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An Intercultural Interpretation of Integral Human Development in a Chinese Cultural Context: Implications to Spirituality of Ageing


Dr. Christine Tin-Chi LAI

Research Associate   

Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge

Ageing is always being perceived as despair, lost and frailty in our culture. However, ageing can also be seen as wisdom and growth when tapping into our rich cultural resources and spirituality. By focusing on the intercultural perspectives on spirituality and integral ageing, one could view ageing as a journey progressing towards the pursuit of ultimate meaning of life and transcendence. The present paper adopts the concept of “integral human development” advocated by Pope Francis and Catholic social teaching to study these issues in an intercultural context of Hong Kong.


Hong Kong is moving to an ageing population as the population has undergone an ageing trend since the early 2000s, and the proportion of people aged 65 and above is projected to rise to 32 percent by 2041 and consequently the median age of the population will increase to 51.8 percent as reported in the Legislative Council of 2015. That is to say, one-third of the population will become older people by 2041. At the same time, Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city in China with both strong Chinese and international mixing of culture. This offers a unique context for practical theology in which the western Christian faith interacts with Chinese cultural wisdom traditions.


Many Christians living in a dynamic and international context of Hong Kong are under the influence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. The traditional Confucian and Buddhist values of individual and familial support to the aged are still dominant and important. They have different understanding of ageing accompanied by challenges of sickness and death. The Christian communities have been trying to address the needs of elderly. The gap of developing a deeper level of spiritual understanding of the needs of this ageing population with a more integral human development for the communities becomes more obvious.


Pope Francis advocates a new approach to look at life, placing humanity in relationship to society, nature and God. Through the intercultural lens of Chinese wisdom cultural tradition, the understanding of Pope Francis’s teaching of “integral human development” could be broadened and deepened which, in turn, helps provide a conceptual framework of exploring the spirituality of ageing in the Chinese context. Under this intercultural interpretative framework, the paper will also demonstrate how interculturality may present a new perspective into the study of spirituality of ageing.


Dr Christine Lai is a scholar-in-practice and practical theologian integrating theology, work-life experience and spirituality. She is concurrently a Research Associate at Cambridge Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology (MBIT) and HK Bioethics Resource Centre, Guest Professor on Spirituality at Hong Kong Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, Co-supervisor of Professional Doctorate of practical theology students at Anglia Ruskin University and Wesley house, Spiritual advisor and Integral care and wellness consultant at Caritas HK and founder of Management of Heart & Associates Consultancy.

Dr Lai’s first Doctorate of Business Administration at HK Polytechnic University was on “Social Capital, Interpersonal and Organizational Trust” and her second Professional Doctorate of Practical Theology at Anglia Ruskin University under Cambridge Theology Federation was “Midlife transformation of Christian professionals in HK, evolving a spiritual practice model.” Her current research is on “Spirituality of Ageing and Integral Human Development: an intercultural approach” adopting the Papal teaching of “Integral Human Development” and had been applied at the 8th Bioethics Conference on “Spiritual care for ageing well and dying well: a Catholic spiritual response” in June 2022.

Her key publications include: “Towards a Model of Spiritual Practice for the Spiritual Transformation of Midlife Christian professionals in Hong Kong” in Theology Annual Journal 41 (2021); “Spirituality of Ageing for Human Flourishing: Towards a New Paradigm of Economics” in Macau Ricci Institute Journal, MRIJ 7 (2021). Her key conference presentations include: “Elderly Care from the Chinese “Yuan Rong” 圓融 (Integral) perspective” organized by Beijing Yale Center;  “Daoism and Integral human development” at 8th UNESCO Forum on Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion; “Spiritual Practice Model: Transformation of midlife Christian professionals in Hong Kong” organized by Religion and Culture Department, HK Chinese University and AAPT and “Spirituality of Integral Human Development for Ageing: an intercultural dimension” at Oxford McDonald Center of Theology Ageing Conference.

Dr Lai is the Vice President of HK Yuan Dao study society and partner with MBIT organizing webinars on the theme: “Living out traditions in contemporary world: an intercultural and interreligious approach”. She is also the International Vice President of Asia Academy of Practical Theology as well as board member of Lifeinhering NGO advocating Satir model on end-of-life.

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