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Early modern Chinese reactions to Western missionary iconography.

Although most recent scholarship related to Western imperialism in late Imperial China has centered on conflicts surrounding the Boxer Uprising (1899-1900), this study explores earlier modes of religious representation that contributed to those conflicts. Here, such works as the Bixie jishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (A record of facts to ward off heterodoxy), Mingchao poxie ji ba juan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Ming Court anthology of exposing heresy in eight juan), and other documents held in Vatican archives are used to consider how missionary iconography was (mis)interpreted and (mis)represented by native Chinese elite through the late Ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1368-1644) and Qing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1644-1912) eras. Close investigation of these works reveals that the Western image of the Crucifixion precipitated condemnatory reactions by Confucian literati. According to indigenous Chinese, the image of the crucifix evidenced a man who was resolutely "un-Confucian"--both "unfilial" and "correctly condemned."

Anti-foreign Responses to Western Missionaries

This article follows Eric Reinders' (2004) excellent study of European missionary imaginations of China, but from the other direction. Reinders notes that the phrase Borrowed Gods in the title of his book "refers to the appropriation of other peoples' religions, such as for the purpose of creating an Other-image with which to contrast a self-image" (xiv). In other words, he explores how the religio-cultural manifestations of Chinese culture are reinterpreted, re-represented, and re-constituted into a convenient European dichotomy, making Chinese religions and culture into a contrasting Other, necessarily inferior to Western Christianity. To keep this study to a reasonable length, I have focused my discussion on indigenous Chinese reactions and re-representations of Western missionary crucifixion iconography, suggesting that this phenomenon functioned in two directions.

After the First Opium War (1839-42), a stream of understandably anti-foreign pamphlets began to circulate in northern China. One of the most acrid anti-foreign texts to emerge during the late nineteenth century was the Bixie jishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (A record of facts to ward off heterodoxy), authored under the nom de plume of Tianxia diyi shangxin ren [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]("the world's most heartbroken man"). (1) Its primary target for attack was Catholic missionaries, most particularly the Jesuits who had entered China in 1574. First published in 1861, this work contains several inventive narrative and imagistic representations of Western missioners; among them are illustrations of priests worshipping a grunting pig, removing the fetus from a pregnant woman, gouging out the eyes of a convert, and behaving indecorously with Chinese women. Henry Blodget (1825-1903), a Protestant missionary in China during the late nineteenth century, described such a work as "filled with the most loathsome obscenity and the grossest misinterpretations and falsehoods. Nothing could be more calculated to foment disturbances in the minds of the ignorant people" (letter from Blodget to N. G. Clark, October 24, 1870, quoted in Fairbank 1957, 502). The Bixie jishi is in fact replete with imaginative descriptions, such as Catholics copulating after Mass, Westerners who worship menstrual fluids, and other similarly bizarre accounts. (2)

One of the illustrations in the Bixie jishi depicts a stately magistrate ordering two lictors to shoot arrows at a crucified pig while another decapitates three goat-headed men with the character xi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Westerner) on their chests (fig. 1). The caption reads [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Shooting the Pig [Jesus] and Beheading Goats [Foreigners]"). The provenance of the iconographic re-representation of Christ on a cross as a pig finds its origin in a convenient pun. When Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and Adam Schall von Bell (1591-1666) discussed how to translate the words "God" and "Catholic" into Chinese, the term finally settled on for "God" was Tianzhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Lord of Heaven"; and the term for "Catholic" was Tianzhu jiao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] the "Lord of Heaven Religion." (3) The last two characters for "Catholic," zhujiao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] sound similar to the graphs for "pig grunt" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], pronounced "zhujiao," with different inflection). Thus, in popular Chinese parlance, Catholics were said to be worshipers of a grunting pig, and depictions of Catholic priests venerating a pig became commonplace (fig. 2); depictions of the crucifixion were rendered with a grunting pig. Native Chinese conundrums vis-a-vis the Western missionary image of the crucifixion, however, swept beyond merely homophonic punning; there were more substantive cultural antagonisms with the very concept of a crucified man and Western modes of its artistic depiction.

