A lot has been said about Unreached People Groups (UPGs). In this post I am not attempting to minimize the massive need to reach villages and tribes tucked away deep in mountain ranges, that have never heard the name of Jesus. But bear with me as I share with you about a different kind of UPG – one scattered throughout urban China. Of whom am I speaking? The 低头族 (dītóu tribe). Literally translated, we are talking about the “head-down tribe”.
The emergence of smart technology has transformed urban society over the last decade. Whereas teaching here used to consist of boisterous chatting and laughter during breaks between classes, now, those 5-10 minutes are filled with silence as students sink their heads into their devices. This phenomenon extends far beyond the classroom and, whilst may be comedic in some situations, is devastating in others, an issue frequently discussed by the Chinese media.
Last year, one news article not only highlighted stories of accidents and casualties caused by this “tribe’s” preoccupation with their screens, but also commented on the social disorder that has resulted from it.
“The greatest distance on earth,” some netizens have said, “is not that between life and death, but rather that when we’re together, your head is glued to your phone.”
This “phone dependency disorder” is further highlighted by a survey conducted by a university in Beijing that revealed 77% of people kept their phones on for over 12 hours a day, 33.55% for 24 hours, while 65% claimed to feel some measure of anxiety if they weren’t near their phones, and over 90% were unable to be without their phones.
When I see my students with their heads down, when I navigate my way through bustling streets (often one of the few people watching where they’re going), the old chorus based on Psalm 3 “Thou O LORD Art a Shield About Me” often comes to mind. The context is totally different to both the psalmist and song writer, but I ask, Lord, would You be the “lifter of my head” – the lifter of their heads! In a society where so many have their eyes glued to light-emanating, manmade screens, would He cause His children to be a people who keeps their heads up to see the needs of those around them. And would He, in His grace, cause those among the “head-down tribe” of China to move away from dependency on their devices, to dependency on their Maker.
For only in Him is there life, and that life is the light of men.