Political earthquakes are shaking China and the Soviet Union, and it has been a fascinating personal experience for me to visit both countries recently within a few weeks’ time.
Although they share common Marxist roots, in many ways they are very different. But in one important respect they are similar: Both are in the midst of vast changes that would have been unimagined a decade ago.
The Soviet Union’s experiments with glasnost and perestroika have been much in the public eye recently and are widely known. However, the political earthquake has been going on longer in China, beginning in 1976 with Mao Zedong’s death and the demise of the disastrous Cultural Revolution (which, among other things, closed every church in China). Within a few years, China’s leaders had embarked on a wholesale reversal of Mao’s policies, coupled with a commitment to allow nothing (including doctrinaire Marxism) to get in the way of modernization.
Although there are significant differences in their policies, both governments intend to bring about fundamental economic and social changes. Neither country is merely engaged in window dressing to improve its foreign image; every Chinese and Soviet citizen senses that the winds of change are definitely blowing.
But will the changes bring new opportunities for the gospel in China and the Soviet Union?
The answer depends, in part, on the future course of reform. It is by no means certain that either government will avoid triggering reactions or upheavals that will reverse the whole process. Nor is it certain that believers will necessarily fare better in this new climate of economic expansion and political openness. Nevertheless, there is room for guarded optimism in light of six trends, common to both countries, ...1
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