Ambivalent Reactions to Jesuit Learning

Before I discuss the iconographic antipathies that arose in early modern China as missionary presence grew in the rural provinces, I should note that there was nonetheless a deep literati appreciation of Jesuit erudition. In fact, the first Qing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1644-1912) emperor, Shunzhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r. 1644-61), held the Jesuit von Bell in such high regard that he called him "grandfather." But the evident esteem for Western missionaries was often somewhat duplicitous. The Ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1368-1644) philosopher Li Zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1527-1602) expressed rather high accolades for Matteo Ricci in a letter he wrote to a friend, but not without concluding with a rather penetrating question:

   Xitai [Matteo Ricci] is a man from the regions of the great West
   who has traveled over 100,000 Ii to reach China.... Now, he is
   perfectly capable of speaking our language, writing our characters
   and conforming to our conventions of good behavior. He is an
   altogether remarkable man.... His manner is as simple as can be....
   Among all the people I have ever seen, there is not his equal....
   But I do not really know what he has come to do here. I have met
   him three times and I still do not know what he is here for. I
   think it would be much too stupid for him to want to substitute his
   own teaching for that of the Duke of Zhou and Confucius. So that is
   surely not the reason. (Gernet 1985, 18-19) (4)

Despite Ricci's obvious acumen, Li Zhi asked what nearly all of the Chinese intellectuals of his time asked: Why is he here? And, Does he really intend to replace the teachings of Confucius with his--those of a man represented as a criminal? For Li and the majority of his fellow Chinese, substantial obstacles had to be overcome before Ricci's mission could make sense to them: perhaps one of the largest was the Christian iconographic tradition brought to China by zealous missionaries, especially the image of the crucifixion.


Missionary crucifixion iconography generated several Chinese responses. On the one hand, the crucifix was perceived as a Western tool for sorcery, and this initial reaction was exacerbated by the fact that representations of nudity were prohibited by the Chinese courts. Depictions of disheveled hair were also a common trope for indicating demonic presence. On the other hand, Christ's crucifixion was-by Chinese judiciary standards-viewed as a just execution. The Chinese literati of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, then, could not imagine honoring, much less worshipping, a rightly condemned criminal.

Chinese responses to the crucifixion were inherently pejorative, based on the hallowed Confucian tenets of filial piety. That is, classically trained Chinese literati were predisposed to reject such an event and therefore concluded that the foreign man who was crucified was, for several reasons, simply an "unfilial son." This response was further complicated by the missionary insistence that Jesus had no natural father. But Nestorian missionaries of the seventh and eighth centuries were more successful than the Catholic ones who arrived much later, in large part because they did not expose or venerate crucifixion images. Many of the successes and failures of Christian missions in China have been precipitated by how Christ's suffering and death were disclosed and represented. The problem of Chinese reactions to the crucifix was additionally an unfriendly point of contention between the Jesuits, who recommended a gradual disclosure of the mystery of Christ's execution, and the Franciscans and Dominicans, who maintained that the Jesuits were approaching apostasy by "hiding" Jesus' crucifixion.

Crucifixion Iconography as a Sign of Sorcery

One of the most historically noted Chinese responses to the image of the crucifixion is an encounter Ricci had with the court eunuch Ma Tang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (fl. 1590s). Ricci and some of his confreres had set out for Beijing in 1600 with a cache of gifts for the emperor, hoping to secure the emperor's good will and, eventually, his conversion. They were intercepted and confined in the nearby city of Tianjin, and it was there that the eunuch emptied Ricci's bags on the pretense that he had heard from the capital that the Jesuits were hiding a store of precious stones. After setting aside some reliquaries and a chalice for Mass, which he intended to keep, Ma found a crucifix. Ricci recalls in his journal that "of all the things he saw, nothing aroused his ire more than the suspended figure of Christ on the cross. He accused them of carrying this charm for the purpose of killing the King by enchantment. 'Unfortunately,' he said, 'this thing was made, as anyone can see, for no other purpose than to bewitch one with poisonous sorcery"' (Ricci 1953, 365). Despite Ma Tang's villainization in missionary accounts, his reaction to the crucifix, painted with the blood of Christ's wounds as it was, is quite understandable from a Chinese perspective. In light of Chinese tradition, such images of what appeared to be a wild-haired, near-nude man were normally considered to be evil.

Ma Tang's reaction to Ricci's crucifix is better understood in light of the writings of another seventeenth-century Chinese intellectual, a Buddhist monk named Xingqian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1602-70). The monk writes in his work Ranxi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Lighting the [rhinoceros] horn) that Christ's crucifixion was contrary to all five of the Confucian virtues. He reserves his most adamant critique for the depiction of Jesus on the cross, stating that "his image with disheveled hair and a naked body which gives him [the appearance] of a malicious devil is not proper [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (in Criveller 1997, 385). Xingqian's discomfort with the near-nude depiction is clear. The origin of his critique of the image's "disheveled hair," however, is less apparent on first reading the text.

