan cultures. One of the documents Mr. Yang shows contains a promise of the government that they will provide 3000 apartments for the remaining 1350 households.
Yang Guoshun believes the so-called “Jiangnan 72 Workshops” is merely an excuse of the government. He questions the justifiability of the program: “Why does the government enlarge the number of workshops from 18 to today’s 72? Because it is a lie! Because the government wants to auction more land for money!” Also, he insists that the process of removal is unwarranted, because the removal began before the approval of the “Jiangnan 72 Workshops” plan. He says that he, and the other remaining residents, crave for being listened to and respected, rather than being taking advantage of in the interest of increasing profits for the government.
“My job was closely related to city construction, so I may know more about this area,” Mr. Yang tells us. “The usual measures to settle residents who lost their properties are to allocate new apartments to them or to give a certain amount of money for compensation. The standard of compensation, which hasn’t changed the last 3 years, is 7,000 RMB per m2.” The residents have been informed that in the upcoming new round of the removal activity, they still will be compensated based on this old standard. Most of the residents who accepted the house allocation measure are suffering from poor living conditions. The apartments provided by the government are all located in the remote suburb areas. What is worse, many of those who accepted the money compensation are still homeless today.
At this time, Mr. Zhao, a middle-aged man joins our talk. Mr. Yang introduces him to us: “This is my neighbor. He has a lot to tell you.” Mr. Zhao tells that he used to belong to the Hui people, but later changed into Han (i.e. he is not a Muslim anymore).
“I slept on the side of the road during 1970s,” Mr. Zhao says, “There were six people in my family. We all slept without a shelter. The government expelled me to the countryside and then deprived my property. When I came back to my living place, I had no right to step into my own house any more. Therefore, I had to sleep by the road every night for 10 years.” According to him, all his family could afford was a piece of uncomfortable matting.
He continues to recall the living conditions then: “Even in the coldest winter, my parents, my younger brothers and sisters had to sleep by the road, right here in the prosperous Baixia District. At that time, nobody ever asked us to leave. Nobody ever showed little concern about our living conditions. Do you have any idea about what we ate then? We ate the scraps from the garbage and the unfinished dishes from the restaurants. The government seemed to be blind for our conditions.” He tells us that in Nanjing, about 170, 000 people were living in the same conditions at the time.
Mr. Zhao explains why they had no place to live: “In the city, our house was bought by the government. They forced us to receive the so-called re-education for the poor and peasants. In order to comply with the appeal of the government, we gave up the life in the city and went to the countryside. When we arrived there, we realized that we still could not have our own house. The properties were possessed by the rural government, not by us. They had all kinds of dishes on their dinners, while we could only have wheat every meal.”
According to Mr. Zhao, he was poorly educated. He dropped out in his fourth grade in primary school. He says: “I did not have the right to go to school. When we were expelled to the countryside, I was at the age of ten. Over one decade of my life was wasted in the countryside.” He is almost unable to read and write. He sighs: “People like me, who are almost illiterate, have been abandoned and forgotten by this society. We are thought to be inferior. Without a decent education background, we are now thought to be the most humble class. We are thought to be nothing.” He smiles bitterly: “Everyone has to grow, isn’t it? I have been forcing myself to be tougher.”
Mr. Zhao does not have a stable job. He earns money by picking and selling garbage and doing a small business called “danbang”. According to Mr. Yang, the so-called “danbang” is to sell goods from Nanjing to people in other cities and make money on the price difference. Mr. Zhao complains: “Most people here, who are not intellectually and physically competent, can hardly find a job in today’s society. You must think it is a shame that I haven’t had a job for over 30 years. I spend my days outside all day long to find some minor jobs. I feel myself like seaweed without a root. I feel my life is even more wretched than that of a cow or a horse.” However, Mr. Zhao manages to pay money for his social security account, and hence will be able to receive a pension every month after he turns 60 years old.
Mr. Zhao is married and has a daughter who is 21 years old. She is a sophomore student majoring in graphic and 3D animation design. He says: “The only thing that can give me joy and hope is to see my little girl grow up day by day. Yet when I walk out of the door into the hopeless society, I become depressed again.” He does not know what his daughter will do in the future. Neither does he know how to help her. He worries that she may not be as tough as he is, and may not be able to survive all the bleak conditions.
