Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter VII. The Conflicts of a Student

There are other trials which beset the path of Chinese youth to-day. With the present facilities for study many young people, whose parents are still in a state of illiteracy, are receiving higher education. In this transition period of the nation's history, such a state of affairs leads to all kinds of family complications.

See, for instance, the son of a peasant family who has been betrothed in childhood to a girl of the same class. It is the custom sometimes for a family to take a little girl into the home and to bring her up as their own, with a view to marrying her to their son later on. In this way poor people are often able to secure an inexpensive bride. The boy may show an aptitude for learning. His parents are inordinately proud of him, and at great personal sacrifice make it possible for him to study. Up to the age of twelve or fourteen he accepts the fact of his future bride with indifference but without question; high school and subsequently college life, however, work a change of taste and outlook. During vacations he finds himself irritated by the clumsy, ignorant girl who is destined to be his wife, and his irritation gradually develops into aversion. He spends the next vacation with a fellow-student to avoid going home. Perhaps by this time, too, he has met a girl who attracts him and whom, had he been free, he would have chosen. Many young people are now being left free to choose their life companions, why should not he? Meanwhile preparations for his marriage are going forward in his home. No longer can he conceal his dissatisfaction. He becomes sullen and morose. His parents are perplexed and angry. A betrothal in China can only be broken at great expense, and even then it is considered something of a scandal, and as in this'case the girl has been brought up in her future husband's family, the young man (if he does not marry her) is considered responsible for her support until she is married to some one else.

If the youth is a Christian there are still further complications. A son who presumes to show dissatisfaction with the wife whom his father has provided for him is stamped as unfilial, and there is no greater sin than this in circles where the spirit of Old China still predominates. There are always those who are delighted if they can trace such conduct to the influence of Christianity.

There is the problem of the young man who is a keen Christian and whose greatest desire is to fit himself for the ministry. Coming into contact as he does not only with missionaries but with modern Chinese whose wives are qualified to be real comrades in all their pursuits, he grows more and more troubled by the realization that the girl whom his parents have chosen for him will be utterly unable to share his life. Sometimes missionaries have foreseen this difficulty and have sought to educate the girl, with very satisfactory results. One young woman thus prepared is now the happy and capable wife of an evangelist, able to be a true companion to her husband in every department of his work.

But perhaps the situation that is productive of the greatest misery is that in which the girl has somehow managed to obtain an education superior to that of her affianced husband. Utterly unfitted for a life of manual labour, she either sinks into an attitude of sullen indifference to everything around her, or else by means of cutting sarcasm and disdainful looks brings discord into a once peaceful home. Cases of this kind are rare, but they do occur. Such a girl would be much happier, as also would her family, if she had not been educated.

The clash between the old and the new is not confined to marriage problems. Many young people are taking up useful studies such as agriculture, child welfare, public health. Of course they soon become aware of the weaknesses in the old methods of cultivation and sanitation, and see the cause of much infant mortality. Their attempts to bring new ideas into their own family circles are met in much the same way that they would be met anywhere else in the world, given the same conditions. "What was good enough for our ancestors is good enough for us," say the older generation. A pastor who ventured to remonstrate mildly with his mother for transferring food from her own mouth to that of his son and heir, was met with the sarcastic rejoinder: "It is a wonder you young people are alive at all, seeing you were all brought up without such newfangled notions!" Many a young wife, educated on modern lines, has made desperate attempts to bring up her baby according to what she knows to be right, only to have all her efforts defeated by her mother-in-law, who of course has the final word in a Chinese family. Especially is this so if the child is a boy, for grandsons are objects of great affection and are usually thoroughly spoilt. In the light of these facts it will be seen that the Chinese student, and especially the Christian student, is often fighting against great odds, such as his English contemporaries can but vaguely imagine. Much has been said and written about him, and he has often been misrepresented. Before you judge him, be sure that you understand his trials. Many are honestly seeking the right attitude, the attitude that will bring no dishonour on their Church. These are problems in which the foreign missionary can help but little, problems which can only find their solution in the Christ of the Chinese highways. Sometimes that solution can only be found in renunciation and sacrifice.

Slowly the conviction dawns that the promised land of happiness and freedom of which these students have dreamed is not for them, but for their little ones. It is the next generation which will reap the benefit of Young China's hopes and aspirations. Those who are suffering now will bind no fetters on their children's feet. They shall find the liberty which their fathers sought in vain. It is not an easy path for those who in the glad morning of their young manhood and womanhood are called upon to yield everything to the next generation. They want happiness not only for their children but for themselves; they want it with all the passionate longing of youth, and instead they see life stretching before them as a dull wilderness. Only Christ can come to them in their hour of need and show them that in thus losing their lives they shall find them. Only He can make their barren wilderness to blossom as the rose.

Not always is there friction between the ancient and the modern. Some parents have risen nobly above the level of their contemporaries. One father, a country gentleman, has brought up a large family of sons and daughters, giving them all a university education and leaving them free to marry as they choose. He is typical of many others. It is refreshing to spend a few hours in such a Chinese home, where all that is finest in eastern and western culture is blended in one harmonious whole. Such homes present a vision of what China may become when Christ has conquered.

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