Wild hair is one of China's common tropes for a malevolent ogre; indeed one of the most hallowed Confucian classics, the Zuozhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Commentary of Mr. Zuo), contains a famous anecdote including such a figure. This work was required to be memorized for the civil service exam of Imperial China, so all educated literati were quite familiar with its contents. Under the tenth year of Duke Cheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (581 B.C.E.), the text recounts a dream had by Duke Jing of the state of Jin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r. 599-581 B.C.E.):

   Duke Jing dreamt that he saw a huge ogre with disheveled hair that
   hung down to the ground, beating his chest and leaping around....
   The ogre broke down the main gate of the palace, and then the door
   to the inner apartments, and came in. The duke fled in terror to
   his chamber, but the ogre broke down that door as well. (Watson
   1989, 120-21)

With such images as this one of a disheveled-haired demon pursuing one to the point of death, it is understandable why the eunuch Ma Tang and the Buddhist monk Xingqian would have perceived the nude image of a "wild-haired" man nailed to a cross somewhat discomforting. One excellent example of such a crucifixion depiction can be seen in Jesuit missionary Giulio Aleni's (1582-1649) 1637 Tianzhu jiangsheng chuxiang jingjie [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Illustrated life of our Lord Jesus Christ), which includes a woodblock print of Christ's execution: he and the other two crucified men are mostly nude, and Christ's hair is disheveled (fig. 3). (5)

Christ as Rebel

Another Chinese criticism of the image asserted that it depicts the just execution of a political criminal. According to Chinese jurisprudence, modeled as it was after precedents located in Confucian classics, Jesus stirred up the common people, an activity that appeared similar to such popular rebellions as those of the millennial White Lotus Sect [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which continued to re-emerge throughout the late Imperial era. (6) In addition, rarely does Chinese sentiment allow that a convicted criminal is completely without guilt, as the Catholic missionaries insisted. In 1665, a Confucian official named Yang Guangxian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1597-1669) published an anti-Christian work entitled Budeyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (I cannot contain myself). In it, Yang reacts to forty-five engravings depicting the life of Jesus that von Bell had presented to the emperor. In his essay on the images, Yang attacks the image of the crucifixion, asserting that:

The pictures depict how Jesus was nailed to death by law. These pictures would make all people know that Jesus was put to death as a convicted criminal, so that not only would scholar-officials not write prefaces for their [Christian] writings, but people of the lower classes would also be ashamed to believe in that kind of faith.... [The images depict] the people applauding Jesus, Jesus being nailed on the cross, and Jesus on the cross. This will show all the world that Jesus was not an orderly and law-abiding person, but a subversive rebel leader, who was convicted and executed. (Criveller 1997, 393)


The image of Christ crucified merely supported Christ's misconduct rather than illustrated a noble martyr. (7)

Another Chinese writer, Xie Gonghua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of Fujian, went beyond simply suggesting that Christ was justly killed as a subversive rebel, stating that since Christ was unable to acquit himself, he certainly could not acquit others, as was taught by the missionaries (Gernet 1985, 120-21). Xie states in the Poxie ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Anthology of exposing heresy) that:

   The Lord of Heaven, Jesus, confused the masses with his odd speech,
   and was thus condemned by the law to be nailed to a cross and die.
   If Jesus was unable to get himself acquitted, how then could he
   acquit others (8)

The accusations Chinese officials made against Jesus were not novel. One of the most important political values of the time was societal harmony, and the Christ of the crucifixion was guilty according to orthodox Confucian tenets of stirring up the people. To disrupt social order was viewed as subversive, a rightly punishable crime according to orthodox literati assumptions.

Ricci understood these cultural views; he had read (indeed memorized) the classic works that informed the Confucian tradition, and he set out to be more cautious than his fellow missionaries had regarding such Christian teachings and images as the mystery of the crucifixion. In a letter written in 1585, Ricci notes that images of the life of Jesus or of the Blessed Virgin Mary are acceptable, "but not of the Passion, since they do not yet understand it" (Criveller 1997, 235). Indeed, in the entirety of his Tianzhu shiyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven), Ricci does not mention the crucifixion a single time. But in addition to the problem of the apparent justness of Christ's crucifixion due to his "stirring the people," he was also understood to be unfilial.

