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We have fraternal communion with the Catholic Church in China

The Catholic Church in China (called Tiānzhǔ Jiào, 天主敎, literally, "Religion of the Lord of Heaven", after the term for God traditionally used in Chinese by Catholics) has a long and complicated history. Christianity has existed in China in various forms since at least the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century AD. Following the 1949 takeover by the Communist Party of China, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant missionaries were expelled from the country, and the religion was vilified as a manifestation of western imperialism. In 1957, the Chinese government established the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which rejects the authority of the Holy See and appoints its own bishops. Since September 2018, however, the Papacy has the power to veto any Bishop which the Chinese government recommends.


Yuan (1271–1368) Dynasty

Catholic Church in Mongolia and Europeans in Medieval China

The Nestorian Christian and Turkic Chinese monk Rabban Bar Sauma (c. 1220–1294) travelled from China to Europe to meet Pope Nicholas IV.

Missionary priests of the Latin Catholic Church in Europe are first recorded to have entered China in the 13th century. The Italian Franciscan priest John of Montecorvino arrived in Beijing (Khanbalik) in 1294. In 1299 he built a church and in 1305 a second opposite the imperial palace. Having made a study of the local language, he began to translate the New Testament and the Psalms. Estimates of converts range from 6,000 to 30,000 by the year 1300. In 1307 Pope Clement V sent seven Franciscan bishops to consecrate John of Montecorvino as Archbishop of Peking. The three who survived the journey did so in 1308 and succeeded each other as bishops at Zaiton, where John had established. In 1312 three more Franciscan bishops arrived from Rome to aid John until his death in 1328. He converted Armenians in China and Alans in Beijing to Catholicism. Armenians in Quanzhou were also Franciscan Catholics. The Franciscan Odoric of Pordenone visited China during this era. Katarina Vilioni's Catholic tombstone was found in Yangzhou.

The mission had some success during the rule of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, but various factors led to an ultimate shrinking of the mission. Six centuries later, however, John of Montecorvino's attempt at the translation of the Bible became the inspiration for another Franciscan, the Blessed Gabriele Allegra, to go to China and in 1968 complete the first translation of the Catholic Bible into the Chinese language, after a 40-year personal effort.

Hayton of Corycus wrote about China.

It was reported that competition with the Catholic Church and Islam were also factors in causing Nestorian Christianity to disappear in China – see Nestorianism in China – since "controversies with the emissaries of .... Rome, and the progress of Mohammedanism, sapped the foundations of their ancient churches. The Catholics considered Nestorianism as heretical.

Armenian King Hethum IGiovanni da Pian del Carpine, and William Rubruck visited Mongolia.

Ming (1368–1644) Dynasty[edit]

Main article: Jesuit China missions

Further information: Prospero IntorcettaPhilippe CoupletXu GuangqiMichael Shen Fu-Tsung, and Arcadio Huang

During the Catholic Reformation's explosion of missionary efforts around the world, particularly in Asia, Jesuit and other Catholic missionaries attempted to enter China. They had mixed success at first, but eventually came to have a strong impact, particularly in inter-cultural scientific and artistic exchanges among the upper classes of China and the imperial court.

The permanent mission was established in 1601 by the efforts of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci. His whole approach was quite subtle, interesting the Emperor and the Chinese authorities in aspects of western technology and learning as a point of opening. He also made attempts to reconcile Christianity with the Classic Confucian texts, though he was hostile, along with the other members of the Society of Jesus, to Taoism and Buddhism.

Ricci died in 1610 but the Jesuit mission went on to become an important part of the Imperial civil service right into the 18th century. In 1644 a German Jesuit, Adam Schall von Bell, was appointed Director of the Board of Astronomy by the new Qing dynasty. Jesuits were also given posts as mechanics, musicians, painters, instrument makers, and in other areas that required technical expertise.

Qing (1644–1911) Dynasty.

