Summer 2018 Vol. 38 - No. 189 Impact of New Media on the Church in China


        China has leapfrogged into the age of social media. A little over half of China’s population (772 million) now uses the internet, with rich potentials for commerce. Monthly active users of WeChat (an app for messaging, online transactions and payment, known as Weixin in China) surpassed one billion in early 2018. That makes Chinese society one of the most connected, but also one under the most intense surveillance.   

        The country seems to offer a rich field with visions of bumper crops, if only the Church would jump on the digital bandwagon, or if only internet regulations and religious regulations were less forbidding, and so on.

        Innovate we should. On 23 June, 2018 The Holy See announced that its Secretariat for Communication will now be called the Dicastery for Communication. It is part of the “reform of the Roman Curia”—to change not only structures, but mentalities. The Curia is not an administrative overseer, but an “instrument of evangelisation and of service to the pope and the local churches.”

        But to whom do we evangelise? In a rapidly transforming China, what do the people really want, for example, the urban middle-class, the migrant workers, students and entrepreneurs who bring their faith to, or leave their faith in the cities? The farmers who sell their produce online? Is the Church another seller on the virtual marketplace? What do we offer?

        In his message for World Communications Day 2018, The Truth will Set You Free (Jn 8:32). Fake News and Journalism for Peace (reprinted in this issue of Tripod), Pope Francis points out what is at stake.

        Social media is fast and viral. Fake news also spreads fast,“because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings.”The“deceptive power of evil”feeds us with lies that threaten to“rob us of our interior freedom.”

        Evangelisation or sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ means “teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

        Pope Francis quotes from The Brothers Karamazov, "People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love.”

        The Church offers truth, but truth that is“not just a conceptual reality that regards how we judge things, defining them as true or false. The truth is not just bringing to light things that are concealed.” Rather, the truth we communicate“involves our whole life.”“Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One—the One on whom we can count—is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: "I am the truth" (Jn 14:6).”

        Truth cannot be imposed. It can only be grasped“when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another.”Pope Francis gives this example: “An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful.”   

        Pope Francis reminds us: “Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives.”   

        We also have in this issue Zhang Wenxi's review of the opportunities and challenges of new media for evangelization. Mary Yuen writes on internet censorship, and how it affects civil society. Ying Fuk Tsang parses“Interpretations”of the 2018 Religious Affairs Regulations to show the impact on Protestant house churches. Jeffrey Chang recalls how Bp Francis Hsu, a man of letters, and the first ethnic Chinese bishop of Hong Kong, helped in the foundation of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.   

        Besides publishing in traditional media (Tripod, China Bridge articles, books), the Holy Spirit Study Centre has a Web page, and is on Facebook. Our goal is to form and inform, as we seek to build bridges between local Churches in China, Hong Kong, Asia and the universal Church. Visit us; together let us discern, communicate, and help bring forth communion. (CP)

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