“In the past, we could not stuff ourselves and possess our own houses, whereas now nothing has changed. The government has begun to destroy our houses and force us to go back to the countryside again. It seems that the history is repeating itself,” Mr. Zhao says, “This house was taken by my family from the government in 1981. I love it. However, the government wants me to leave. Honestly, I myself don’t know what I have to think and what I am going to do. Should I leave or stay? I don’t know. I just love it here.”
Mr. Zhao is rather angry that the government is going to force them again far away from the city. He sighs: “If we agree to move there, we will lose the only ways of supporting ourselves. We’ve already been living in the hell of the society, but life there will be even more wretched.” Mr. Zhao and the other residents are so clear about it, because their old neighbors who have moved out are struggling in miserable conditions. Many of them haven’t found a shelter yet.
In spite of the possible trouble this interview will bring to them, they all allow us to put it on the Internet. Mr. Zhao says: “I’ m not afraid of death. To me, death will bring me to the heaven, where I can enjoy my life eventually.” The other residents agree with him. Mr. Yang states: “We show our patriotism to this country by virtue of defending our own rights. Imagine a country where the ordinary people dare not to challenge the privilege and supervision of the government. Without any control, the public power in this country will turn into a monster, trampling on the dignity and pride of the people. Consequently, the monster will exhaust people’s faith in this country and jeopardize the stability of this regime. “
The residents concertedly believe that if the public power and interrelations continue to override legislation, the lower class will never be treated equally in this society, let alone realize the ideal of a harmonious society. “To enjoy the sunshine, we have to remove the dark clouds.”
Mr. Zhao now invites us to his home. Before we leave we notice some interesting small works of art and several animals like turtles and a cricket in Mr. Yang’s house. Mr. Yang smiles and says: “We Chinese know to pursue the beauty of ordinary life, however tough life itself is.”
Mr. Zhao then guides us to his home. His house, which is located in another alley near Pingshi Street, is officially as big as 14.4 m2. Apart from the legally registered area, he has built another three illegal rooms. At the time everybody did this and the government did not mind. Now however, the area of the rooms that are not registered is excluded from the removal compensation.
Pingshi Street was called Pishi Street in the ancient times, which means the market of animal leather trade. The majority of houses here enjoy a history of more than 100 years. A middle aged woman tells us: “Pingshi Street used to be the golden section in Nanjing, even more prosperous than today’s downtown Xinjiekou. However, four years of removal has ruined all the landscape here. Hundreds of thugs walk around every day, in an effort to “convince” the families to move out!” The woman denies that the government will offer reasonable compensation programs. She along with her neighbors refuses to leave their home to the outskirts, where they can find no job at all. “We won’t give up. We have filed our petition last year to Premier Wen Jiabao, and we will continue this effort until the final victory.”
When we leave the Qijiawan area, we pass the front gate of a former campus on Dingxin Road. “The Command Center of Removal” is written on the gate. A passer-by gives us his opinion on the removal activity: “Houses here are too old, shabby and dangerous for people to live; I see no reason for preservation.”
Another post on the Qijiawan area can be found here.
In the remote western area of Hexi, a new urban district in the west of Nanjing, runs a narrow branch of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. Ships and boats, big or small, are moored alongside the river. On one boat, we see Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who welcome us aboard.
Mr. Yu, 65 years old, has been a fisherman for the last forty years. Compared to the earlier days, he is catching fewer and fewer fish these days. According to him, the heavy contamination in the Yangtze River is to blame for the decrease of fish. With the Qinhuai River, which flows through the downtown area of Nanjing, flowing into the Yangtze a few hundred meters north, the Yangtze river has to receive tons of polluted water each day. Besides, he complains, the newly established residential area, which is half a mile away from the river, has aggravated the situation.
Mr. Gong, a friend of Mr. Yu, is the owner of the boat. He was born in 1958 in Xinyi, a county in the northern area of Jiangsu and moved to Nanjing in the 1970s. His parent’s generation made a living by fishing, whereas he left the fishing business and started work at a chemical plant, which gave him a better job security. After his retirement in 2006, he bought this 24 meters long boat for 30, 000 RMB to pick up fishing again.
The fishing boat is not his home, but his working and leisure place. Usually, Mr. Gong and his fellow fishermen fish in the morning and sell their spoils on the market in the afternoon. He likes to invite his friends to the boat to drink, play cards or to “chew the fat” now and then.