Christ as "Unfilial" Son

One cannot adequately assert how prominent the voice of Confucius was in how imperial Chinese officials viewed filial piety, and certainly the most influential text regarding Confucius' teachings about being a good son is the Xiaojing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Classic of Filial Piety). (9) The text, ostensibly a dialogue between Confucius and his disciple Zengzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], begins with the assertion that, "Now, filial piety is the root of virtue and the origin of education" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Confucius 1959, 2). Hence, one must first be filial toward his or her parents before he or she can be considered virtuous. The text continues: "One's body, hair, and skin, are received from his mother and father, and so he would not dare [allow] his body to be harmed: this is the beginning of filial piety" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2). This line remains the most cited of the entire Xiaojing. The idea that our body is given to us by our parents, and that we are obliged to keep it from harm, was, and is today, expected of any truly filial child. The implication here was clear to the Chinese gentry: Jesus was unable to protect the body given to him by his parents.

If to protect our body is the beginning of filial piety, what, then, should be its end? Confucius continues to note that one "should stand on his own and carry out the Way, raising his name among later generations in order to bring glory to his father and mother. This is the end of filial piety" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (4). Being filial thus begins with caring for the body given to one by his or her parents and ends with making a good name of oneself in order to bring honor to one's parents. In fact, one of the most unfilial acts is to be executed as a criminal, for it both harms the body and leaves behind an ignoble reputation. In a later passage, Confucius states that a filial child's "words fill the kingdom and no one [has cause] to speak of his faults" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (14). Giving cause for others to complain about what one has said or done is itself an unfilial act. The accounts of the life and death of Christ--and his speeches that stirred the people, then--were indeed full of examples that troubled Chinese literati.

Another source for Confucius' teachings on the matter filial piety is the Lunyu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Analects of Confucius), a text that any highly literate Chinese would have entirely memorized. The second saying in the text quotes not from Confucius but from his disciple Youzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]:

   Of men who are filial and brotherly, while also fond of offending
   against their superiors, there are few indeed.... The gentleman
   attends to the root; for once the root is established the Way is
   born. Is not filial piety and brotherly love the root of
   benevolence? (Lunyu 1.2)

This passage is interpreted to imply that one who is filial to his parents and treats his brothers with good conduct will be less inclined to rebel against his superiors. That is, one of the Confucian reasons for observing filial piety in the home is that such behavior transfers to the larger society. A good son in the home is also to be judged by his behavior outside the home--by his ability to avoid offending his superiors. The Confucian literati of late Imperial China viewed Christ's inability to retain a peaceful and obedient relationship with his superiors--i.e., the officials of the synagogue and the Roman authorities--as a sign of his unfilial conduct at home.

There is another reason Chinese literati viewed the crucifixion as a failure of Jesus' ability to be a properly filial son, namely, his apparent inability to serve his mother according to Confucian rituals after she died. Because he died before his mother, he could not fulfill his obligation to look after the welfare of her spirit according to traditional expectations. In the Lunyu (2.5), Confucius states that to be filial a son one must "serve his parents according to the rites when they are alive, bury them according to the rites when they die, and then make sacrifices [to their spirits] according to the rites" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Confucius exhorts the filial child to protect his or her body because the obligation to look after one's parents according to prescribed ritual continues even after one's parents have died. The crucifixion represented more than merely the just execution of someone who failed to avoid offending his superiors; it also represented the failure of a son to carry out his ritual obligations. In effect, Jesus' crucifixion represented his abandonment of his mother. (10)

The Nestorian Cross & the Catholic Crucifix

In light of these Confucian tenets, it stands to reason that Nestorian missionaries warranted less criticism during the Tang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] dynasty (618-906) than did the Catholic missionaries of the Yuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1260-1368), Ming, and Qing, due in large part to their different iconographic traditions. (11) The early Catholic missionaries imagined that they were the first Christians to evangelize the Chinese people; however, fifteen years after Ricci's death in Beijing in 1610, the famous 781 Nestorian stele was unearthed at Xi'an. (12) The inscription on the stele, authored by a missionary named Adam ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Jingjing), recounts the history of Nestorian missions in China, beginning with the arrival of Alopen ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] A Luoben), a Syrian follower of Nestorius (c. 382-451), the fifth-century Patriarch of Constantinople.

We know that Alopen's successes in China were astonishing because of an edict issued in 845 by the Tang emperor Wuzong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r. 841-46), in which he ordered the closure of all foreign temples, including Buddhist and Nestorian. He wrote: "As for the foreign Bonzes (monks) who come here, to make known the Law which is current in their Kingdom, there are about 3,000 of them, both from Tachin and Mu-hu-po. My command is that they also return to the world so that in the customs of our Empire there be no mixture" (quoted in Cary-Elwes 1957, 32). The monks from Da Qin were Syrian Nestorian, and those of Muhubo were most likely a modest contingent of Zoroastrian believers. Together, Catholic and Protestant missions never reached the high number of Nestorian monasteries in China, a fact that speaks to the comparative success of the Syrian missionaries. Roman Catholic missions at their height in China around the year 1700 totaled only about 140 priests of various orders and congregations (Standaert 2001, 557-58).

