By Aubrey Way
In East Asia, there is a phrase frequently used by college students as they anticipate graduation and the job hunt: zou hou men (走后门). Literally, it means “go in through the back door.” It refers to using relational connections (guanxi) to gain some advantage in a situation. For instance, these connections can help one find a job. While in the U.S. we might say, “It’s not what you know; it's who you know,” that phrase is exponentially truer in East Asia.
Zou hou men can certainly have negative connotations, but at its root the phrase belies a difference in values between the cultures in the U.S. and East Asia. Americans often prioritize laws at the expense of relationships. Asians often prioritize relationships at the expense of laws. These are broad generalizations to be sure, but they are not completely without merit. The prevalence of zou hou men in East Asia is a prime example of favoring relationship over law (the law of the meritocracy).
When we talk about the gospel in the U.S., we almost always talk about it as an issue of law. God gave us the rules, we broke them, Jesus kept them, but he still subjected himself to the penalty on our behalf, so that we could be freed from the penalty. It is no surprise that many of the most influential figures in Western theology, at one point were, or were on their way to becoming lawyers (Tertullian, Luther, Calvin, etc.). For a culture whose dominant paradigm is the law and rights, this seems appropriate. How might this be different for a culture with a different dominant paradigm?
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