Also according to Mr. Gong, fish catches are not predictable anymore these days. However, fish of big sizes is still not rare. In a large container on the boat next to his, we see a big fish, which is almost one meter in length and weighs around 4 kilograms. Mr. Gong tells that one kilogram is worth at least 160 RMB on the market. He also shows some smaller fish which were caught in the morning. They will earn him 30 RMB per kilo. If they are lucky, they can catch wild carps, which can be sold at 200 RMB per kilo or more.
Apart from the fishing, Mr. Fong is an amateur craftsman who makes ship models from wood. For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he spent over two months to make two large models. Unfortunately, he did not finish his work before May and missed the deadline to denote the models to the IOC. Today, one ship is on the display in the hall of Nanjing Sports Bureau; the other is preserved in his private collection at home.
Since the ships were specially designed for the Beijing Olympics, they carried numerous meaningful symbols. They are both 2.08 meters in length, indicating the year of the event. They both have five masts, standing for the five continents that take part in the event. He engraved the Chinese Character “京” on the first mast, the Olympics flag on the second one and the map of China of the third; also the main one. On the roof of the three-story cabin in the middle of each ship, he carved four dragons, the well-known totem of China. On the rear deck, he placed a miniature bird’s nest which was also made by him.
Mr. Gong says he did everything he could do to donate his works. He asked the Nanjing Sports Bureau to negotiate with the IOC for many times, but the IOC declined him in the end. Only official donations rather than folk artworks were accepted after the month of May. Realizing that it was unlikely to donate the models to the IOC, he decided to present one of them to the Nanjing Sports Bureau.
Now, he has a bigger plan: to make a 2.14-meter-long model for the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics. He admitted that he was less passionate this time, because making a model in such size consumes both time and money. For example, to make the two models for the Beijing Olympics, he worked more than ten hours each day for two whole months. Since he pursued every detail of his works, he selected premium timber as material, which did cost him nearly 8,000 RMB.
Mr. Gong tells that he once cherished a dream of becoming a real craftsman. However, he soon found the dream to be a fantasy. Right after retirement, he decided to rent a room in the downtown area of Nanjing to sell his ship models. With only a handful of models sold, he quit after one year. He knew that the reason of failure were the high prices. For example, a simple model of 70 cm long was sold at 500 to 600 RMB. Considering time and money he had to spend, he believes such a price was reasonable. He shows us a model with a few decorations on it. “Even such a small model takes me a week,” he says, “I could spend the week fishing, which guarantees an income of at least six hundred. That’s why I now rather fish than making these models.”
Instead, Mr. Gong now takes making wooden ship models only as a hobby. He says he dares not to dream of someone buying his models at a considerable price any longer. That was the reason that he chose to donate, rather sell, his works to Nanjing Sports Bureau. He expected only the official recognition of his efforts. He felt sorry not being able to show us the photo of him and Xu Guoping, who was the managing director of Nanjing Museum and the child of the renowned Chinese painter Xu Beihong. “Now the simple wish of me is to win the recognition of people like him”, he says.
In the end, Mr. Gong says: “In the early years, I loved photographing, but I could not afford a car which could take me everywhere. Such was the same in my childhood; I loved school, but my family could not afford to pay for the tuition fee.”
Mr. Yin is the pastor at the Christianity Jiangsu Road Church.
He tells us that, though not in large scale, this church already has a history of over 60 years. It started in 1941 by some local Christians and changed its locations for three times from 1947 to 1999. During the period of Cultural Revolution (1966-1981) it was closed and occupied by the government for other uses. In 1999 it moved to the current location.
Mr. Yin was born in a small city in Jilin, a province in the northeastern part of China. He has been in Nanjing for 15 years and now has become a local here. He entered the Nanjing Union Seminary in 1996 and continued his graduate study to get his master’s degree in 2003. Asked why he came to such a faraway city to study theology, he explained that in China only the seminaries in Nanjing are recognized throughout the nation. According to him, seminaries in China can be classified into three levels, namely the national, provincial and municipal level. Comparatively, the nationwide seminaries enjoy more abundant teaching resources and more authoritative status.
Since priesthood is still a rare job in China, we are curious why he decided to study theology and chose it as his lifelong career. He tells us it was decided by his family and his experience of understanding Christianity. Because his parents are both pastors, he was exposed to religious culture at young age. During his teens, he felt that his life has been elevated by his belief and therefore he confirmed his willingness to believe in God. At the decisive crossroad of life where he had to choose his future career, he heard Jesus’ calling from inside and was determined to dedicate his life to God.
