Our Trip to China

March 23 - 30, 2000

From March 23 to 30, 2000, Larry Greider and I visited the People’s Republic of China. Our visits were primarily to the capital Beijing and the spectacular economic showplace of Shanghai, one of China’s special economic zones.  Our purpose was to investigate how the United Church of God could continue the work once done by the Ambassador Foundation in the early 80’s and what humanitarian work LifeNets could do.  Also, interested parties in Indianapolis asked us to explore ways that they could work in China through medical missions, student exchanges and the like.

I asked United Church of God minister Larry Greider to accompany me on this mission as he works with United Church of God’s International Youth Corps and is head of the Church’s Camping Program. We thought that perhaps the Chinese would be interested in working with the expertise we had in developing camping programs for children. Larry Greider has experience in developing program models and I felt that this skill would be a useful asset for any future ventures in China.

We flew over to Beijing on a 12 hour 45 minute non-stop flight from Los Angeles on China Eastern Airlines leaving Thursday, March 23 arriving Friday afternoon. Amazingly most of the flight was in sight of land as we proceeded up the west coast of the United States, then over Anchorage, Alaska, the Bering Straits, over Russian airspace in Siberia and on into Beijing.

Our primary contacts in China were with the renowned Soong Ching Ling Foundation named after the great humanitarian wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, leader of the first post-Imperial government of China that commenced in 1911. She tirelessly worked for children and women’s rights and is highly revered by the Chinese. She died in 1981. The Soong Ching Ling Foundation was founded and named after her in 1982. 

Herbert Armstrong representing Ambassador Foundation first traveled to China in 1979 and then again in 1984. He was one of the first non-political westerners allowed to enter the country to officially meet with Chinese leaders. Earlier, under president Nixon, China began opening its doors to the West after being a closed society for most of the post World War II period, especially since the takeover of the Communists on October 1, 1949 under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung.

About the same time that Herbert Armstrong visited China for the second time, Nancy Reagan, wife of the President, also visited and graced the Children’s Palace of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation in Shanghai. Shortly after this a troupe of musically talented Children, known as the Little Ambassadors from Shanghai performed in San Francisco, The White House and Pasadena, performing at the Ambassador Auditorium. Plans were afoot to continue Ambassador Foundation’s work in China, but after the death of Herbert Armstrong all further projects ceased.

In the summer of 1999 Richard Liu who had worked with Ambassador Foundation wished to reestablish contact with people who once had an interest in China and in working with and providing help for the people of China.

On about September 1, 1999 at Seattle United Church of God Council meetings a dinner was organized by Chairman Robert Dick to which Richard Liu, Frank Fish, Leon Walker, Aaron Dean and Victor Kubik were invited. Reminiscences were made to the days of working harmoniously with the Chinese in which mutual benefit for all parties would result. The question that begged answering was, “where do we go from here?” 

United Church of God’s position was favorable to explore what areas of involvement were needed and wanted. At the dinner it was brought up that we could perhaps work with youth, camps, service projects, teaching through the United Church of God and humanitarian assistance in the form of medicine and medical equipment through LifeNets.

Through the winter I consulted with Frank Fish and indirectly through Richard Liu about an exploratory trip to China in order to assess their needs and determine how we could, with our limited resources, be of value. One message that came through from the Chinese was respect for the values of  what Ambassador Foundation once represented. In late March we decided to go and learn and listen and hence the trip.

Upon arrival in China we were struck by the immensity and grandeur of a great nation that is still little understood. The Chinese have the oldest continuous civilization dating back to the eight century B.C. The people seems to have a clear sense of ethnic identity and history.

Beijing is a city of 13 million people and is the seat of Government. Touring Tianamen Square, observing the massive Great Hall of the People, the huge Imperial Gardens and walking through the seemingly endless Forbidden City, one senses an enjoyment of Power by those who had or have it.

A trip to the Great Wall is an unforgettable experience in that it is far more awesome than can ever be explained or pictured.  Twisting through torturous terrain and extending 4000 miles displays the extent to which early rulers went to in order to protect their sovereignty.  

In Beijing we met with leaders of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation including Yu Guilin, the Vice Chairman and Secretary-General, English-speaking Cunyu Wu, assistant Secretary General, Chen Shaodi, department of International Relations. After discussion, we drafted a statement of intent about working together. We had earlier presented a letter of introduction signed by Aaron Dean and Ellis La Ravia, former Ambassador Foundation leaders. In this letter introduction was made to Robert Dick and the Council of the United Church of God and a statement seeking to continue the vision of the former Ambassador Foundation.

China is a quickly developing nation with its one billion three hundred million people seeking a better life. Just as one senses the massiveness and grandeur of government in Beijing, one senses, in a different way, the economic potential of China in Shanghai, its largest city of 15 million people.

