Special Report: Mormons In China

Brother and Sister Franks and their five youngest children have been living in China for several months, and will continue living there for several more months. Brother and Sister Franks are long time members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have served in various callings at the ward and stake level. They are one of the most impressive families I have ever met, and were somewhat of the backbone of our ward. I miss them very much.

Brother Franks is the CEO of the company I work for, and is leading an effort to give our company a presence in China in the hopes of opening up new markets for our products and services. They have decided to live in China as a family during this exciting time. I asked Sister Franks if she would be willing to answer a few questions to satisfy my curiosity and provide what I expect is some interesting information.

Sister Franks, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

Where in China do you live?

We live in Suzhou which is about an hour away from Shanghai. We are in the new part of the city called the Suzhou Industrial Park where there is much new development. Many foreign companies are located in this area.

What are your living conditions? How do they relate to general conditions in China, and what you were used to in the U.S.?

We live in a furnished, very modern townhouse. We have all the conveniences that we did in the States. There are a few differences, but those relate more to location and culture, not lack of technology. For instance, our house didn’t have an oven or dishwasher when we moved in. The oven was something we had to add and we just do dishes by hand. Chinese don’t use ovens so they aren’t in very many homes. We were able to purchase one, but the selection was limited at the store-2 models-and they had to order it. There are some housing complexes that have ovens and dishwashers but those are generally places that cater to Westerners. We opted to live in a complex that wasn’t just foreigners. We were used to a big backyard in the U.S and here we have no yard, but the house has several balconies which we love. We also have nice paths and parks in our complex. Carpeting is another thing that is rare in China but we like that. Our main level floors are big marble-looking tiles and the rest of the levels are dark wood.

I’m not sure how this relates to all of China because we have really seen a very small part of China, but our kind of place is very common in this area. There is so much new construction going on in Suzhou, Shanghai and other towns we’ve passed through. Many beautiful apartment buildings are going up. We have seen apartments and homes much more expensive than ours and we have seen places that are quite rustic. There are very few individual homes with yards. Because of the population and relative lack of space, the Chinese build up instead of out.

Our kitchen is small but it is one of the bigger ones I’ve seen here. We have a regular-sized refrigerator and most are smaller. Many Chinese still do not have refrigerators but I don’t know if that is true in the cities or how quickly it is changing.

We don’t drink the water, but neither do many Chinese. Bottled water is delivered to our door from a place near our home. The delivery guy comes on a little motorized bike thing.

Do they have anything besides Chinese food? How does the food compare to the ‘Golden Buddha’ or similar places?

If you know where to look you can find almost anything in Suzhou. There are many restaurants. Italian, German, Korean, Indian, Sports Bars, traditional Chinese, Japanese. Of course, many foods are not quite the same. Pizza usually tastes a bit different, but not always bad. Pizza Hut is here and we can get “American Classic” pizza which is pepperoni there. They also have tuna pizza on the menu. There are also several McDonald’s and KFCs. McDonald’s is almost the same with a few additions to the menu such as corn and green tea shakes. KFC is pretty different. KFC is quite popular because the Chinese like chicken. There aren’t many other “fast foods” other than small vendors of meat-on-a-stick or fruit or Chinese dumplings.

Meat is a favorite food generally. There is meat candy which is kind of like jerky I think, and there are many meat-flavored potato chips. My friend recently found salmon-flavored chocolate chip granola bars.

The Chinese food is definitely not the same as back home. Some things are better. Some things are very different. China has many regional specialties so the food can vary as you travel the country.

Grocery shopping is different. There are some big supermarkets but most of the food is Chinese. We’ve been here long enough that I know where most of the foods are that are familiar to us. I can get yogurt, juice, meat, spaghetti fixings, flour, sugar, tuna,crackers, rice, jam and cleaning supplies at the supermarket. There are also several smaller shops that carry Western items that are imported. We were excited to find things such as pancake syrup, cereal, soup, and corn chips. We limit ourselves with these things because they are more expensive than local foods. A great thing is the fresh market that is within walking distance of our place. We can get inexpensive fresh fruits, vegetables and meat all year round. We haven’t bought meat there yet, but we have great fruits and vegetables all of the time.

What is being a member of the church like in China? Are you able to attend church? Are you part of a ward and stake? Any of the programs of the church available?

We are members of a branch in Shanghai and meet with members there. Those of us in Suzhou usually meet as a group so we don’t have to drive to Shanghai each week. Chinese citizens are not allowed to attend the meetings, but there are people from several countries who do. We have friends at Church from the U.S., Japan, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand,… The Church is not officially recognized in China so there are no wards or stakes. The church leaders make it very clear that we respect the government of China so there is no proselyting.

We have found the people to be very friendly and nice to us. They are usually anxious to say hello and try out their English. Many people stop and watch us but it isn’t unfriendly. They are just interested in seeing white people. When we go to tourist sites, we often become part of the attraction. People ask to be able to have their pictures taken with our children.

We are trying to learn some Chinese but it is very difficult. We are very appreciative of how willing people are to find someone who speaks English or to wait while we call someone on the cell phone who can translate for us. It is their country and we should speak their language, but they are not rude when we cannot. We are at least learning enough to be polite. The lady that I buy things from at the fruit market is learning English names for fruits so she can communicate better with me!

