Zhao Xiao, one of China's top economists, started reading the Bible in 2002 while traveling in the United States and researching a paper on American business culture. He noticed how much Americans talk about the Bible and how cities seem to have churches everywhere.
Zhao, who lives in Beijing with his wife and two daughters, professed Christ in 2004 but remains a member of China's Communist Party. He has headed a think tank that reports directly to China's powerful Central Committee on macroeconomic strategy, and he is still a professor of economics at Beijing Polytechnic University and a commentator on government-run China Central Television.
Despite professing Christ in a communist country known for persecuting believers, Zhao was still able to lead earlier this month a group of Chinese executives on a 10-day trip to the United States to meet with Christian businessmen from companies such as Chick-Fil-A. Zhao says that many in China agree on the need for morality in markets and that even Party leaders are open to Christian ideas.
Charlene Fu, a former Beijing-based correspondent for the Associated Press who lived in China for more than 20 years, says that Zhao can be such an outspoken Christian in a communist country in part because he has worked at the highest levels of government and shown that he is no threat to the authorities: A dissident with the same views would not have so much freedom. She notes, "When it comes to ideology versus practicality," many Chinese combine extreme pragmatism with an "almost innate fear of chaos." Because Zhao is not challenging the Party, officials allow him to show that Christian ideas will benefit Chinese society.
The paper Zhao wrote in 2002, "Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches," boosted his reputation. It echoes Max Weber's classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in arguing that the Puritans pursued wealth not just for personal gain but also for the glory of God. Today he goes even further: The key to China's economic development is the integration of Christian principles and Chinese culture.
Zhao argues that Chinese people already have strong traditions that value hard work, education, and a willingness to learn from outside sources; the need now is for a culture that honors covenants. Zhao calls that the "essence of a market economy." Many Chinese today believe you can break a promise to achieve a purpose, he says, "but we know that biblical culture is not like that. If China wants not just a group of successful entrepreneurs but a successful economy, it must [embrace] a spirit of covenants."
Zhao says that such a spirit will promote sustainable development and social stability: "If society is full of challenges and conflicts, the economy will not grow. It is the blessings of the 'transformation with the Cross' that will bring China sustainable society and economic development." If this happens, he believes China could enter another Golden Age of world prominence with its success based on Christianity instead of Confucianism or Taoism. He likens this possibility to a Chinese "Great Awakening," with China itself the new "city on a hill."