Suppression and survival of Christianity 17241815

From the early eighteenth century the toleration of Christianity in China was being increasingly questioned. Indeed, in January 1721 the Kangxi emperor indicated that he wished to proscribe this troublesome creed. It was, however, not until January 1724, shortly after the accession of the Yongzheng emperor, that an edict proscribing Christianity was actually issued. The foreign missionaries were deported to Canton and, later, to Macao (except those who worked at the court and those who had managed to hide in the provinces). Urban churches were gradually closed and converted into temples, granaries, schools, or other public facilities. Initially, there was no large-scale persecution of Chinese Christians or of missionaries working clandestinely in the provinces. From time to time new missionaries even managed to enter China. The first local persecution seems to have occurred in Fujian in late 1733. For the remainder of the eighteenth century, there were periodic local persecutions, but these were 'usually followed by a period of comparative quiet, with opportunity for recuperation'.19 Only the persecutions in the late 1740s and the mid-i780s can be described as anti-Christian agitation on a large scale. Nevertheless, in the long run the climate of hostility forced a gradual retreat of Catholicism into the remoter parts of rural China.

While much has been written about the work of foreign missionaries in the Manchu Empire, the contribution made by indigenous Christians is alluded to only in passing. Yet a careful examination of the history of the China missions reveals that from the beginning, Chinese Christians were vital to the introduction, preservation and subsequent expansion of Christianity in the country. Given the extreme paucity of European missionaries, the vast size of China and the many social and linguistic problems that foreign priests had to face, Rome soon came to recognize the importance of training a native clergy. Indeed, as early as i659 the newly appointed vicars apostolic were instructed by Propaganda Fide to train indigenous priests who could read Latin, even if they did not understand it. In 1666 the Missions Etrangeres de Paris opened a central seminary in Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam, to prepare Chinese, Vietnamese and other East Asians for the priesthood. When the Burmese invaded the Siamese capital in i767, the seminary was first moved to Hon-dat near Ha-tien, Vietnam, and soon afterwards to Virampatnam near Pondicherry in French India - where it remained until its closure in 1781. In 1807 a new Missions Etrangeres de Paris seminary was established in Penang in the Strait of Malacca, a British possession since 1786.

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