East Asia Association

By Eugene King-yi Hsu

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Eugene King-yi Hsu, Ph.D. (Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana). His 42 years of denominational service includes teaching at Andrews University, president of Adventist Colleges in Taiwan and Hong Kong, president of Chinese Union Mission, Hong Kong, and general vice-president, General Conference where he retired in 2010. His publications include Political Mobilization and Economic Extraction:  Chinese Communist Agrarian Policies during the Kiangsi Period (Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London, 1980) and “China: The Accomplishments and Challenges” in Jon L. Dybdahl, Editor, Adventist Mission in the 21st Century (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1999).

East Asia Association and its predecessor, Eastern Asia Committee, were important administrative entities formed in response to the complex challenges the Seventh-day Adventist Church faced due to changes in China’s attitude toward Christianity and the western world during the post-Cultural Revolution era of the late 1970s to 1990s.

The Predecessors

The history of the East Asia Association can be traced back to January 1977, when the China Evangelism Committee (CEC) was established in Hong Kong under the leadership of Samuel Young, president of Hong Kong-Macau Mission.1 The “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” in China’s mainland had come to an end. Some government-sanctioned Three-Self Churches reopened their doors to the public, and many house churches were established. Adventist Churches and believers outside of China, especially those in Hong Kong, were anxious to do what they could corporately and individually to assist their sister churches in China to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to advance God’s Kingdom.

The major tasks of CEC were to prepare gospel programs to be broadcast on some commercial radio stations in Hong Kong, to start a Bible correspondence school primarily for radio program listeners, and to send Bibles and religious literatures requested by church members in China.2 Following written communications between believers in Hong Kong and the mainland, personal visitations to churches began in 1979, when the Chinese government began to open doors to the outside world with its “reform and opening up” policies.3 In the summer of 1979, CEC invited Eugene Hsu, a USA citizen and professor at Andrews University, to visit church leaders in Shanghai, Beijing, and Wenzhou during his homecoming trip to China. Subsequently, other church leaders in Hong Kong such as Samuel Young, M. D. Lee, and Y. C. Wong followed.

Eastern Asia Committee (EAC) was organized at the General Conference (GC) in January 1985 with Alf Lohne as chairman and D. A. Roth as secretary.4 A month later, H. Carl Currie was appointed vice chairman and executive director of Hong Kong EAC (HKEAC), a subcommittee of GCEAC.5 In October 1985, C. B. Rock succeeded Lohne as GCEAC chairman,6 and in November 1985, Samuel Young was appointed secretary.7 HKEAC was renamed Eastern Asia Administrative Committee from June 1987 to May 1991.8 During the GC Session in July 1990, Richard Liu succeeded Currie as executive director of HKEAC.9 In January 1991, Eugene Hsu succeeded Young as GCEAC secretary.10

During the ten years of EAC operation, continuation of the work of CEC such as preparing radio programs, conducting Bible correspondence school, and producing and distributing literature was mostly carried out by HKEAC. As China became more open to the outside, efforts were made by both GCEAC and HKEAC to increase contact with Adventist churches in China. As the liberal religious policies of the government continued, the early 1990s was also a period of unprecedented membership increase and church growth. For example, in July 1992, 1,900 were baptized in one city in Northeast China.11 At the same time, Adventist churches in China also went through a phase of growing pains, facing challenges in church organization and management such as a lack of facilities and growing factional conflicts within. Therefore, contacting and visiting churches in China was done not only to gather information but also to provide guidance on issues such as doctrines, church organization, management, and reclaiming denominational properties.

A new task of GCEAC was medical work in China. A medical subcommittee was set up to coordinate the medical projects in China conducted by several Adventist entities like Kettering Hospital and Loma Linda Heart Center.12 The possibility of operating a hospital in China with its construction funded by Sir Run Run Shaw, a wealthy businessman and patient of Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, was discussed in January 1987.13 In April 1989, EAC was authorized to work with Loma Linda University Medical Center to negotiate a contractual agreement on the hospital project in Zhejiang Province.14 Five years later, the construction of a 400-bed teaching hospital, the Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital, was completed in Hangzhou, and Loma Linda University Medical Center was to manage the hospital for five years beginning May 2, 1994. Though the hospital was not directly involved in soul-winning ministry, some staff members were baptized while working at the hospital or studying at Adventist educational institutions in the Philippines or the USA. As the hospital became known as one of the best managed hospitals in China, its association with the Adventist Church enhanced the status and reputation of Adventist churches throughout the country.