The Jesuits' pragmatic accommodation with Confucianism was later to lead to conflict with the Dominican friars, who came to Beijing from the Philippines in the middle of the century. Dominican leader Domingo Fernández Navarrete in responding to the question "Was Confucius saved?" said that since Greek philosophers such as SocratesPlatoAristotleSeneca, and others were all damned "how much the more Confucius, who was not worthy to kiss their feet"? In responding, António de Gouveia, a Portuguese Jesuit, said that Confucius was certainly saved, "which is more than can be said for King Philip IV of Spain.

Due to the Chinese rites controversy, the Kangxi Emperor banned Christianity in China after 1715, saying "Westerners are trivial; how could they understand Chinese great philosophy? in addition, no Westerners know the Chinese classics. Their discussions (of Chinese philosophy) are ridiculous. In my view, the missionaries' talk is the same as those heretic Buddhist monks, Taoists, and other superstitions. The (knowledge of) Westerners is no more than this (the missionaries' talk). We could simply forbid them from spreading their religion in China, for the sake of avoiding troubles." ("只說得西洋人等小人,如何言得中國人之大理?況西洋人等,無一人通漢書者,說言議論,令人可笑者多。今見來臣告示,竟與和尚道士異端小教相同。彼此亂言者,莫過如此。以後不必西洋人在中國行教,禁止可也,免得多事。")

Under the "fundamental laws" of China, one section is titled "Wizards, Witches, and all Superstitions, prohibited." The Jiaqing Emperor in 1814 added a sixth clause in this section with reference to Christianity. It was modified in 1821 and printed in 1826 by the Daoguang Emperor. It sentenced Europeans to death for spreading Catholic Christianity among Han Chinese and Manchus (Manchurian people, originally from North China). Christians who would not repent their conversion were sent to Muslim cities in Xinjiang, to be given as slaves to Muslim leaders and Baigs. Manchu Christians would also be removed from their Banner registers after being given as slaves to the Baigs.

The clause stated: "People of the Western Ocean, (Europeans or Portuguese,) should they propagate in the country the religion of heaven's Lord, (name given to Christianity by the Romanists,) or clandestinely print books, or collect congregations to be preached to, and thereby deceive many people, or should any Tartars or Chinese, in their turn, propagate the doctrines and clandestinely give names, (as in baptism,) inflaming and misleading many, if proved by authentic testimony, the head or leader shall be sentenced to immediate death by strangulations: he who propagates the religion, inflaming and deceiving the people, if the number be not large, and no names be given, shall be sentenced to strangulation after a period of imprisonment. Those who are merely hearers or followers of the doctrine, if they will not repent and recant, shall be transported to the Mohammedan cities (in Turkistan) and given to be slaves to the Baigs and other powerful Mohammedans who are able to coerce them. All civil and military officers who may fail to detect Europeans clandestinely residing in the country within their jurisdiction, and propagating their religion, thereby deceiving the multitude, shall be delivered over to the Supreme Board and be subjected to a court of inquiry.

Some hoped that the Chinese government would discriminate between Protestantism and Catholicism, since the law was directed at Catholicism, but after Protestant missionaries in 1835-6 gave Christian books to Chinese, the Daoguang Emperor demanded to know who were the "traitorous natives in Canton who had supplied them with books." The foreign missionaries were strangled or expelled by the Chinese.


Chinese seminarists in a Jesuit mission in 1900.

During the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901), Catholic missionaries and their families were murdered by Boxer rebels.

