before they return, that they are helped to think through how they will share what they have learned with their partner, how they will handle his/her response, and what they will then do.
YS became a believer while studying in UK. Shortly after her return to China she announced her intention to marry her long‐standing boyfriend, H, who was not a believer. Christian friends challenged her about this, but she argued that he had waited all this time for her, how could she now refuse to marry him? They did marry, and H accepts that she goes to church, but there is always an underlying tension about the use of time and money, and how to bring up their little boy.
A contrasting case is LX, who became a very committed Christian believer while studying overseas. He too had a long‐standing relationship with his girlfriend, LY. But when LX returned to China he explained the problem to LY, concluding that they could not marry as she was not a believer. Needless to say, LY was deeply upset, but she took LX’s advice, went to church and read the Bible. In due course she too became a believer, praise God. The way was then clear for them to get married.
Problems of traditions
Traditional views of marriage, which are deep‐seated in Chinese culture, can set up many difficulties in a marriage. Before the 1911 revolution, a wealthy man could have a number of wives and concubines. Some men in China still feel entitled to have a wife and some other women. Under the Maoist communist regime, married couples were often sent to different parts of the country to work. Many people acquired other partners in their place of work and only saw their spouse once a year at Chinese New Year. It is still quite common for couples to live and work or study in different places for years on end. Thus, Christians need to be helped to understand the importance of married couples living together.
One elderly Christian pastor described how, as a young man, he had to travel cramped under a train seat for 24 hours in order to visit his wife. He also did not see her for 15 years while he was in prison for his faith. They are together now but have no children due to their enforced separation when they were younger.
Mothers‐in‐law can sabotage marriages. In Chinese tradition, a man’s mother is more important than his wife. A man would bring his wife to his family and she would be subject, in every way, to her mother‐in‐law. This presents a great challenge for young Christian couples: how to show proper respect for parents without being dominated by them, especially if the parents are not Christians.
Mothers in China are very possessive and feel it is their duty not only to do their best for their child but also to chivvy and drive the child to succeed in every area of life. When a girl marries the son, she gets the same treatment. Her cooking is criticised, her housekeeping scrutinised, and when the grandchild arrives mother‐in‐law will arrive too, to look after the child “properly”. One woman described having rows with her mother‐in‐law over how many layers of clothing her baby should wear. This was just a symptom of how difficult their relationship was. Adult children are expected to provide for their parents’ old age and a widowed mother will usually choose the traditional option of going to live with her son. This too can set up problems in small modern apartments.
Young Christians M and E live in Beijing and have a baby girl. M’s parents, who are poor, immediately arrived from the north to “help”. M’s father had a history of