Fear and Hope in Chinese Christian Evangelism

Matthew Kusno

“A New Robe” – Date and Author unknown

In the poster above we see two men standing next to each other and a cross in between them. The person on the right is wearing a somewhat filthy rag and the person on the left is wearing a very clean and majestic robe. Close to the cross, there is a pile of filthy rags. On the top is says, “Transform into a New Person,” which is basically explaining the meaning behind this poster. The person on the right symbolizes ones “old” self before the transformation. He wears a filthy rag that says impurity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, faction, jealousy, and many more words that are related to evil and negativity. The person on the right on the other hand symbolizes purity after the transformation. He is wearing a bright and clean robe. One would say that he looks majestic. The story here is that once go through with the transformation into Christianity, you must leave your old and filthy robe. In the poster, it could be seen as the filthy pile of rags in front of the cross. Leave all evil desires and negativity. This so called “transformation” is a journey from evil to good; symbolized by throwing away the old rag in exchange for a new majestic robe. The author wants its audience to see a God-like figure on the left because the evangelists believed that God created humans in his image. The takeaway the author wanted his audience to have is to “put on a new self” and be more like God; characterized as love, joy, and peace.

 

The style of the poster is very clear and shows nothing too complex. It was made during times where evangelists were trying to spread Christianity in China. Therefore, the characters in the poster are portrayed as Chinese. Another interesting factor is the choice of clothing. Instead of any particular color or traditional clothing, the author chose a filthy rag and a bright gold-yellow robe. During those times people who showed insolence and evil desires are characterized as peasants and the clothing peasants wore are usually worn out rags. While noble men wore majestic robes. Yellow-gold color is also considered a royal color in China, usually worn by the emperor and also the palace colors. One other thing that I came to realize was the writing in the foot of the person on the right. It says “inhumanity,” which I think is just a clearer way to justify that the person on the right portrays negativity.

 

I felt that the poster is very well made to serve its purpose and message. It is made specific for the Chinese people and it also fits within the culture. Therefore, I think that is would be more acceptable to the Chinese people. As far as other cultures go, I don’t think it would fit any other culture because I think that this poster is very specific to the Chinese people.

“Confession of Sin” – 1942, Unknown Author

This poster shows a very interesting meaning. Firstly, it shows a person standing on a rock. The rock says, “sins.” Around him is a river with raging fast waters that says, “the fury of god.” He would probably die if he falls down to the water. Between the rock and the land there is a wooden plank that says, “confess sins.” Meanwhile, the words on the land says, “salvation.” From what we see in the posters we can start to see the meaning behind it. The author portrays the person as a commoner, seen by the regular clothes he wears. This meant that the message behind this poster applied to everyone. The text just on the upper part of the poster is a bible verse from the book of John, which says that confessing our sins would grant us salvation because God is forgiving and will purify us from unrighteousness.

 

The poster itself is a portrayal or literal depiction of that bible verse. The main message is that confessing your sins to God would grant you salvation. God is just and forgiving and he will erase your sins. The author wanted his audience to know that becoming a Christian is not punishing or dreadful. Moreover, it is peaceful and liberating. So, the technique the author is using is more of joy than fear. He wanted his audience to feel welcomed to Christianity. The logic behind the depiction is that everyone has a sin and in order to get rid of those sins they must confess to God. When they put their faith to walk to plank, meaning putting faith in God and confess their sins, they will reach salvation. Otherwise they would fall and die in the water, meaning that they will face the fury of God.

 

Nothing is surprising in this poster. Moreover, I think that the author tried to make his poster as simple as possible so that his audience would understand the message more easily. The poster is most definitely effective because its audience would be able to relate to the poster really easily. I would say that this poster would have made sense in another culture, especially if that culture did not speak Chinese. Since the poster is pretty simple, someone illiterate or doesn’t speak the language would have been able to figure out a meaning. It would be easier them however, if there was a cross or some kind of object to show that this is about Christianity.

 

“Coming to the father” – Date and Author unknown

This poster portrays a young female who is holding a book that says, “Truth.” On the bottom right corner, it appears to be the same girl but tied up in ropes and it seems that the young girl is crying or in sorrow. A cross that says, “Life” separates the two versions of the young girl. The girl on the left is walking down a road that says, “I am the road.” The top of the poster shows a bible verse from the book of John that states that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. The back story of this poster is that Jesus was sent down to earth by God to spread the word of God, which is Christianity. The only way to live freely was through Christianity. This is why the girl is tied up when she doesn’t walk the road of Christianity. I would assume that the book she is holding is the bible because as they say, the bible tells nothing but the truth. The road to Christianity is also portrayed to be a long-winding road, which I think means that the road is a long one but is worth the journey (rather than being tied up with ropes). If put into words, I guess this poster could mean that the truth will set your free, basically truth being Christianity.

 

 

This poster is pretty much ordinary. Why? Because it uses a scare tactic, which is common in the time period. Most commoners are still uneducated at the time. Therefore, scare tactics would work most of the time. What is surprising to me was the color of the cross. Usually red is not what they use to portray a cross. Usually it is a wooden color. I think in this case red would show some sort of authority, since red is one of the royal colors.

 

I think that the poster is overall effective. It shows the necessary symbols that would be helpful to someone of a different culture or someone who could not read. Out of the three posters, I think that this poster is the most complex but at the same simple. This is because the meaning behind the portrayals are deeper than the usual poster.

I selected these three images or posters because they share a common theme. Firstly, they all have different styles of drawing, which actually says a lot. Different styles meant that they came from different regions. What is mostly interesting is the fact that they share common elements too. All three posters share similar figures of the Chinese people. They all share similar type of clothing, hair style, simplicity, and physical features.

 

One thing to consider in all three of these posters is the use of fear and hope. The way all three posters share their message or story is through problem and resolution. In other words, fear and hope. The imagery of these posters at first shows a problem, which is depicted through fear. One shows being tied up and other showed wearing filthy rags and the fear to fall and die. These I would assume are scare tactics that present a problem. Usually, fear is a very common tactic to use in propaganda or even evangelism. In all honesty, fear has the ability to input one’s mind. But the underlying resolution given in these posters is the true hidden tactic. With fear, one will naturally search for ways to escape it. Without further thinking, these posters have already made some resolution built into the poster itself. For example, the third poster shows a young girl tied up in ropes. To escape the ropes, you simply have to walk through the path of Christianity. The idea and resolution is simple but striking to its audience.

 

Putting the three posters together some might ask some questions about it. I would argue that religion, especially Christianity is not supposed to be used as a tactic to make people follow or believe. So, when these posters use fear as a tactic, one would ask whether they were desperate in their pursuit to spread the word of God in China. Another would be, what was the religion and belief situation in China like at the time. It really makes me think whether the Chinese people were inclined to other beliefs or religion that it made the evangelists desperate enough to use scare tactics.

 

Reflecting upon the China we see today, it is arguable whether those evangelists had any success to spread the word of God. There are millions of Christ believers in China today but is it any significant to the other religions present in China today because Christianity is not the largest religion in China. Being unable to read the language myself, I would question whether the evangelists were supporting a lost cause in China. There would have been millions still in disbelief of Christianity at that time and reaching all demographics would have been really challenging. All in all, these three posters possess a very interesting history behind evangelists in China back then. Adding onto that, religion (I think) is not something you can simply force people to believe in; it would not be that easy. It can be a very sensitive subject and at the same time asking people to abandon previous beliefs and moving to a new belief is a very challenging task.

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