Chairman Mao Meets the Apostle Paul: Christianity, Communism, and the Hope of China

By Chen, T. Timothy | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Chairman Mao Meets the Apostle Paul: Christianity, Communism, and the Hope of China


Chen, T. Timothy, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Chairman Mao Meets the Apostle Paul: Christianity, Communism, and the Hope of China. By K. K. Yeo. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002, 302 pp., $29.99 paper.

In his book, author Yeo Khiok-Khng, Harry R. Kendall Associate Professor of New Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, evaluates the thought of Mao Zedong and compares it with that of Paul, especially Mao's Utopian ideal with Pauline eschatology. In the process, the author also interprets critically the missionary enterprise in China. In the introduction, Yeo describes himself as a diaspora Chinese Christian who wants to understand the phenomenon of Maoism in China and to connect it with his work in Pauline studies. he points out that both theology and ideology have great implications in politics.

Yeo begins with a survey of biblical and Chinese traditions. Both the millenarian view of history in the OT and the eschatological view of history in the NT are summarized. An overview of Utopian ideas from ancient and modern China is provided, including Chinese views of an ideal state from Confucianists, Legalists, and Daoists, the Chinese cyclic view of history, and the Chinese yin-yang worldview.

Yeo then traces the development of Western political theory through Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. he mentions Sir Thomas More's contribution to the idea of communism without pointing out that it was related to John Wycliffe's earlier contribution to De civili dominio. he describes the modern socialist utopia as a secularized version of the Christian eschatological vision. Marx's historical materialism went to an extreme, arguing for a revolution to create a proletarian society.

According to Yeo, Maoism is a convergence of Marxism and Chinese views of history. he points out that the Maoist utopia is basically a Chinese one with various contributions from Confucianists, Daoists, secret-society, yin-yang worldview, and Legalists. Another difference between Marxism and Maoism is in the source of historical forces: urban workers versus country peasants. he describes Mao as an idealist who used an anarchistic rule of mass movement and dictatorship as a means to solve China's sociopolitical problem and to continue perpetual revolution. Yeo sees that the masses were equivalent to God in Mao's eyes. Here other historians may beg to differ, seeing Mao as a manipulator who sought to sustain his own grasp of power.

Yeo traces the interaction of Maoism and Christianity in Communist China after 1949. Since a Chinese worldview does not differentiate clearly between the secular and the sacred, it was easy for Mao to replace God or gods with his personality cult. According to Yeo, when the Communist regime came to power, it seriously adopted a policy of religious freedom, and the Chinese church should have clarified for believers and the society the possible fruitful interaction between the communist utopia and the Christian eschaton. However, due to the fundamentalist emphasis on judgment and destruction of the world during the end time, preaching on eschatology was prohibited in China. However, Chinese Christians, through the leadership of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, live according to Paul's admonitions in the Thessalonian letters.

Not only is Yeo sympathetic to Maoist liberation, he is also very critical of Western missionaries. …

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