It is the first time in the history that an international religious leader openly promotes a book about Christian faith in Mainland China, officials say.
The renowned American evangelist and preacher Luis Palau is right now in Beijing, China, for the Wednesday’s release of the highly anticipated book "Riverside Talks: A Friendly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian" that is co-authored with the former spokesman for Communist China's Cabinet Zhao Qizheng.
According to the press statement from the Luis Palau Association, vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC) Shen Weiping commented, "This is the first time in the history of China that an international religious leader has been permitted to sign copies of his book in a large public secular venue."
All types of media and publications are under strict censorship of the government before release, especially those involving religious themes. Another senior government official therefore described the press conference "amazing", "very un-Chinese" and "very historic".
Zhao, who began a series of recorded dialogues with Palau in Beijing on May 20, 2005 and again in Shanghai on November 16-17, 2005, highly recommended the book to Chinese readers. It was his suggestion two years ago to write the book with Palau in an effort to build bridges and mutual understanding. Over eight hours of dialogue was captured as the content of the book during the three separate meetings.
In the communist China that is atheist by definition, the Chinese government has guaranteed its people in the Constitution the freedom of religion. However, many foreign human rights groups have condemned China for violating the standard and confining religious freedom by certain "system."
In terms of Christianity, only churches that are registered with the government or associated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement are recognized, all other house churches are considered illegal and are often subjected to harassment or persecution by the public police. The government yet often denied the claim, insisting that religious freedom exists and all religions co-exist in harmony in China.
During the press conference Wednesday, Zhao told reporters the book and his friendship with Palau is a model on how two people with different backgrounds and ideologies can have a dialogue with opposing views and still be good friends.
Palau and Zhao both reminded journalists that the book represents a dialogue, not a debate, between an atheist and a theist, between a scientist and a Christian evangelist, between a Marxist scholar and a religious scholar, between a leader from the East and a leader from the West.
The dialogue has proved to be very helpful in introducing the knowledge on Christian faith to atheist, as Zhao was quoted as saying in the press statement, "Through our dialogue, I did overcome somewhat my initial concern about the difficulty of communicating between people with different cultural backgrounds. I now believe that in-depth understanding is possible as long as there is a will to communicate.
What this book hopes to convey is the conviction that this commonality will enable us to transcend many of the differences and even the misunderstandings among us."
Zhao also told reporters during previous meetings with Palau in China that he highly appreciated the "very straightforward" discussions between the two of them; sincerity and honesty have also enabled them to break down the barriers of the differences of beliefs, languages or education background.
"I was deeply touched when Dr. Palau told me he loved China… It is clear that our common objective is to promote global harmony," Zhao added.
Palau believes the dialogue has progressed very well because the questions about life being addressed in Christian faith are just a common concern for all mankind. He said previously, "We came at it from the points of view of an atheist and a believer, but we soon realized that we have a lot in common as human beings, that we respect each other and that we enjoy each other’s company."
"I am truly impressed by Mr. Zhao’s knowledge of not only science and philosophy, but also culture, international relations and theology…I hope the book will help Americans understand the mindset of a thinking person in China, his enthusiasm for knowledge and the amazing changes taking place in China," Palau continued.
Palau has repeatedly confessed his passion to introduce the Gospel for all nations to the atheist China, as he said to the reporters this time, "I love China. I want the best for this great nation and everyone within its borders. And now, after getting better acquainted with such a wonderful leader as Mr. Zhao Qizheng, my love and respect for China has only grown greater. I believe with my whole heart that God loves China. I believe He has a special message for China and wants nothing more than to share His love with the entire nation."
According to the Luis Palau Association, Palau and Zhao’s Friendly Dialogue book is being released throughout China in government bookstores and in thousands of other outlets in both Chinese and English. The American version of the book is scheduled for release by Broadman & Holman in the coming months. A heated discussion between Christians and non-Christians in the East and in the West is highly anticipated.