Shanghai is a modern bustling city where one does not want for anything the West has. Skyscrapers are strung out for miles. A new elevated freeway quickly gets you through the center of the city. Shanghai left me breathless.  Sometimes I felt that I was in Chicago or Los Angeles. On the streets and shops everything is available. Evidence of trade is seen by packaging of products obtained in New Zealand and Thailand. People walking with cell phones and URL’s advertising businesses is common. Japanese electronic firms are advertised brightly. Taxis are everywhere!  Most vehicles seem to be taxis. Pornography is not visible. It was interesting to see an issue of the Chinese version of Cosmopolitan magazine with a modestly dressed western woman on the cover. McDonalds restaurants are seemingly everywhere in Beijing and Shanghai and Kentucky Fried Chicken is very popular with the locals.

We were impressed with Chinese children. They are friendly, compliant and lovely having a refreshing innocence. For two generations now, Chinese families have been allowed only one child and this has brought on its own problems with spoiled children. We had opportunity to hear three children’s orchestras play. The Chinese are taught their own music, but also have a wonderful ability to play the music of western masters such as Tschiakovsky and Strauss.

The Mafia is non-existent in China and any Mafia-like activity is discouraged with a bullet to the head.  Consequently you do not have the strength sapping of a people as you do in Russia and some of the former Soviet Republics.  One is not allowed to forget that this is a Communist country and the People’s Republic of China. We were told to be careful about saying anything uncomplimentary about the government because any report by secret informers could lead to our being denied future visas to visit China. 

While China is top-heavy hierarchal government, it has surprising tolerance for some of its smaller ethnic groups such as Muslims in the west. There are several autonomous regions in western China. In fact, it kept coming up time after time about the need to help in the development of those regions. China, the Soong Ching Ling directors said, is developing unevenly and there is need to help with the construction of schools.

The Chinese have a strong fear and dislike of the Japanese. They cannot forget the genocide of 50,000,000 Chinese at the hands of Japanese, who the Chinese say still deny that that many Chinese had perished. Japan is investing and helping in China, but the Chinese look at this as “war reparations.”

The Chinese openly and dogmatically talk about the Taiwan issue. For them it’s a matter of WHEN and not IF Taiwan is reunited with the mainland. They view the Taiwan issue as an internal matter, not one requiring the involvement of an unholy alliance of the Japanese, Americans and Taiwanese.

The Chinese flag is sewn in two parts signifying the divided China. After China and Taiwan are reunited the flag will be sewn from one piece of cloth. Before the 1997 the flag was sewn from four parts. That was before the return of Macao and Hong Kong to Greater China.

At times we were overwhelmed about all that China is. At times we tried to understand what their needs and how we could fit into a mutually beneficial program. One cannot be in a hurry to decide how to proceed. We were the ones who were learning about this magnificent culture and it will take patience to learn how to interface with it.

Some of the needs are medical that can be provided through LifeNets and its supporters. Other needs can be supplied by those representing the spirit of Ambassador Foundation of 1980’s.

Opportunities for helping are everywhere and helpers will be greatly enriched from the experience of doing something in this land. 

As mentioned, while cities like Shanghai and Beijing are modern and self-sufficient, much of the land, especially the rural parts of China are in need of help. Tuberculosis is reviving and sulfa drugs are needed. There is a need for eyeglasses, antibiotics…you name it.  

There are opportunities to work in the rice fields of Jiang Xi Province or where one can work as a farmer in Hua Xi Village, for example.

China does allow the Christian faith, but only one percent of Chinese are Christian. Still that figure is 13,000,000 people. There is a large church building in the center of Shanghai. Christians in the big cities are not persecuted, as some mistakenly believe. 

Through Soong Ching Ling we were made aware of other foundations in China such as the All China Youth Development Foundation, which again, works in the rural areas. There is a strong desire to train leaders, especially away from the urban areas.

Richard Liu was most helpful in our navigating through who’s who and what’s what. Richard Liu has lived in Canada and now in his retirement has moved to Italy. His father was the Chinese ambassador to Canada and then to Mexico. He is an acquaintance of Deng Xio Peng's son, Deng Dpu Fang, who is handicapped since 1970 in a wheelchair and is chairman of the All China Handicapped Federation.

China is forging its own and perhaps dangerous path in this globalized world. It has everything that the great world powers have. It has obviously surpassed Russia in economic prowess and with the talent that Chinese have for business, watch out!  Chinese influence will spread beyond its borders and rising middle class be our peers. One obsession grabbing many Chinese right now is the desire to make lots of money. 

What struck me about the challenge that we have with the Chinese is similar to the challenge that I have had working with people in Ukraine, Estonia, Russia or Malawi.  God has made us from one blood but in different varieties.  Nations and cultures are different, but the values of how people treat each should be the same. Perhaps those who had contacted us and wanted us back remembered some of those values such as that there are two philosophies: get and give.  Perhaps this is the place to start anew. 

Also, in working with the Ukrainians, I remember a statement from one of their leaders:  “We would like to learn from you, but we also hope that you can learn from us.”   The hidden well of Chinese art, medicine, science has resources that we have not started to tap or understand. Perhaps these thoughts will be a starting place and basis of our joint venture. 

Larry Greider and I flew back from Shanghai to Los Angeles with lots of things to think about. Please visit the China section of the site and LifeNets for developments.

-Victor Kubik