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A Brief History Account of Christianity in Xiamen before Modern Times

A Brief History Account of Christianity in Xiamen before Modern Times

The 19th century missionaries in Xiamen The 19th century missionaries in Xiamen
ByCCD contributor: Paul Wu April 10, 2020
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Speaking of the spread of Christianity in the Hakka region (southeast of China), it may have begun during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). At that time, the Southern Song Dynasty's overseas trade enabled the growth of prosperity along the Maritime Silk Route. The international Port of Citong (Quanzhou) was the largest in the then China. It is very likely that Christianity entered China during this period.

In early 1994, a tombstone carved with a cross on it was unearthed in Quanzhou. Its owners were two Chinese women. Both were proved to be Nestorians. According to scholars, the tomb was built in 1277, which was one or two years before the Mongolian army entered Quanzhou. This supports the belief that there had been gospel ministries already in the Southern Song Dynasty. Before that, the Khwarazams who came with the Mongolians were believed to be the earliest preachers to the Hakka region.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 during the Mongolian reign), the Nestorians and Catholic Franciscans sent missionaries to the then prosperous Port of Citong to preach the gospel. In a letter to his friends, the Quanzhou Bishop Andre wrote, "a large number of infidels were baptized," reflecting the fact that many were converted to Christianity in the years when Xiamen's administrative areas belonged to the Quanzhou Parish. There may also have been converts in Xiamen, but there is no historical evidence or archaeological excavation to support this view so far.

The recorded activities of Western missionaries in Xiamen can be traced to as early as the end of the Ming Dynasty (around 1644). According to Mendoza's The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China and the Situation Thereof, the Catholic Augustinian Bishop of Oskar Malacca, Martin de Rada, and the monk Garoth Martin traveled from Xiamen to Fuzhou between June and August 1575. In the same year, they returned to Manila from Xiamen, becoming the first preachers to set foot in Xiamen.

In 1631, 11 Dominican missionaries came to Xiamen to found a Dominican Parish. In 1654, the Italian Dominican priest Victoria Rici, who was located in Manila, went to Xiamen to preach. At that time Xiamen had become General Zheng Chenggong's (a late Ming general) anti-Qing base. Zheng Chenggong treated Rici well because of the Catholic background of Zheng's family. Rici was hired as a consultant by Zheng and allowed to preach freely in Zheng's regions.

Because there were no churches in Xiamen, Rici rented a house close to Zheng's Hall at the Xiamen Port. The house was used for Mass and many were led to the Lord. As the Gospel rapidly became better known, the number of believers increased. The original site could not accommodate the congregation. So Rici bought land in a place called Tsan-tshu-uann to build a church chapel and a living area.

After General Zheng re-occupied Taiwan, Rici was appointed by Zheng as a special envoy to carry Zheng's letter to the Governor-General of the Philippines to offer amnesty and to enlist rebels in the Luzon Islands. He arrived in Manila in May. In July, Rici returned to Taiwan to teach and baptize local believers. Then he went back to Xiamen. When the Qing-Dutch allies captured Xiamen in 1664, Rici was sent by the Dutch army to Hencoop to preach to the soldiers and natives there.

Since 1661, Manila Dominions had sent Spaniards to Xiamen to preach. In 1683, the Qing government opened the blockade of Xiamen. Most of the missionaries travelled through Xiamen to various parts of Fujian to preach. In 1716, the missionary Jean Laureati from the Society of Jesus was in charge of Fujian's parish. He lived and preached there. In 1704, Pope Clement XI issued a ban on ancestral worship among Chinese Christians. The Qing government responded by issuing a ban prohibiting foreign missionaries from preaching in China in 1720. Four successive rulers, Emperor Yong Zheng, Emperor Qianlong, Emperor Jiaqing and Emperor DaoGuang also prohibited foreign missionaries from entering China to preach. Despite this, the Catholic Church did not disappear in Xiamen and many Dominicans risked their lives to secretly sneak into Xiamen to preach. In 1733, Matteo ?? came to Xiamen to develop believer base.

In addition, according to some historical records, the Prussian missionary Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff came to Xiamen in the 1830s to distribute gospel pamphlets. However, there is no record on the outcome of his hand-outs, and Gützlaff's recounts often appear to be exaggerated. Therefore, his coming to Xiamen needs to be further supported by evidence.

-  Translated by Charlie Li



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