The Qing dynasty imperial government permitted French Catholic Christian missionaries to enter and proselytize in Tibetan lands, which weakened the control of the Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, who refused to give allegiance to the Chinese. The Tibetan Lamas were alarmed and jealous of Catholic missionaries converting natives to Catholicism. During the 1905 Tibetan Rebellion the Tibetan Buddhist Gelug Yellow Hat sect led a Tibetan revolt. The Lamas massacred Christian missionaries and native converts to Christianity and besieged Bat'ang, burning down the mission chapel and killing two foreign missionaries, Père Mussot and Père Soulié. The Chinese Amban's Yamen was surrounded and Chinese General Wu Yi-chung was shot dead in the Yamen by Lama forces. The Chinese Amban Feng and Commandant in Chief Li Chia-jui managed to escape by scattering rupees behind them, which the Tibetans proceeded to pick up. The Ambans reached Commandant Lo's place, but the 100 Tibetan troops serving under the Amban, armed with modern weaponry, mutinied when news of the revolt reached them. The Tibetan Lamas and their Tibetan followers besieged the Chinese Commandant Lo's palace along with local Christian converts. In the palace they killed all Christian converts, both Chinese and Tibetan.

Republic of China[edit]

Pope Pius XII and the Church in China

Republic of China – Holy See relations


Monseigneur Theodor Buddenbrock conducts missionary work in China 1927

After the Rites controversy of the late 17th century and early 18th century ended in the expulsion of missionaries from most of China, access to the people of China was difficult for the Catholic Church. The controversy revolved around the reluctance of the Church to recognize local Confucian customs of honouring deceased family members. To the Chinese, this was an ancient ritual; to the Vatican it was a religious exercise which conflicted with Catholic dogma.

In the 19th century, the French government had taken control of Catholics in China,[dubious – discuss] and the Catholic Church almost exclusively appointing French citizens as priests. The French also effectively blocked efforts of Pope Leo XII to establish direct relations with the government. After the Revolution of 1911, which led to the founding of the Republic of China, reform-minded priests such as Vincent Lebbe and prominent Catholic laymen such as Ma Xiangbo and Ying Lianzhi protested to Pope Benedict XV that the French who made up 70% of clergy and controlled the Chinese Church were chauvinist and disdainful of China. Chinese priests were discriminated against and many left the clergy, as Ma Xiangbo himself had done. Benedict directed the establishment of the Catholic University of Peking, which opened in 1925.

Within months of his election, Pope Pius XII issued a further change in policies. On 8 December 1939, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith issued — at the request of Pope Pius — a new instruction, by which Chinese customs were no longer considered superstitious, but instead an honourable way of esteeming one's relatives and therefore permitted by the Catholic Church.The government of the Republic of China established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1943. As the Church began to flourish, Pope Pius established a local ecclesiastical hierarchy and elevated the Archbishop of PekingThomas Tien Ken-sinSVD, to the Sacred College of Cardinals. After WWII, about four million Chinese were members of the Catholic Church. This was less than one percent of the population but numbers increased dramatically. In 1949, there existed:

Catholic scholar John Witek, SJ appraises the situation of Western missionization in the development of Catholicism in China and its impact on Chinese Christians in later eras:

Today there are villages in China that are very Christian. How and why is it that these people have rooted themselves despite the Cultural Revolution?" says Witek. Such endurance is evidence that Chinese Christians identified strongly with the teachings of Jesuit and other missionaries, and as such were not just passive subjects of Westernization.

People's Republic of China.

Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 by the Communist Party of China, Catholicism, like all religions, was permitted to operate only under the supervision of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. All legal worship was to be conducted through state-approved churches belonging to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which did not accept the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. In addition to overseeing the practice of the Catholic faith, the CPA espoused politically oriented objectives as well. Liu Bainian, chairman of the CPA and the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, stated in a 2011 interview that the church needed individuals who "love the country and love religion: politically, they should respect the Constitution, respect the law, and fervently love the socialist motherland.

Clergy who resisted this development were subject to oppression, including long imprisonments as in the case of Cardinal Kung, and torture and martyrdom as in the case of Fr. Beda Chang, S.J. Catholic clergy experienced increased supervision. Bishops and priests were forced to engage in degrading menial jobs to earn their living. Foreign missionaries were accused of being foreign agents, ready to turn the country over to imperialist forces.The Holy See reacted with several encyclicals and apostolic letters, including Cupimus ImprimisAd Apostolorum principis, and Ad Sinarum gentem.