In addition to medical work, many overseas Adventist entities were also engaged in several other health-related activities: “It Is Written” was preparing health programs to be aired on TV, Weimar Institute and “Quiet Hour” were conducting health education seminars, and Canvasback Mission was doing consulting work at West China Medical University in Chongqing.15 One of EAC’s tasks was to assist Adventist entities conducting projects in China and coordinate all activities connected with these projects.

Another area of activities in China that needed coordination was volunteer English teachers from Australia or the USA who were either coming on their own or sent by church entities such as Pacific Union College and Eden Valley. With China’s increasing contacts with the outside world, interest in learning English grew rapidly, and having native English speakers teach English became very popular. Teaching English appeared to have great potential in witnessing and soul-winning, but some of the teachers were not adequately prepared professionally and/or spiritually. Unfamiliar with Chinese society and its government’s religious policies, some of the teachers’ activities would negatively impact the work of the local Adventist churches.

In order to maximize the potential benefits and reduce the challenges these volunteer teachers would face, EAC initiated the International Teachers Service (ITS) program in 1991 under the leadership of Maurice Bascom, a seasoned professional in teaching English as a Second Language. The work of ITS included teacher recruitment and placement, curriculum development, and soul-winning strategies. With an initial budget of $329,000 USD, ITS was able to send 43 teachers to teach in 16 locations in 1991.16 During the next two years, with an annual budget of $350,000 USD, the number of ITS teachers increased to 50 in 17 locations.17 Even though there was no record of actual numbers of baptisms by ITS teachers’ witnessing and soul-winning activities, their efforts seemed to have produced good results. Some of their converts became outstanding church workers serving not only in China but also in church organizations overseas.

The Formation of East Asia Association

In the 1990s, church workers’ training was another focus of EAC. Plans were made to train church workers to be lay preachers, to be ministerial workers on site and through radio and distance learning, and to gain a BA in theology through “College on Air.”18 Much of the training was carried out after East Asia Association (EAA) was organized in 1994, when GCEAC and HKEAC merged into one organization located in Hong Kong.19 Eugene Hsu was appointed president, and Chiloe Fan secretary/treasurer.20 In January 1997, John Ash was named secretary, and Fan remained treasurer.

During the first year of EAA operation, a working committee for lay pastor training was appointed.21 By the end of the year, a budget of $50,000 USD was provided, training materials were prepared, and the first training session was conducted in Wuxi, a city near Shanghai.22 The following year, 13 training sessions were conducted.23 Training topics included Bible study, spiritual revival, church doctrines, spirit of prophecy, Pauline epistles, homiletics, personal ministry, etc. In addition to EAA staff, teachers included volunteers from Hong Kong Macau Conference and workers in China. They taught 14 sessions in 1997.24 Meanwhile, Dr. and Mrs. Derek Morris were invited to be lecturers for “College on Air.”25 The program was renamed “Chinese Cyber Seminary” in 1998.26 Since many church leaders had not received systematic professional training, leadership training became a necessity.

While receiving different types of training, Adventist church workers in China still faced another challenge; they were not considered “qualified workers,” which was an essential requirement for churches to apply for registration with the government. Under the post-denominationalism religious policy of the Chinese government, different Christian denominations were not allowed to exist, let alone operate seminaries. There were about a dozen seminaries operated by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), an umbrella organization for all Protestant churches. Only graduates from these seminaries were considered “qualified workers.” Understandably, many Adventist churches were reluctant to send their young people to these seminaries, fearing that they might lose their Adventist faith while studying at these seminaries. So, they sought advice from EAA on this challenging issue.

