Symbolism of Objects for a Christian Livelihood

Devin Potrykus

There are many posters that were made to show Chinese Christians how to live their lives according to Biblical Scripture. Many of these posters use objects to paint depictions about the kinds of morals and values a Christian should have and the way they should live their daily lives. These include how Christian’s should pray, serve others, follow Christ’s example, value material wealth, and how to live each year in the name of the Lord.

Ji Li, in her dissertation titled “Becoming Faithful: Christianity, Literacy, and Female Consciousness In Northeast China, 1830-1930,” talks about many ways in which Chinese Christians have expressed their faith in the past through their daily behavior. She says, “The uniqueness of Christian faith rests in its combination of systematic knowledge with the formalistic, behavioral displays of faith. Knowledge and behavior are an integral part of Christian education to define Christian faith in pagan countries like China" (69). Li’s point on how education is directly connected to behavioral displays of the Christian faith is noticeable in the following posters, many of which deal with a certain kind of discipline or behavior to follow. The objects in each of the following posters are used as the main focal points in telling a more detailed message about Christian discipleship.

Early Morning Prayer

This poster came from Jiangxi China Inland Mission Bible School and shows a man who is kneeling down and praying inside of his home. In this depiction, the clock is the object that is being focused on, showing that it is the early morning, about 5 am, with a description that translates to “In the early morning I must make known to you the intentions of my heart.” The main theme being displayed in this poster is that a Christian should start out their day reading scripture and praying to God. There is also a light coming down from above, either showing the sun or that praying and devoting each day to God is pleasing to him. In this way the poster is showing how Christians through devotion and daily prayer can give themselves the right mindset to go about their daily life with the Word of God in their heart.

A Warm Heart

This illustration of a pot steaming on a hot stove also comes from the Jiangxi China Inland Mission Bible School. In it, the pot is boiling because of the heat from the fire. Translation of the text says “Keep the spiritual fervor, serving the Lord, He talks with us, opens the Scriptures for us, were not our heart burning within us?” This passage is meant to teach the calmness that reading scripture can bring to one’s heart. Also the kind of warmness that Christ’s love can bring as if it were steam boiling over in a pot. Using a pot as an object to symbolize the overflowing and warm love of Christ is the way in which this Chinese Bible School uses an everyday object to display a powerful message about Christian values.

These two posters from the Jiangxi China Inland Mission Bible School were made in the mid 1920s, a divisive time in China’s Christian history. Daniel Bays, author of “Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present,” talks about how “The mid-1920s were troubling times for Chinese Christians. The Christian community was constantly threatened by attacks from the scientific world, from nationalistic groups, and farm various anti-Christian groups” (292). These sort of posters talking about keeping spiritual fervor and be in constant prayer might have been a response to resistance against the Christianity within much of China and an attempt to try and help Chinese Christians who were being persecuted.


This poster shows three illustrations of a candle. The one on the left is a candle that is being covered and extinguished by someone, the one on the top right is a candle that is shining brightly, and the one on the bottom right is a candle that has been extinguished under a bed. Some of the text translates to “When the day is dark we light the lamp or the candle and put it in a place that allows it to light up everywhere. Jesus said, whoever loves him is like light in a dark place. If there is sin in our hearts, then the light is hidden and useless.” The candle is used to show how a Christian should use their faith to give light to others and not let sin extinguish it by covering it up. It is also showing how when a Christian expresses and shows their faith to others, they shine in darkness and give light to those around them.

The Word Precious

This illustration, made by the Phonetic Promotion Committee, has stacks of silver and gold pieces next to each other with a Bible opened up above the currency. The text on top translates to “The Bible is the most valuable treasure, more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” This illustration compares a large sum of wealth to the Bible, and shows through the illustration how the teaching and morals that are taught in the Bible are more valuable than any amount of wealth and someone can obtain. It is also fascinating to see the Bible being used as a sort of authority above money, in a way that might be showing how Christian’s should not be lured by greed and instead read the Bible to find what they should value the most.

Fans of the Four Seasons

The last and most descriptive poster that I chose has four different fans with Bible verses that go along with each season of the year. Each fan has several Bible verses and promises from Jesus about things such as scripture, wisdom, love, grace, and joy. The one for fall at the top left deals with salvation and part of the translation that is written says “Grace and truth are from Jesus Christ. The grace that brings salvation to all people (Tit. 2:12)… all wisdom and understanding (Eph. 1:8).” The top right fan for summer has descriptive mentions about scripture saying “Through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we have hope (Rom 15:4); The hope of Salvation (1 Th 5:8); The hope of which we boast (Heb 3:6).” The fan for winter at the bottom left talks much about joy with lines such as “[Your] grief will turn to joy (Jn 16:20)... Be joyful in hope (Rom 12:12); Find delight in the Almighty (Job 22:25); Rejoice in the Lord Always (Phil 4:4).” Lastly, the fan at the bottom right displaying an illustration of spring talks about love saying “(His) mercy is great (2 Samuel 24:14); Abounding in love (Ps 103:8)... A forgiving God, gracious and compassionate (Neh. 9:17); And God is able to make all grace abound to you [2 Cor 9:8].

These four fans illustrate a blend of Chinese culture and Biblical promises in scripture in a way that confirms truth about what is said in the Bible while also displaying passages for each season. This might be purposeful in a way showing how each fan, representative of each season, has promises from the Bible that are with Christians year round. No matter how their life is or where they are, the promises of God are always with them.

Work Cited

Bays, Daniel H. Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Li, Ji. “Becoming Faithful: Christianity, Literacy, and Female Consciousness in Northeast China, 1830--1930,” 2009.

Posted by Devin Potrykus

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