Throughout the month of February, this column will be featuring stories of noted atheists who experienced dramatic shifts in their views, eventually becoming Christians. The stories will highlight the reasons why they held their atheistic views to begin with, and the reasons they became convinced of the truth of Christianity.
In 1989, a few brave students in China rocked the world with their monumental protest in Tiananmen Square; followed by a tragic massacre inflicted by the Chinese military on unarmed civilians attempting to block their advance toward the square.
Only one woman stood among the leaders of Tiananmen Square protestors – a young student named Chai Ling.
Ling was born in Rizhao, in Shandong province, China. This was in 1966 before China instituted its “one-child” law, so Ling had four siblings. Both of Ling’s parents were doctors, and like her parents, Ling was a very gifted and driven young woman.
Beginning college at the age of 17, Ling earned her BA in psychology. In 1989, she, along with several other students, began a series of hunger strikes as part of the Tiananmen Square protest. After the death of Hu Yaobang, these protests were a large-scale show of activism on the part of his supporters, pushing to keep the momentum of social reform in accord with his revolutionary policies.
Ling was the leader of the protests, and even by the standards of her fellow students, was a radical.
After the Chinese military slaughtered a number of protestors, Ling, along with several of her compatriots, were placed on a most-wanted list, and forced to flee the country.
Ling eventually ended up in the US, pursued her education, married and began a software company with her American husband.
For Ling, her love of China was still very much the focus of her drive to succeed. She hoped that the money her software company made could be donated to advance reform and social progress in China.
“I stumbled on this idea that if only I could become a very successful entrepreneur, like Bill Gates, I could make lots money and set up a giant foundation, then I could once for all overcome and free China,” says Ling.
Her efforts won her two nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, but not the resolution to the social ills of China that she hoped to see.
One of the more brutal Chinese policies to come to Ling’s attention was the One Child Policy. Ling grieved at all of the trauma that this policy had caused, but was floored when she heard the testimony of one Chinese woman’s ruthless forced abortion.
Like any good Chinese communist, Ling had been brought up an atheist. After hearing this woman’s testimony, Ling realized that her life of trying to change China seemed to have no impact whatsoever. She realized that she was powerless to change the state of China, and that only a Greater Power could help.
With the testimony and help of some very close friends, Ling converted to Christianity in December of 2009.
Since her conversion, Ling’s approach to the ills of China has changed radically. No longer pouring money into social programs, Ling’s focus is now to bring the Gospel to China. By encouraging the people of China to embrace the love and human dignity taught by scripture, Ling believes she will bring hope to the hopeless, and reform the Chinese by introducing a Christian perspective focused on the value of people as God’s creations rather than as the expendable machines that Chinese communism has represented them to be.
Since the time of Ling’s conversion in 2009, the average annual growth of Christianity in China has been about 7% per year – putting it on track to become the largest Christian nation in the world.
This is arguably the most revolutionary event in centuries for China. According to renowned sociologist Rodney Stark, the conversion of the Chinese to Christianity is causing industrial and scientific boons unprecedented in Asian history. He explains that traditional Eastern philosophies and religions, “are all anti-progress; they all proclaim the world is going downhill from a glorious past, and that we should look backwards, not forwards. None of them admit that we’re able to understand anything about the universe – it’s something we have to meditate on, not something to try and theorize about, as the physicists and chemists do. And that doesn’t fit with the world that modern Chinese are experiencing having happened around them.”
“Industrial society, and all the science it’s based on, doesn’t fit well with those kind of religious views, but the question of what does the world mean, and how do we live in it, persists – and so that’s a major motor in the Christianization of China, and it explains why it’s the most educated Chinese who are the most apt to join.”