EAA advised each church to consider this issue from three perspectives. The first perspective was the situation of the church itself – whether or not the church as a whole was open to the idea of sending young people to TSPM seminaries. If the opposition against such an idea was so strong that it might cause the church to split, then they were not to send their youth. The second was the situation of the seminary under consideration – whether or not it was willing to accommodate the special needs of Adventist students such as Sabbath observance and dietary restrictions. The third was the condition of the candidates – how strong and mature their Adventist faith was in facing potential challenges to doctrines and lifestyle beliefs.

With serious consideration of these conditions, churches began to send carefully selected young people to study at some of the TSPM seminaries. At one time, there were nine Adventist students at the East China Seminary, about ten percent of the entire student body.27 EAA also encouraged churches to put their students in TSPM seminaries to receive special reinforcing training sessions. In 1998, sponsoring selected students to attend TSPM seminaries was officially voted as one aspect of the long-range leadership and ministerial training program.28 Sending promising young people to study abroad was included in the program. By 1998, eight students were studying at Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, a GC educational institution in the Philippines.29

During the years of EAA’s operation (1995-1999), the areas of work established by CEC and EAC experienced new developments. In addition to a radio broadcasting department, a video department was established. The 1995 annual budget provided $50,000 USD for both programs.30 New equipment was purchased, and studios were set up in China with the first in Fuzhou in 1995.31 In addition to Mandarin, the national language, radio programs in different dialects were added. Radio programs in minority languages such as Uigur and Tibetan were also developed. It was reported in 1996 that, according to a survey conducted by BBC, the “Voice of Hope” Mandarin program had attracted the most listeners among shortwave religious broadcasters. Many listeners became Adventist Christians, some became church workers, and several house churches were established.32

Likewise, major developments happened in literature and publishing work. Thanks to generous subsidies from the White Estate, EAA was able to translate and publish between six and ten Ellen G. White books each year. The publishing work also included Sabbath School lessons, devotional books, lay preacher training materials, English teaching materials, “Voice of Prophecy” lessons, gospel pamphlets, calendar cards, etc.33 The biggest accomplishment in EAA publishing work beginning in 1996 was the printing and distribution of most of the Adventist literature in China. Thus, EAA was able to meet the increasing demand for literature faster, safer, and cheaper. By 1997, a small publishing house with a staff of 13 was established in China, greatly expanding the publishing work of EAA.34

Meanwhile, there was a major shift regarding the witnessing and soul-winning work of English-language teachers in China. Instead of being sent to teach at different government schools, these teachers would now teach at the recently established San Yu International Language Institute. The institute was sponsored and financed by the Tianhai Foundation headed by S. J. Oh, a successful South Korean businessman in China. The foundation, an Adventist lay organization, was set up in October 1994 with EAC officers serving as either officers or members of the board.35 In addition to the language institute, the foundation also operated a NEWSTART center and an Adventist International Church in Beijing. It was reported in 1997 that the institute operated nine language schools, seven in Beijing and two in Shanghai, with 30 teachers and 2,800 students. Even with the government’s close scrutiny and frequent investigations, there were five baptisms in Beijing schools and two in Shanghai schools.36

The most remarkable development in Adventist Church work in China during EAA’s operation was the unprecedented church building projects. Two major factors contributed to this amazing growth. First, the church membership had grown close to 250,000 in 1999 and had outgrown the capacities of house churches, which were numbered at over 1,800.37 Of the 630 open churches, many were also filled beyond their seating capacities. Thus, there was an urgent and widespread need to expand the current church facilities or build new and larger church buildings. Second, the nationwide campaign of “Inviting Business and Attracting Investments” of the Chinese government made it possible for overseas individuals and organizations to provide financial assistance to build churches in China. The campaign even called for all government offices to meet a specific quota of overseas investment. For religious affairs offices, the best and perhaps only way to meet their quota was to accept and even encourage funding from abroad to build churches in their local areas. In fact, sometimes, the religious affairs offices even tried to persuade churches to build larger and more opulent churches than they actually needed.38

In 1995, EAA assisted in funding 12 church building projects ranging from $700 to $12,000 USD for each church, totaling around $50,000 USD.39 The numbers of EAA-assisted church building projects reached 57 in 1997 with the assisted amount ranging from $650 to $37,500 USD for each church, totaling over $360,000 USD. Two renovations and 18 reconstructions were completed, four churches were purchased, and 33 new buildings were constructed.40 Even though the government’s religious policy of three-self principles (self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting) still existed in name, in reality, the last principle was completely disregarded.

