Category Archives: China

Book Review: The Chinese Puzzle, by Mike Falkenstine


The Cover of the Second Edition

I recently read The Chinese Puzzle, by Mike Falkenstine. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in China missions. Few writers, if any, give a balanced picture of what the present-day Chinese church is really like. In The Chinese Puzzle, Mike Falkenstine has done so.

The book begins with a well-researched but concise look at the history of Christianity in China that is designed to help the reader understand how China’s critical attitude toward Christianity came about. This is followed by an exposition of current trends in China, including recent developments in the government’s stance on religious issues, the explosive growth of both open churches and house churches, and the rapid emergence of previously unheard-of opportunities for Western Christians to serve the church in China openly.

The third chapter is short but, in my opinion, the most important. In it, Falkenstine reveals an unflattering picture of Western missionaries as they appear to Chinese pastors — often as arrogant, controlling, and generally not very helpful. The chapter then examines just what Western missionaries have been doing wrong and concludes with invaluable advice on what they ought to do in order to be of greater service to the church in China (or other countries).

The fourth chapter, called “The Persecution Myth and Why it Survives” gives several examples of persecution stories published by major Christian organizations and news agencies in the West that were later debunked. In one case, Falkenstine was able to trace the story to its source—where the pastor of a church that had been bulldozed by the government excitedly took him to see the newer, bigger church the government had built to replace it. Falkenstine shows how the “persecution myth”—the false belief that persecution is the norm and that Christians in China can only practice their faith under cover and at great personal risk—is perpetuated largely by Western Christian organizations that depend on persecution stories for fundraising. He also makes it clear that the propagation of this myth actually hurts the church in China.

The final three chapters describe in more detail the sorts of groundbreaking ministries that are being carried out openly by Western Christian organizations in China; the ways Chinese view themselves and the future of their country; and the ministry that Falkenstine himself is involved in.

The content of the book is revealing and important enough (to those interested in China missions) that I think it deserves five stars. On a more personal note, I lived in China for five years and worked with the church there, and in my opinion American Christians need to be exposed to the balanced view presented in this book.

[Note: I wrote this review back in 2008. I just ran across it again and noticed that a second edition of The Chinese Puzzle has been released, so I thought it appropriate to post the review again here. I made a few minor modifications to the original version (which can be found on]

The “Yes, and . . .” Heard Round the World

Protesters respond to Jimmy Kimmel’s show.

Everyone knows that kids sometimes say stupid things because they don’t know any better. And comedians routinely say stupid things, even though they do know better (or ought to), just to make people laugh. So it should come as no surprise that putting kids and comedians together creates the potential for a double dose of stupidity. On October 16, this potential was fully realized on Jimmy Kimmel’s “Kids’ Table” segment.

I first learned about this from my wife. She heard that Chinese students at my university were protesting something, but she wasn’t sure what. We weren’t planning to investigate the matter any further, but a few days later she heard a more detailed rumor: Apparently, someone at ABC had said that “we” (meaning America) should “kill everyone in China.”

What? Surely not.

I found it hard to believe, not because I have any special regard for ABC, but because I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want to face the backlash that would result from publicly advocating genocide. Two possible explanations immediately came to mind: Either the statement had been made by some racist lunatic being interviewed by a reporter, or a talk show host had made a stupid, offhand, sarcastic comment that should never have aired.

Such was our understanding of the situation — a mixture of rumor, disbelief, and speculation — when my wife told me that a friend had invited her to join one of the protests in our area. She didn’t need my advice, but I gave it anyway: “Don’t attend any protests until you’ve seen the original video clip and understand the context of what was said.” If it turned out that a representative of ABC really had seriously advocated killing anyone, I would be protesting too. And so would most Americans, I hope. But before you go out and protest something a person said, you should probably track down the original quotation in context. God knows how easy it is for people to take words out of context. Just ask Obama about his Muslim faith.

Anyway, I found the video clip easily enough and watched it with my wife. It begins with Kimmel asking a group of kids what we should do about the fact that America owes China 1.3 trillion dollars. And then things go awry. The problem was immediately clear. As I already mentioned, the kindling was laid as soon as Kimmel was put in a room with kids. But the spark that actually ignited the fire was the “Yes, and . . .”.

In case you’re not familiar with the “Yes, and . . .”, let me explain it. It’s a way of responding to other people on stage that actors cultivate, especially in improvisational comedy. When another actor says or does something, no matter how ridiculous it is, you respond by accepting it. That’s the “yes” part. Then you add something to it (that’s the “and” part) to see where the idea takes you. The “Yes, and . . .” makes performances flow more smoothly and helps actors to be more creative. It also leads to some absurd performances, as it did in this case.

I was surprised to see that it was a little kid who actually made the statement in question. It was shocking (though somehow not surprising) to hear a kid collapse in a fit of giggles while suggesting that we kill a whole country full of people. And it was offensive, even though he clearly wasn’t serious. I’ve lived abroad in places where I was both a foreigner and a minority, and I’ve heard people say similarly horrible things about Americans. Those things made me feel uncomfortable even when they were said in jest. Genocide jokes just aren’t a good idea, and Kimmel would have been wise to say, “Whoa, let’s not go there.” But instead, he did what he was trained to do. He executed a “Yes, and . . .”.

