Christianity and Empire: The Catholic Mission in Late Imperial China

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Reflecting on the theme of 'Empire and Christianity', this article compares two periods in the Catholic mission to China. The first period, between 1583 and 1800, was characterized by the accommodation of European missionaries to the laws, culture and customs of the Chinese empire during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The work of the Jesuits, in particular, demonstrated a method of evangelization in which Christian teachings could be accommodated to the political realities of Late Imperial China as exemplified by the work of Matteo Ricci, Ferdinand Verbiest, Tomas Pereira, Joachim Gerbillon and many generations of Jesuits and missionaries of other religious orders. The Chinese Rites Controversy, however, disrupted this accommodation between Christianity and empire in China. Despite tacit toleration in the capital, Christianity was outlawed after 1705. After the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, Catholicism in China became increasingly indigenized. In 1842, after the defeat of the Qing empire by the British in the First Opium War, the prohibition of Christianity was lifted. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries entered China, backed by Western diplomatic and military power. This led to the confrontation between China and Christianity, culminating in the 1900 Boxer Uprising. A concerted effort to indigenize Christianity in the early twentieth century ultimately failed, resulting in the separation of Christianity in China from global Christianity after 1950.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-224
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in Church History
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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