Some Catholics who recognized the authority of the Holy See chose to worship clandestinely due to the risk of harassment from authorities. Several underground Catholic bishops were reported as disappeared or imprisoned, and harassment of unregistered bishops and priests was common.There were reports of Catholic bishops and priests being forced by authorities to attend the ordination ceremonies for bishops who had not gained Vatican approval.Chinese authorities also had reportedly pressured Catholics to break communion with the Vatican by requiring them to renounce an essential belief in Catholicism, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. In other instances, however, authorities permitted Vatican-loyal churches to carry out operations.

A major impediment to the re-establishment of relations between the Vatican and Beijing was the issue of who appoints the bishops. As a matter of maintaining autonomy and rejecting foreign intervention, the official church had no official contact with the Vatican and did not recognize its authority. In later years, however, the CPA allowed for unofficial Vatican approval of ordinations. Although the CPA continued to carry out some ordinations opposed by the Holy See, the majority of CPA bishops became recognized by both authorities.

In a further sign of rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing, Pope Benedict XVI invited four Chinese bishops, including two government recognized bishops, one underground bishop, and one underground bishop recently emerged into the registered church, to the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. Beijing, however, ultimately denied the four bishops the right to attend the meeting.

On 27 May 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Chinese Catholics "to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China. In this letter (section 9), Pope Benedict acknowledges tensions:

As all of you know, one of the most delicate problems in relations between the Holy See and the authorities of your country is the question of episcopal appointments. On the one hand, it is understandable that governmental authorities are attentive to the choice of those who will carry out the important role of leading and shepherding the local Catholic communities, given the social implications that – in China as in the rest of the world – this function has in the civil sphere as well as the spiritual. On the other hand, the Holy See follows the appointment of Bishops with special care since this touches the very heart of the life of the Church, inasmuch as the appointment of Bishops by the Pope is the guarantee of the unity of the Church and of hierarchical communion.

Underground bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar released a two-page pastoral letter in July 2007, asking his congregation to study and act on the letter of Pope Benedict XVI and naming the letter a "new milestone in the development of the Chinese Church. In September 2007, a coadjutor bishop for the Guiyang Diocese was jointly appointed by the Vatican and the Chinese official Catholic church.


A Catholic church on South China Sea coast (Cangnan County, Zhejiang)

The number of Catholics is hard to estimate because of the large number of Christians who do not affiliate with either of the two state-approved denominations.

The 2010 Blue Book of Religions, produced by the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a research institution directly under the State Council, estimates Catholics in China to number about 5.7 million. This Chinese government estimate only includes members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). It does not include un-baptized persons attending Christian groups, non-adult children of Christian believers or other persons under age 18, and unregistered Christian groups.

The Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, which monitors the number of Chinese Catholic members, estimated in 2012 that there were 12 million Catholics in both branches of the Catholic Church.

The Pew Center estimates in 2011 there are nine million Catholics on the mainland, 5.7 million of whom are affiliated with the CPA.

Hebei Province has the largest Catholic Christian population in China, with 1 million Church members according to the local government. Generally, Catholic institutions are dominant in North and Central regions of China.

Hong Kong and Macau:

The Catholic Church is allowed to operate freely in Macau and Hong Kong. In fact, Donald Tsang, the former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is a Catholic. Pope John Paul II was, however, denied a visit (which was deemed "inappropriate") to Hong Kong in 1999, by then Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa, who was in office from 1997 to 2005, a decision many believe was made under pressure from the central PRC government. The two territories are organized into the Diocese of Hong Kong and the Diocese of Macau.

Diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

People's Republic of China–Holy See relations

The issue of Sino-Vatican relations has been a highly contentious one and often difficult for both sides (see below). The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) is a division of China's Religious Affairs Bureau, and has oversight over China's Catholics. According to at least one source, however, China's Catholics, including its clergy and religious sisters, are no longer required to be members of the CCPA.