Two important events took place in 1997. The first was the restructuring of the Asia-Pacific Division (APD) (formerly Far Eastern Division) on January 1, and the second was the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty on July 1. Both had a significant impact on the status and operation of EAA. The latter’s impact was negative and immediate. Several weeks before and after the handover, Chinese authorities intensified border inspections in order to ensure a smooth handover. Unacceptable items were confiscated instead of allowing travelers to reclaim them upon returning to Hong Kong, as was the past practice. Those who carried such items were ordered to register their names and ID numbers and thus potentially be blacklisted. The situation was so intense that EAA had to temporarily suspend its regular literature delivery programs. Fortunately, the situation did not last long, and the handover’s negative impact on Adventist church work was short-lived. It seemed that, in general, people’s lives remained more or less the same in Hong Kong before and after the handover.

The restructuring of APD resulted in the organization of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD) and the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD), and EAA was to be included in NSD’s territories.41 This new organizational structure would have a long-term but not immediate impact on the work of EAA. At first, the reorganization might have seemed negative for EAA as it appeared that EAA had been downgraded from a mission field of the GC to a field of a division. On the contrary, this new organizational structure was expected to have a significant positive impact on EAA’s work based on the following. First, ideally, a division would be in a better position than the GC to offer the necessary attention and assistance to the work of a field. Second, the relatively small size of NSD would be more likely to make that ideal a reality. Third, the work of the three other unions in NSD’s territories was well established and settled into decided patterns. Therefore, the newly-organized NSD could give more attention and assistance to the China field, which was relatively new, and greatly contribute to the future development of the church’s work in this field.

The Reorganization into Chinese Union Mission

In 1999, with China’s continuous opening up to the outside world and the stable condition of Hong Kong following the handover, the GC voted to merge EAA and South China Island Union Mission, both located in Hong Kong, into one organization named the Chinese Union Mission.42 Adventist believers in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau were brought together under one roof. With a desire to change the status quo regarding the existing church entities,43 it was envisioned that the new organization would generate a new and strong momentum to carry out the great commission of Jesus Christ in this part of God’s vineyard.

Sources

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, May 12, 1995, Action 1995.080. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, October 25, 1995, Action 1995.168. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, December 15, 1995, Action 1995.207. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, February 13, 1996, Action 1996.048. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, February 13, 1996, Action 1996.050. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, January 15, 1997, Action 1997.018. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee minutes, November 11, 1998, Action 1998.179. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Administrative Committee Minutes Index, 1998 Sponsorships-AIIAS. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association and South China Island Union Mission Survey Commission Report, General Conference Administrative Committee minutes, January 12, 1999, 177-99G. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

East Asia Association Executive Committee Annual Council minutes, November 20, 1997, Action 1997.044. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Executive Committee minutes, December 18, 1995, Action 1995.036. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

East Asia Association Executive Committee Yearend Meeting minutes, December 3, 1996, Action 1996.040. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

“East Asia Association,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1999, 243.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, March 4, 1985, 85-13, 15. General Conference archives B674.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, October 10, 1985, 85-7. General Conference archives B674, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, January 23, 1987, 87-4. General Conference archives B674, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, February 7, 1991. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, July 24, 1991. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, March 19, 1992. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, October 6, 1992. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, February 17, 1993. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

Eastern Asia Committee minutes, October 9, 1994. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

General Conference Administrative Committee minutes, January 22, 1985, 85-13. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Administrative Committee minutes, November 4, 1985, 85-156. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Administrative Committee minutes, January 23, 1991, 91-21. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Committee Annual Council minutes, October 7, 1994, 94-355, General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Committee Annual Council minutes, September 29, 1999, 99-88. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Committee Spring Meeting minutes, April 6, 1989, 89-144, General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

General Conference Committee Spring Meeting minutes, April 8, 1993, 93-38. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

Samuel Young. “Restoration.” In History of China Division. Hong Kong: Chinese Union Mission, 2002.

