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Daniel Tong: A Biblical approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs

Book Review:

A Biblical approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs

by Daniel Tong, published by Genesis Books Singapore.  2003, 133 pages of text,  34 pages of Appendices, 14 pages of notes, 6 pages of bibliography.  ISBN 981 4045 92 6

Written by a Singaporean Anglican minister, this very helpful book looks at the major Chinese cultural events and issues from within the culture and from a biblical point of view.

Tong provides a straightforward summary of the traditional religious beliefs of the Chinese, Confucianism (and discusses whether it is really a religion), Buddhism, Daoism and what he calls Shenism, which he defines as the indigenous tribal folk religions of China. As well he summarises the present state of play of Chinese religious practice (a kind of amalgam of them all). In each topic he has a section entitled "Biblical Approach" in which he puts forward a biblical way of assessing the subject matter he has just described.

The section on The Main Events, gives very helpful explanations and biblical perspectives on what he calls the festivals of the living. These include Chinese New Year (Chun Jie), Dragon Boat, and Moon Cake festivals. For each of these evens the author separates out what is superstitious from what is good and from what is religious in a way that Christians could not take part.

A similar approach is taken with the Festivals of the Dead and with the Marriage ceremonies. The book helpfully distinguishes the good, the neutral, the superstitious and the religious. The advice for Christians is based on a clear biblical understanding of the issues.

A separate section deals with Ancestral Veneration and the vexed question of filial piety. The final section looks at traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and a helpful chapter on Qigong including a discussion of taiji quan (Tai Che).

There are eight short Appendices dealing with the Chinese Dragon (Long), whether the events can be Christianised, images of worship, food offered to idols, and other background material to some of the topics in the book. The last Appendix is called Handling Objections and Difficult Questions and has very valuable suggestions.

Although this reviewer does not have a Chinese background, the book appears very helpful to those Christians who do have that heritage.  It deals with the common issues that Chinese Christians regularly grapple with.

However it is also very valuable to non-Chinese background Christians because it both explains the background and history of the beliefs and practices and also gives an insiders perspective on how Christians might act. It is difficult when one is outside a culture to really understand the context and background of the traditions and beliefs of that culture. And it is therefore easy to make judgments based on our own culture or understanding. The book therefore also gives some insight for the non-Chinese to help them understand some of the background culture that informs the thinking and practice of the Christian Chinese.

This book provides an easy introduction to Chinese traditions and beliefs that will help both Chinese and non-Chinese Christians.

Dale Appleby

July 2007

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