By 2007, the Vatican had indicated on multiple occasions that it desired to establish full diplomatic relations with China, and would be willing to move its embassy from Taiwan to mainland China if necessary. A major obstacle between the two sides remained the Catholic doctrine that only the pope can appoint bishops of the Church. Bishops in the CCPA were government-appointed, a frequent aggravating factor in Sino-Vatican relations.

Some, including Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, saw the progress between Vietnam and Vatican officials towards re-establishing full diplomacy as a model for Sino-Vatican normalization of relations. By late 2004, prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, Vatican and Chinese government representatives were in contact with the apparent goal of moving closer to the normalization of relations. In late 2004, John Paul II received a "quasi-official" Chinese delegation in the Vatican. These overtures continued after the installation of Benedict XVI as Pope.

Chinese terms for God and Christianity:

 Chinese names for the God of Abrahamic religions

Terms used to refer to God in Chinese differ even among Christians.

Arriving in China during the Tang dynasty, the earliest Christian missionaries from the Church of the East referred to their religion as Jǐngjiào (景教, literally, "bright teaching"). Originally, some Catholic missionaries and scholars advanced the use of Shàngdì (上帝, literally, "The Emperor from Above"), as being more native to the Chinese language, but ultimately the Catholic hierarchy decided that the more Confucian term, Tiānzhǔ (天主, literally, "Lord of Heaven"), was to be used, at least in official worship and texts. Within the Catholic Church, the term 'gōngjiào' (公教, literally "universal teaching") is not uncommon, this being also the original meaning of the word "catholic". When Protestants finally arrived in China in the 19th century, they favored Shangdi over Tianzhu. Many Protestants also use Yēhéhuá (耶和华, a transliteration of Jehovah)or Shén (神), which generically means "god" or "spirit", although Catholic priests are called shénfù (神父, literally "spiritual father"). Meanwhile, the Mandarin Chinese translation of "Christ", used by all Christians, is Jīdū (基督).

Catholics and Protestants:

The modern Chinese language generally divides Christians into two groups: adherents of Catholicism, Tiānzhǔjiào (天主教), and adherents of Jīdūjiào (基督教)—literally, "Christianity"— or Jīdū Xīnjiào (基督新教), "New Religion"- Protestantism. Chinese speakers see Catholicism and Protestantism as distinct religions, even though the degree of distinction is not made in the Western world. Thus, in Western languages, the term "Christianity" can subsume both Protestants and Catholics (i.e., Christians as opposed to, for example, Hindus or Jews). In Chinese, however, there is not a commonly used term that can subsume the two (but today in Chinese Catholic literature, the term "Jīdū zōngjiào" (基督宗教) is used to signify all Christian sects, as the term in Chinese means "religion of Christ"). Eastern Orthodoxy is called Dōngzhèngjiào (東正教), which is simply a literal translation of "Eastern Orthodox Religion" into Chinese.

September 2018 Holy See–China Agreement:

On 22 September 2018, China and the Vatican signed a historic agreement concerning the appointment of bishops in China. By this agreement the Chinese government also recognizes the pope as head of China's Catholics.China's foreign ministry said in a statement that the agreement also works to maintain communications and to improve relations between both sides. However, it does not establish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. The Vatican currently has diplomatic ties to the Republic of China (Taiwan), which the People's Republic of China does not recognize. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, speaking in Lithuania, described the agreement as "not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities. While the agreement states that China will recommend the Bishops before they are appointed by the Pope, it also stipulates that the Pope has authority to veto any Bishop which China recommends. Francis then approved seven bishops who had been appointed by Beijing, after withdrawing church censures against them and also against one recently deceased bishop who had received episcopal consecration without papal approval. On 23 September, the state-recognized Catholic Church in China pledged to remain loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Pope Francis' reflection on the agreement came out in the Message of Pope Francis to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church on 26 September 2018.

On 26 October 2018, Asia News reported that despite the agreement, the Chinese government decided to continue including the Catholic Church in its religious crackdown and destroyed two Marian shrines, one of which was located in Shanxi and the other located in Guizhou.

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