Samuel Young. “Fu Yuan.” In Zhong Hua Sheng Gong Shi, Chinese SDA History. Hong Kong: Chinese Union Mission, 2002.

Notes

  1. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, January 15, 1997, Action 1997.018. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  2. Samuel Young, “Restoration” in History of China Division, “Fu Yuan” in Zhong Hua Sheng Gong Shi (Hong Kong: Chinese Union Mission, 2002), p. 148.

  3. Personal observation.

  4. General Conference Administrative Committee, January 22, 1985, 85-13. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  5. Eastern Asia Committee, March 4, 1985, 85-13, 15. General Conference archives B674.

  6. Eastern Asia Committee, October 10, 1985, 85-25. General Conference archives B674.

  7. General Conference Administrative Committee, November 4, 1985, 85-156. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD, USA.

  8. General Conference Administrative Committee, June 1, 1987, 87-138. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  9. Eastern Asia Committee, April 1, 1990, 90-9. General Conference archives B674.; and General Conference Administrative Committee, June 1, 1987, 87-138. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  10. General Conference Administrative Committee, January 23, 1991, 91-21. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD, USA.

  11. General Conference Committee Spring Meeting, April 8, 1993, 93-38. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  12. Eastern Asia Committee, February 22, 1985, 85-7. General Conference archives B674, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  13. Eastern Asia Committee, January 23, 1987, 87-4. General Conference archives B674, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  14. General Conference Committee Spring Meeting, April 6, 1989, 89-144. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  15. Eastern Asia Committee, February 7, 1991. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  16. Eastern Asia Committee, July 24, 1991. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  17. Eastern Asia Committee, March 19, 1992. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  18. Ibid.

  19. General Conference Committee Annual Council, October 7, 1994, 94-355. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  20. Eastern Asia Committee, October 9, 1994. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  21. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, October 25, 1995, Action 1995.168. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  22. East Asia Association Executive Committee, December 18, 1995, Action 1995.036. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.; East Asia Association Administrative Committee, December 15, 1995, Action 1995.207. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  23. Global Mission Department Report, East Asia Association Executive Committee Yearend Meeting, December 3, 1996, Action 1996.040. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  24. Global Mission Department Report, Appendix 1, East Asia Association Executive Committee Annual Council, November 20, 1997, Action 1997.044. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  25. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, February 13, 1996, Action 1996.050. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  26. East Asia Association Executive Committee, June 30, 1998, Action 1998.024. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  27. Personal observation.

  28. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, November 11, 1998, Action 1998.179. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  29. East Asia Association Administrative Committee Minutes Index, 1998 Sponsorships-AIIAS. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  30. East Asia Association Executive Committee, December 18, 1995, Action 1995.036. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  31. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, May 12, 1995, Action 1995.080. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  32. Radio Broadcasting Department Report, East Asia Association Executive Committee Yearend Meeting, December 3, 1996, Action 1996.040. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  33. Ibid.; Publishing Department Report.

  34. President’s Report, East Asia Association Executive Committee Annual Council, November 20, 1997. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  35. EAC, October 24, 1994. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  36. Tianhai Foundation Report, East Asia Association Executive Committee Annual Council, November 20, 1997. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  37. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, “East Asia Association” (Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1999), 243.

  38. Personal observation.

  39. East Asia Association Administrative Committee, February 13, 1996, Action 1996.048. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  40. Global Mission Department Report, East Asia Association Executive Committee Annual Council, November 20, 1997. Chinese Union Mission digital file, Hong Kong.

  41. General Conference Committee Annual Council, October 6, 1996, 96-171. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  42. General Conference Committee Annual Council, September 29, 1999, 99-88. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

  43. East Asia Association and South China Island Union Mission Survey Commission Report, General Conference Administrative Committee, January 12, 1999, 177-99G. General Conference archives digital file, Silver Spring, MD. USA.

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Hsu, Eugene King-yi. "East Asia Association." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 13, 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7H34.

Hsu, Eugene King-yi. "East Asia Association." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 13, 2021. Date of access April 15, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7H34.

Hsu, Eugene King-yi (2021, April 13). East Asia Association. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 15, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7H34.