History of Chinese Province

1540 The Society of Jesus is founded by a Spanish Basque St. Ignatius Loyola. Practically from its beginning China was a part of its missionary plan.
1542 The founder’s closest friend and dearest companion, St. Francis Xavier, 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, 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 for eighteen years was in charge of the Observatory, achieving the highest possible rank of Guanglu Mandarin. 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 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.

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.

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.)
1736 The Qianlong Emperor 13 years after the death of the Kangxi Emperor ascends the throne. He quite severely and drastically opposed evangelization. As soon as he began his reign he forbad all missionary activity under pain of death, which led to a bitter persecution of all missionaries and their followers with the exception of the Jesuit scholars in Beijing. It wasn’t because he had any respect for their faith or role as missionaries. Qianlong was a man of great talent and bold vision. What he appreciated was their scholarship in astronomy, geography and art, which added to his stature as a great talented and refined monarch.Among the illustrious Jesuits there during the time of the Qianlong Emperor was Brother Guiseppe Castiglione, a very talented Italian painter. Besides his familiar portraits of animals and palace courtesans, his most important contribution was to record for history Qianlong’s victorious military campaigns.

During Qianlong’s reign China expanded much in area, so it was important to prepare a new map of Chinese territory. Engaged in this long arduous work were two Jesuits Feli de Rocha and Jose d’Espinha. Fr, Michel Benoist was asked to address several technical problems and to construct a three dimensional map of the world. There were also other Jesuits such as Kilian Stupf, Ignace Kopler, and August von Hallerstein serving at the palace as experts in astronomy, the calendar, mechanics and music.

While throughout other parts of China Christians were suffering bitter persecution, the fact that this small band of Jesuits remained close to the emperor as scholars and artists not only met with criticism and opposition from other religious groups in China, it got them under fire in Rome.

Why were the Jesuits willing to remain as scholars and artists at the Court knowing they were opening themselves to disgrace and insults for appearing to be pawns of the anti-Christian heathen Emperor? It was because they still harbored the hope that the day would come when they could soften his stand, revoke the ban on Christianity and put an end to the persecution. They firmly pledged themselves to give themselves entirely to this goal. Though this collaboration lasted for about 30 years, it never achieved the hoped for outcome, but got the Jesuit into a lot of trouble.

Already reprimanded for their repudiated stand on the nature of Chinese rites, they found themselves accused of being insensitive to the plight of other missionaries and Christians outside Beijing, some even blaming them for the persecution. Added to this Jesuits were also coming under heavy fire in Rome for the respectful way they were treating minority tribes in other countries (such as in the reductions in South America as depicted in the movie Mission). Finally in July 1773 Pope Clement XIV yielding to political pressure from several European governments who also had quarrels with the Jesuits formally dissolved and disbanded the Society. And so the first period of Jesuit activity in China came to an inglorious end.

All in all, in the span of 190 years from the end of the Ming Dynasty and on into the Ching Dynasty a total of 472 Jesuits served in China.

With the departure of the Jesuits, their works in Beijing as well as their missions throughout China in the Jiang Su and An Hui Regions were continued by the Lazarists (also known as the Congregation of the Mission or Vincentians). From 1787 to 1840 the church in the Jiangnan Region was in the charge of several Chinese priests. Not only did they and their Catholics hold on to their faith, they wrote petitions to the Pope and to the Society of Jesus (which had been reinstated in 1814 by Pope Pius VII) to send missionaries to China.

On July 11, 1842 three French Jesuits, Claude Gotteland, Benjamin Bruyere and Francois Esteve arrived in Shanghai. In 1843 the Bishop L. Beri asked them to establish a seminary which began with 22 seminarians. In 1844 five Jesuits and in 1846 13 more arrived in China. By 1848 there were altogether 37 Jesuits in China. Shanghai became the post-suppression center for Jesuit apostolate in China.

It is not possible to mention here everything the Jesuits missionaries did in the 100 years before they were expelled once again, this time by the Communist Revolution. Only some of the main events will be reported here.

1846 The emperor orders that all property that had been confiscated must be restored to the church.
1853 To foster vocations the major seminary is moved to Whampoa West Bank. The first three native Chinese Jesuit priests are ordained in 1858.

From 1870 to the twentieth century the Jesuits continued the study of astronomy and the calendar, built an observatory and weather station, drew maps, researched and catalogued animals, plants, and antiquities, edited dictionaries, opened schools, and made Zikawei in Shanghai a center for the study of Sinology.

1900 The Boxer Rebellion. Thousands of churchmen and faithful are martyred.
1903 Aurora University is founded in Shanghai.
1922 Industrial college established in Tianjin.
1931 American Jesuits from the California Province begin Jinke High School in Shanghai and Hong Guang High School in Nanjing.
1937 The Sino-Japanese War breaks out. Jesuits depending on their nationalities are treated as enemies or allies of Japan and treated accordingly.
1949 The communists seize the government and the nationalists flee to Taiwan.
1952 The communist expel all foreign missionaries, many Chinese churchmen are arrested. Many Jesuits leave China.
1955 On Sept. 8 the Bishop of Shanghai, many priests and Catholics are arrested.