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Personal From the President: July 15, 2021

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Personal From the President

July 15, 2021

The Chinese Communist Party and the Gospel of the Kingdom

In early July, many newspapers and media carried the story as the lead or on the front page. The People’s Republic of China, 1.4 billion people strong, was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, formed with help from Russian revolutionaries in 1921. Some 70,000 dignitaries, business leaders, Communist Party administrators and children assembled in Beijing’s vast Tiananmen Square on July 1. I use the word “vast,” because it is. I have been in China and Hong Kong a number of times since the early 1990s. I have walked the 109 acres of that square, overseen by the watchful eye of the “Great Helmsman,” a massive portrait of the late Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong hanging atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

My trips certainly weren’t the first for the Church of God. Herbert W. Armstrong visited the country during a unique period in 1979 and again in 1984, where he then met privately with several Chinese ambassador-rank ministers, but most importantly, Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping. Leading an undeveloped country with over a billion people living in poverty, Deng created a unique open time of reform for China, a temporary door through which Herbert Armstrong walked. He was one of the first non-political westerners allowed to enter the country to officially meet with Chinese leaders.

As I read the current coverage and saw photos of China’s strongman leader Xi Jinping, standing over the portrait of Mao and wearing a traditional grey “Mao suit”—delivering strident and threatening comments about the West—I reflected both on my trips to this massively populated country and those of Mr. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong was then accompanied by Aaron Dean, today an elder serving on the Council of Elders of the United Church of God. An earlier Council sent me and others to China in 2000 to explore whether any of the ties and projects of the Ambassador Foundation in the 1980s could be renewed, particularly educational and humanitarian projects associated with the Soong Ching-ling Foundation.

The Soong Ching-ling Foundation was named for the widow of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the man revered as the ancestral leader of modern China. The Ambassador Foundation donated educational supplies and funding to the then-emerging Chinese Department of Education in 1979, which was still recovering from the disastrous Cultural Revolution that nearly destroyed the country. That set the stage for later projects. According to Mr. Dean, it was through an exchange relationship between the Soong Ching-ling Foundation and the Ambassador Foundation that arrangements were made to bring a children’s performance group, the Little Ambassadors of Shanghai, to America. That group would perform under the auspices of the Ambassador Foundation across the United States, ending up at the White House with First Lady Nancy Reagan (which presentation was attended in person by Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Dean) and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

During his 1979 visit, Mr. Armstrong met with a leading government minister of education, Vice Chairman Tan Zhenlin, a contemporary of Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai. A banquet in Mr. Armstrong’s honor was conducted that included more than 60 ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. When he returned in 1984, he met the man whom the Chinese then called the “Paramount Leader.” The meeting with Deng Xiaoping, attended by Mr. Dean and Ellis and Gwen La Ravia (a former UCG minister and his wife, now both deceased), was cordial and frank. Mr. Armstrong told the Chinese Premier that human governments would not solve the world’s problems. Mr. Armstrong later wrote: “Deng Xiaoping admitted to me that China has made some serious mistakes.”

Following Mr. Armstrong’s death, ties with the Soong Ching-ling Foundation eroded and faded. During the summer of 1999, the United Church of God received word from China that there might be some interest in renewing these relationships. During a retreat of the Council of Elders in Seattle, discussions took place, and it was decided to explore some possible new educational ties through LifeNets and the United Church of God youth programs. During my subsequent visit to China, we had a number of cordial meetings with Soong Ching-ling officials, but unfortunately, despite some initial promise and first steps, no lasting possibilities emerged.

I had first been to China in 1993, and it seemed then that bicycles ruled the country. They were everywhere! Not so in 2000 when I returned. Fast-moving cars dominated and seemingly hundreds of skyscrapers were under construction. The high-tech pace had only picked up when I returned with Earl Roemer in 2016, and then again to Hong Kong with Darris McNeely and our wives where a Kingdom of God seminar was conducted.

Dr. Graham Allison, a renowned China analyst, wrote that “the world has never seen anything like the rapid, tectonic shift in the global balance of power created by the rise of China.” I believe it. I have seen it firsthand.

Today China is dramatically different. Although China’s economy has grown to rival that of the United States, its former democratic reforms have died. Cai Xia, a former high-ranking Party official, wrote that the current regime is “bent on holding on to power through brutality and ruthlessness.” Many increasingly worry that China is preparing to invade Taiwan, home of the largest semiconductor factory on the planet. Even Japan recently joined the ranks of those openly decrying a possible invasion and the economic and political turmoil it would bring.

When I saw the media coverage of the 100th anniversary, I wondered where the now-grown children from Shanghai who visited Ambassador now lived. While he was on his 1984 visit to China, Mr. Armstrong talked openly and at length about the hope of children to build a better world and how peace would come. He spoke about how important education was, particularly in learning the way to peace. His words were broadcast widely on China television and later throughout the United States. Now, 37 years later, I wonder what those now-adult Chinese think of their country and the state of the world.

In contrast today, at the 100th Communist anniversary celebration, Premier Xi thundered that any nation who to tries to “bully, oppress, or enslave us . . . shall be battered and bloodied from colliding with a great wall of steel forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese people using flesh and blood” (Wall Street Journal).

Dramatically different from what Deng Xiaoping personally told Mr. Armstrong, those powerful words of Xi seem to almost presage the terrible description in Revelation 9:16-17 Revelation 9:16-17 [16] And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. [17] And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
American King James Version×
: “I heard the size of their army, which was 200 million mounted troops. And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armor that was fiery red and dark blue and yellow. The horses had heads like lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulfur billowed from their mouths” (New Living Translation, emphasis added).

There is basically only one country who could presently field an army of that size. Given China’s current leadership in hypersonic missiles and other warfare technology, the “fire and smoke and burning sulfur” seems like an apt description from a 1st century apostle grappling with what he was experiencing. We shall see.

Thank God Almighty that we hold the very truth of God! Thanks be to God for the knowledge of the meaning of His plan! As this world continues to advance toward a final end, let us embrace the words of Paul: “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 1 Corinthians 16:13Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
American King James Version×
, NLT).

And let us be about our Father’s business of proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God to all the earth!


  • Kelly Irvin

    Thank you for the recollection of this part of our history and the reminder to hold fast.