Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive


July 2021

History of Jesuits in China – Part 2

The frontispiece of Athanasius Kircher’s 1667 China Illustrata, depicting the Jesuit founders Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola adoring the monogram of Christ in Heaven while Johann Adam Schall von Bell and Matteo Ricci labor on the China mission.

1685 The first Chinese priest, Gregory Luo Wenzao, OP (1616-1691), is consecrated a Roman Catholic bishop in China. It was not until 1926 that other Chinese priests were consecrated bishops.

The six newly ordained Chinese bishops in Rome after their consecration by Pope Pius XI in 1926. The Chinese bishops are the three men to the far left and far right.

1692 Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) publishes an edict that expresses toleration of Christianity in China. The edict stated that “all temples dedicated to the Lord of heaven, in whatever place they may be found, ought to be preserved, and that it may be permitted to all who wish to worship this God to enter these temples, offer him incense, and perform the ceremonies practiced according to ancient custom by the Christians. Therefore, let no one henceforth offer them any opposition.”

LE COMTE, LOUIS DANIEL Memoirs and Observations Topographical Made in a Late Journey Through the Empire of China,1698.

What eventually put the brakes on Jesuit and Christian influence in China was a bitter controversy within the Catholic Church. The Jesuit missionaries contended that the Chinese public rites and the so-called ancestor worship were only civil in nature and not religious, while the missionaries of other orders insisted they were religious in nature and therefore Catholics should not take part in them.

Church of the Savior, or Xishiku cathedral 救世主堂.

1706 Emperor Kangxi retracts his support of Catholicism because of the Catholic debates over whether the traditional Chinese rites may be allowed for Christians. Most Roman Catholic missionaries are expelled from China.

Life And Works Of Confucius, 1687.

1715 Pope Clement XI in Rome decrees that the Chinese public rites and the so-called ancestor worship are idolatrous and must be strictly forbidden. This was the beginning of a long period of persecution and suppression of Christianity and the influence of the Jesuits outside of Beijing diminished greatly. (Pope Clement’s decree was reaffirmed in a decree of Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. It wasn’t until 1939 that Pope Pius XII finally rectified the decision and rescinded the prohibition.)

History of Jesuits in China – Part 1

Anyone who seriously studies recent China history, its first steps toward the modern world and its place on the international stage will encounter frequent mentions of “western learning”, “western scholars” and “western missionaries”. Among these references one will often find the “Society of Jesus” and “Jesuits”. Most people can guess that these names are somehow connected to Christianity, but beyond this they have little idea.

The Society of Jesus is a religious order of the Catholic Church. The priests and brothers who are its members, commonly called “Jesuits”, are not monks who spend their entire lives in the confines of their monasteries. Quite the opposite, they go to wherever they are needed, use whatever method they feel they can morally use to propagate the gospel and be of service to others.

1540 The Society of Jesus is founded by a Spanish Basque St. Ignatius Loyola 依那爵·罗耀拉. Practically from its beginning, China was a part of its missionary plan.

1542 The founder’s closest friend and dearest companion, St. Francis Xavier 圣方济各·沙勿略, who was to become known as the Apostle of East Asia, sets sail from Portugal first to India, then to Malacca and to Japan, until finally he is on a small island off the coast of China knocking on the door of the nation he most wanted to enter. Death overtook him in 1552 before his dream could be realized.

1552 Perhaps as a special gesture of divine providence, in the very year Francis Xavier died his successor is born, Matteo Ricci 利玛窦, who at the age of 30 manages to enter Canton in 1583 and then after 18 years of wandering in the south finally reachs Beijing in 1601. For 10 years through his formidable knowledge of mathematics and astronomy and his strenuous efforts to assimilate Chinese culture, Ricci’s rectitude and religious fervor were admired by all and deeply impressed the intellectuals. His substantial efforts to promote the exchange of eastern and western ideas led them to realize the interaction of mind and spirit. He shared with them the love of God for all men and for their salvation. The way Ricci conducted himself as a missionary has been followed by all the Jesuits who succeeded him. During the past several centuries, the Society of Jesus from beginning to end has played an important role in dialogue and interaction with Chinese culture, education and religion.

1644 In the first year of the Ching Dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor orders the missionaries to retain their previous important positions. For instance, Johann Adam Schall von Bell 汤若望 for eighteen years was in charge of the Observatory, achieving the highest possible rank of Guanglu Mandarin(光禄大夫). During the time of the Shunzhi Emperor, about 150,000 Chinese were baptized. By the time of the Kangxi Emperor there were 270,000. (During this time there were already other missionaries besides Jesuits in China.)

1669 Kangxi Emperor appoints the Belgian Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest 南怀仁 to take charge of the Beijing Observatory. During the Late Ming and Early Ching Dynasties, the influence of the Jesuits was not just religious. Most important perhaps was their introduction of western science, reform of the astronomical calendar, geography, mathematics, medicine, and physics, as well as philosophy, western liturgical music, art, and language. 

Many scholars of Chinese history have said that if the influence of the missionaries in the late Ming and Early Ching periods had been allowed to continue, the course of China’s later history would have been quite different, its entrance into the modern world sooner and the influence of China on the world much greater.

Stories of Chinese Porcelain

​Porcelain, also called Chinese ceramics, is one of humanity’s most ancient inventions. The stories behind this unique and exquisite material are fascinating, detailing how it made its way across the globe and gave the modern world the word “china”. 

The most important difference between pottery, primitive porcelain and real porcelain is temperature.

Porcelain was developed from pottery. China is the 1st country in the world to burn out porcelain. Around the Shang Dynasty, Chinese people were able to fire primitive porcelain. And the real successful firing of porcelain was in the Eastern Han Dynasty

In the Northern and Southern Dynasties, a new breakthrough is the white porcelain. Celadon contains green, blue, yellow, turquoise, and cyan; black porcelain contains brown and black; white porcelain may also be slightly yellow or slightly green.

The difference between them is the iron content in the glaze. 

In ancient times, the raw material ratio and temperature could not be controlled very well, so the glaze color was unstable and had strong randomness.

In the Tang Dynasty, white porcelain reached a point where it could compete with celadon, forming a situation of “South Qing North White“. The southern was Yue Kiln in Zhejiang, and the northern was from Xing Kiln in Hebei. 

There is a famous “Tang Sancai” in the Tang Dynasty. However, it is a kind of pottery fired at low temperature but it has multiple colors.

In the Song Dynasty, the famous “five famous kilns” are Ru, Guan, Brother, Jun and Ding.

“Ru Kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge Kiln and Jun Kiln” all belong to the celadon family, while “Ding Kiln” is mainly white porcelain.

The special one is Jun Kiln. The color of the glaze is determined by the iron content in it, and Jun Kiln added a little copper on this basis. As a result, it turned out a gradual purple red color. People praised Jun Kiln. as “one color into the kiln, come out with a million colors.” “入窑一色,出窑万彩”

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