Last year, after being a preacher for six years, he was promoted to pastor. His main duties include preaching, giving services, dealing with the everyday affairs of the church, teaching religious knowledge to pastors of other churches and acting as the host of weddings and funerals. In the past, he says, some people taking part in the Christian funerals would mind abandoning the Chinese traditions like the burning of paper money. However, with more and more people beginning to respect the Christian rituals, these conflicts do not exist any longer.
Mr. Yin is also responsible for hosting the annual baptism ceremony. Usually, there is only one big open ceremony in July. For people with special needs, such as the elderly and the disabled, they go their homes for the baptism. Next to all these tasks, Mr. Yin acts as a consultant in the church. People come to him for various reasons. Some of them come to relieve their confusion in belief before deciding to become a Christian or convert to Christianity. Others come to solve their questions in reading and understanding the Bible. There are also people who come to ease their mental stresses caused by family, social relations or work. “It is estimated that in China 60% to 70% of the population have psychological problems to different extents,” he tells us, “so it is important for us to be their listeners and help them to live with love, hope and belief.
Talking of his family, the pastor shows a wide smile on his face. He got married in Nanjing and now has two daughters. The older is 7 years old, while the younger is a baby born in May 2012. They live a typical Christian life, praying before dinners and reading the bible before sleeping. “I am happy,” he says, “ to see my children grow in the blessing of the Lord.”
Mr. Yin is also excited to tell us about the development of Christianity in Nanjing. Twenty years ago, there were only 2,000 to 3,000 Christians in Nanjing, whereas the number has increased to 150,000 today. Most Christians here are protestant. He gives us two reasons to explain why the development of Christianity is going so fast in the past 20 years. The first is that everyone has a need for belief. In the Chinese society where dramatic reforms and changes are taking place, numerous values spring up. When exposed to the voices advocating individuality, profits, efficiency or any other values, many people gradually lose the sense of belonging. In such cases, they need a spiritual support, a voice that can firmly tell them what is the truth. The second reason is that the development towards a more liberal society in China allows for the existence of religions. In the Cultural Revolution period, religion was regarded as superstition and strictly forbidden. People had craving for belief, but where deprived of the right to exercise their belief. However, now the society begins to recognize religions and to respect people’s freedom of choosing a religion.
Mr. Yin denies the thought that the Chinese churches are simulating the traditional Western churches. Though Christianity originated from, and has had a two thousand years of history in, the Western countries, the values it has been advocating transcend the boundary of nations. The mission of Chinese churches is to practice and spread these values in the most acceptable and effective ways. He highlights that they do not rigidly exercise the rituals of Christianity, but focus on the essence. “We often play anthems with erhu and guzheng, build churches in Chinese traditional style and preach with Chinese examples, and so forth”, he says. “Chinese elements can be found almost everywhere in our churches; such as music, poems, books, rituals and buildings.”
In the end, Mr. Yin discusses with us the relationship between Chinese churches and the Chinese government. First, there is not an official organization that leads all the churches, nor a leader like a cardinal or a bishop. Churches of different types disperse all around the country, including some family-run ones and even illegal ones. Second, Chinese churches do not have to pay any tax to the government. Third, the attitude of Chinese government toward Christianity has changed from inhibition to respect and support. One example is that the Nanjing government is investing in building a large church which can accommodate 5000 people in a suburban area (near the Olympic Sports Center). According to Mr. Yin, churches need the support of the government, because the government is able to provide sufficient financial security to help them.
At the end of autumn, in the middle of a residential area, a handful of people gather around several sheep carcasses, hanging upside down with their head removed. Blood is dripping from their broken necks and tails.
The man who sells the mutton is boasting to consumers the high quality and freshness of his sheep. According to him, all the sheep were transported from Inner Mongolia, constantly in frozen condition.
The mutton is sold for 22 RMB per “jin” (half a kilo) with skin and 21 RMB without the skin. Some costumers doubt the freshness of the meat, for the price is quite cheap.
This year, the man has purchased 50 tons of Mongolian sheep. He estimates that they can be sold out before the Spring Festival.
He is from Anhui, but speaks with a pure Nanjing accent. He explains that he has moved here more than a decade ago. He started the sheep trade a couple of years ago.