Teaching English as a Missionary Language

HANDOUT 06JUL15 FE REV 1  6140876241_ea35373c1a_o copy.jpgWhile he was still President, Jiang Zemin was allegedly asked at a dinner party what fundamental change he would like to see happen in China. His response was that he would like to see China become a Christian country.

He’s not isolated in this. Some of the leading creatures at the top of the CCP have apparently concluded from their studies of developed countries that the key to their success was the role of Christian beliefs. I don’t think they’re being inconsistent in this, given that there isn’t really anything to Party ideology any more apart from nationalism, the need for an authoritarian state and letting the free market take over all aspects of economic life. In fact, I think it’s better to think of the CCP as the Chinese Nationalist Party (國民党!) these days. And I think it’s precisely this vacuum of ideas that makes young people in particular so vulnerable to right-wing fundamentalist groups like this who dispatch every year more and more young people to China to preach the holy word – under the guise of teaching english.

I came across this fascinating and timely article about missionary groups using ESL as a means of harvesting converts around the world. Unfortunately as it’s a PDF I can’t copy and post much of it here, but I’d encourage anyone remotely interested in either ESL or the evil influence of these bible bashing nutters to read the whole article, long as it is:

According to a report by missionaries recently returned from China, they are planning to return soon: ‘We will teach English to Chinese students between the ages of 10 and 18 for six weeks in July and August.’ On their last visit, they tell us, ‘over 350 students heard the Gospel’ and the principal of the school admired their dedication even though, as he explained, ‘I don’t understand what they were talking about but I knew it was something very deep and very special.’

It is something I find extremely worrying, not to say depressing. I’ve heard that in some cases in China the religious organisations offer to pay half the salaries of these ‘teachers’. We have at least one of them here – I have seen the person concerned heading into class with a big thick ‘Rapture’-type book. I’ve heard about Chinese students being baptised by foreign teachers in the bathtub of their apartments. Sometimes one of my students proclaims in class that they’re a Christian – I just ignore it and move very swiftly on. Tragically though, because the students have so few reference points to help them understand Western life in any depth (hence the appalling and maddening assumption that I am a Christian), I think they actually see it as pretty ‘cool’.

Personally the whole thing makes my blood boil.

This is not a general diatribe against teachers who happen to consider themselves Christians – you really need to follow the above link to know what I’m talking about. As it makes clear, what the organisations concerned are proselytising is the complete opposite of Liberation Theology. The article gives some example sentences which one English teaching missionary group encourages their staff to use in the classroom:

  • Right: Man has a right to punish his children when they behave poorly.
  • Struggle: I’m struggling to finish this work soon.
  • Boss: The boss is good. He treats us well and pays us a good wage.

No problem for them that all churches in China are obliged to accept the authority of the Communist Party before they can go about their work. And the Communist Party leadership are fully aware that what right-wing Christian ideology has to say about the world constitutes very little threat to their own power, so they at least tolerate it, and I suspect increasingly encourage it. What is being preached, after all, is submission – submission to whatever forms of authority exist, be it a husband (after all, we call it the missionary position for a good reason), a corrupt government or an intolerant and ignorant God. In much the same way, in fact, as the world’s financial institutions force obedience to the law of the market on the world’s poorest countries:

While on the one hand preaching a strong line in neoliberal politics, many evangelical organisations preach an equally strong line on political obedience. The Christian Television (online, 2002) warns us to ‘Stop the Revolution’ because ‘one day Jesus will return and overthrow all who remain rebellious to this rule.’ Stopping rebellion allows former sinners to find ‘true freedom’. This doctrine emphasises acquiescence not only to the authority of God but also to the authority of government.

With tragic irony, these Christian churches are preaching this nonsense under the guise of giving people what has become one of the most empowering tools these days, the ability to communicate in English.

At least in China, I’d question the depth of conviction of any recent converts to Christianity. According to Paul Theroux’s book, it’s very common for ‘religious’ Chinese people to bet on several horses at the same time. Just because someone says they’re a Christian doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Falun Gong and maybe the Party too!

However, this is not just happening in Chinese universities, but all over the world. There needs to be a movement throughout ESL to expose and challenge these people. They are exploiting the needs of the poor in order to push their twisted, bigoted ideology. They really do qualify as ‘foreign devils’!

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