We’ve had a few young people approach us to get acquainted. They’ve gone out of their ways to help us after that. One young girl helped us ride the bus for the first time. That made sound easy, but the signs at the bus stops are only in Chinese characters so she helped us know which but to get on.

Do you experience noticeable restrictions on your freedom?

We really have not. When we first arrived I noticed all the guards at housing complexes and the kids’ school and that seemed strange, but I’ve found out they are security guards. They aren’t watching us, they’re working for the complex or the school and are making sure no one enters who isn’t supposed to.

While we’ve been in China, we’ve travel led freely. Our only restriction has been our own ignorance of the language. That makes it challenging to know exactly where we’re going or how to get there.

What do you sense about the future of China in terms of the gospel and prosperity?

In terms of prosperity, the Chinese people are very resourceful and many are hardworking. They make the most of opportunities and I see great advancements in their living conditions. The country has made great strides in catching up in terms of technology and modernization. It is amazing to see the growth.

In terms of the gospel, I don’t know. The Church will not do anything sneaky so unless laws change there won’t be a change. For now, we are grateful that we are allowed to meet together with other foreign members.

Do you have any thoughts or experiences you would like to share?

Our children attend an English-speaking international school. The majority of students are Asian but no native Chinese are students there. My children have friends and teachers from all over the world now which has been interesting. When we move back to the U.S. they’ll miss friends from Australia, Spain, England, Korea, Finland, Germany, Taiwan, France, Italy, Singapore,and Japan. The school is pretty challenging academically but the international experience has been very good for them and us.

Thanks again Sister Franks. I am glad that things are going so well for you and your family. I guess I do not feel as ‘sorry’ for you as I did. Sounds like you are having a good time. You are coming back right? Sister Franks?

12 Responses to “Special Report: Mormons In China”

  1. 1 Michelle January 15, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like it really is an amazing experience for them. What an opportunity for the children, too. International experiences are something else!

  2. 2 Eric Nielson January 16, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Yes. It sounds like they are doing just fine.

    I had this image of Sister Franks and her beautiful children working in the rice fields. Walking around ankle deep in muddy water with a bamboo poll across their backs and heavy baskets on each end. They were all wearing the big straw umbrella shaped hats, and working all day long. At the end of the day they would go to their grass shack, sit around a singel candle and eat raw rice while they stared at each others dirty faces.

    I don’t feel as sorry for them as I did.

  3. 3 Steve M. January 16, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Interesting post. Thanks.

    I would like to quickly add a little bit relating to this comment made in the post: “Chinese citizens are not allowed to attend the meetings.”

    According to a fireside I attended in Hong Kong that was conducted by Elder Chia, an area authority seventy who resides in Beijing, as well as interactions I have had with Mormons native to the PRC, native Chinese members of the Church are allowed to meet in their own, informal groups to partake of the sacrament and discuss the gospel on Sundays. These groups exist throughout China, in most of the major cities and many smaller cities as well. However, although Elder Chia helps organize and regulate these groups, they are not official units of the Church.

    There are, however, a small number of official, native Chinese branches of the Church in the PRC (separate from the expatriate branches). Two such branches were organized in December 2003, one in Beijing and one in Shanghai (I’m good friends with a PRC native who attends the Shanghai branch; I also confirmed the existence and legitimacy of these branches with Elder Garn, the current Asia Area President).

  4. 4 Connor January 16, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Very interesting. Being the politically minded person I am, I’d be curious to hear of Brother Franks’ business interactions with persons in communist China. How long do they plan on staying there, any idea? Quite the adventure!

  5. 5 Jordan January 16, 2007 at 11:10 am

    How interesting, Eric! Thanks for posting this!

  6. 6 Eric Nielson January 16, 2007 at 4:17 pm


    Thanks for your additional insight!


    I don’t know all the details. From what I understand the company has bought a controling interest in one of our competitors, which will give us a chance to open up new markets in China.

    I believe the plan is that their family will be there for a couple of years.


    Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. 7 Kelly Franks January 17, 2007 at 8:42 am

    When we came to China, we expected to be here from one to three years. The business set-up is going well enough that we will probably be back in the U.S. after just one year.

    Also, Steve, you are correct that native Chinese meet together. The Shanghai branch meets in the same building as the expatriate branches in Shanghai. We just are not allowed to meet with them.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson January 17, 2007 at 10:32 am

    It will be great to have your family back here. The young women’s program just isn’t the same!

  9. 9 Steve M. January 17, 2007 at 10:55 am

    The Shanghai branch meets in the same building as the expatriate branches in Shanghai. We just are not allowed to meet with them.

    Huh. Interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  10. 10 Riki February 14, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Hi, My name is Riki. Im from australia and have just moved to Suzhou and was wondering if you had any info or contact details on where i can attend church in Suzhou or Shanghai. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  11. 11 Eric Nielson February 15, 2007 at 7:34 am

    Hi Riki.

    I will try and contact Sister Franks and see what we can do.

  12. 12 eshish April 2, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative
    in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on.
    You have done a wonderful job!

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