“That’s an interesting idea,” he said.

Now, what did he mean by that? Actually, I might have said the same thing if I were in Kimmel’s shoes — not because I like what the kid said, but because “that’s interesting” is what you say to extricate yourself gracefully from an unpleasant conversation. And that’s exactly what Kimmel seemed to be doing. He turned to another kid and asked what he thought. So it really wasn’t a full “Yes, and . . .”. He moved on.

Or did he?

A minute later, Kimmel brought the offensive statement back up. Why? Because he thought it was a good idea worth pursuing? No. That same kid had also just said that America should be forced to pay its debt. Kimmel was pointing out the contradiction between the two things the kid had said. It’s possible that he was actually trying to get the kid to think and see where he was wrong, though he was more likely just hoping for further comedic material to come out of the kid’s attempted explanation.

Unfortunately, at this point Kimmel was apparently struck by a bolt of asininity, and he decided to ask the whole group, “Should we allow the Chinese to live?” His posing of this question, along with the other kids’ subsequent analysis of the pros and cons of destroying another country, constituted the full “Yes, and . . .” that never should have happened. Eventually, Kimmel apparently did see that things had gotten out of hand, and he cut off the discussion, declaring it to be “the Lord of the Flies edition” of the Kids’ Table. That comment demonstrates at least some awareness on Kimmel’s part of just how bad the conversation was, since the main theme of Lord of the Flies is that the darkest, most violent parts of human nature reside even in children.

So, what was my wife’s reaction to the clip? (Her opinion counts more than mine here, since she’s considerably more Chinese than I am.) She said, “Oh. It’s just stupid.” Was she offended? Yes. Should Kimmel apologize? Yes. (And he did.) But did she feel a need to join the protesters holding signs comparing Kimmel to Hitler and denouncing him for advocating genocide and manipulating children? No.

What Kimmel is guilty of here is stupidity, not advocating genocide. Nor was he manipulating children. He was using them, to be sure, to harvest absurd statements to get laughs on his show, but he wasn’t manipulating them, at least not in the sense of influencing their thoughts or behavior (though he definitely wasn’t being a good example). Inasmuch as the teaching and treatment of children are at issue here, perhaps it should be the kids’ parents who take the blame. Where else did the kids learn to talk like that? Who made the decision to put them at that table, and who’s really getting paid for putting them on TV and making a national spectacle of them?

The whole conversation was stupid (except perhaps for Kimmel’s response to the idea of building a wall in China), but the biggest stupidity of all was the decision to air the segment. Who was ultimately behind that decision? Jimmy Kimmel? ABC? Whoever it was, it serves them right to take some flak for it. And it’s good that they apologized. But no one was advocating genocide. Obviously, Kimmel didn’t realize how stupid it would be to do the old “Yes, and . . .” after a kid suggests that we kill people. But you can bet he realizes it now.

谁在一垒?Who’s on first?




When I taught English at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Semiconductors, I played Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” performance for my students. After listening to the recording, I asked my students whether they thought it could be translated into Chinese. One student said he didn’t think it was possible, since the humor is based on a play on words. (I was thinking about having them transcribe and translate the dialogue as an assignment. Perhaps this student thought he could avoid the work by saying it was impossible.) I was sure it could be done, though, and one day, I decided to translate it into Chinese myself. Another of my students, Liu Jian, polished my translation and performed it with me.

Here is the video:

Who’s on first?

Click here to see the script.

Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers

Book Cover

Pardon my Chinese, but . . .

从2005年到2007年,我在中科院半导体所从事论文编辑和英语教学的职业。 在这期间,我为想要在国际期刊上发表论文的在校研究生们编辑过好几百篇的论文。 在我编辑这些论文的同时,我也记录下了母语为中文的人的论文中最常出现的英语语法错误。等到我结束在半导体所任教时,我根据这些观察和记录编写了一本书, 名为 Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers.

写 完这本书的很长时间内,我都不太愿意在美国公开和出版这本书。因为我认为它只适合中国研究生。但是,最近我又重新读了一遍这本书,并在读过之后改变了我的 想法。其实书中有很多写作规则适合任何想要写论文的人。其中更适合中国学生的部分也会对在美国的中国留学生很有帮助。


Okay, now here’s everything in English:

From 2005 to 2007, I worked as an editor and English teacher at the Institute of Semiconductors, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. During that time, I edited hundreds upon hundreds of papers that were written by Chinese graduate students who wanted to have their work published in international journals. As I corrected their writing, I kept track of the most common errors that native Chinese speakers make when they write in English, and at the end of my time there I compiled all of my observations into a book: Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers.

For a long time, I was reluctant to share this with people in America because I felt that the book was only appropriate for graduate students in China. I recently went back and read through it, though, and I’ve changed my mind. Many of the principles are appropriate for anyone who wants to write a paper, and the parts that are specifically for Chinese students will probably be very useful to Chinese graduate students here in America.

The book is available here.