One reason for the Nestorian success can be located in the theology of the stele's inscription, which reads, in part: "Accordingly, our Tri-une [God] divided His [Godhead]" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] That passage reveals the Nestorian dogma that in Christ the two parts represent two distinct natures united in one moral person. (13) Furthermore, we find in another line the assertion that the followers of Christ "bear with them the seal of the cross" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], thus bringing with them a symbol of their faith, resembling-as it states in the original Chinese--the character for "ten" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Legge 1888, 6-7). It is significant that the Nestorian seal, or cross, did not depict Christ crucified. It was, according to the stele, merely a symbol, or seal, of their office as Christian missionaries. The cross represented at the top of the monument has no corpus, nor do any of the Nestorian crosses unearthed in archeological finds. (14) The possibility of offending Confucian sensibilities with the image of a crucified son was thus absent in Nestorian iconographies, as the Nestorian cross was perceived more as a simple symbol than as a gruesome object of veneration with a tortured man on it.

Inner Antagonisms: Jesuit versus Mendicant Uses of Crucifixion Iconography

Even though Ricci, who well understood indigenous Chinese aversions to such an image, endeavored to reveal the image of Christ crucified at a more opportune time, other missionaries did not share his insight or view. Ricci intended first to prove the existence of God founded on the Scholastic reason of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74); only afterward did he intend to disclose the more culturally problematic components of Catholic theology. Others, like Gaspar de la Cruz (d. 1570), a Dominican, set out to convert the Chinese with the same methodology his confreres had employed in the Philippines. As Columba Cary-Elwes recalls, de la Cruz "set about overthrowing idols whenever he could lay his hands on them" (1957, 109). (15) As expected, the local Chinese officials ejected him forthwith, and he ended his days at Ormuz, on the Persian Gulf. Another friar, Juan Bautista de Morales (1597-1664), like most other Dominicans and several Franciscans, sought to convert China by means of the habit, the crucifix, and preaching in the streets. It was indeed de Morales and several of his confreres who instigated the Rites Controversy of the eighteenth century. For them, the Jesuits were "hiding" the crucifix, a sign that they were in fact being converted by the Chinese. (16) Cultural animosities involving missionary iconography were only exacerbated by the Rites Controversy.

After the Controversy had played out, the Qing emperor occupied himself with the swift evacuation of Catholic missionaries. In 1814 the last Jesuit in Beijing died, leaving nearly all of the Catholic churches in China quite empty. In the end, emperor Kangxi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r. 1661-1722) disclosed in an edict what were his previously tempered sentiments regarding the Jesuit priests he had earlier patronized:
   As for the doctrine of the Occident which exalts T'ien Chu (Lord of
   the sky), it is equally contrary to the orthodoxy (of our sacred
   books), and it is only because its apostles have a thorough
   knowledge of the mathematical sciences that the State uses
   them--beware lest perhaps you forget that. (quoted in Cary-Elwes
   1957, 160)

Kangxi's edict represents well the attitudes of several intellectuals of the time, viewing the presence of foreign missionaries foremost as a means of accessing scientific knowledge; foreign religion had little pragmatic utility in their view. Kangxi also stated in a letter to the Jesuits that he could not understand their idee fixe on a world they had not yet entered, rather than focusing one the one they presently occupied. Indeed, the religious teachings of the missionaries were merely tolerated for the sake of their scientific contributions to the Celestial Kingdom.

(Mis)interpretation & the Conflict of Cultures

Finally, I shall quote from what is certainly the most famous Christian work written in Chinese, Ricci's Tianzhu shiyi. The text consists of a dialogue between a Western scholar (xishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and a Chinese scholar (zhongshi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) The Chinese intellectual states, at the end of the work, "My body comes from the Lord of Heaven, and I have long been ignorant concerning the Lord of Heaven's doctrine" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Ricci 1985, 456). The Chinese scholar has awakened from his former ignorance and admits that his body actually came from the Lord of Heaven. Such a statement is a denial of Confucius' assertion that filial piety begins with honoring the body that we have received from our parents rather than from a foreign "Lord of the sky." Despite Ricci's efforts to withhold the image of Christ crucified for fear that it might scandalize the Chinese before they were prepared to apprehend its nuanced meanings, he overlooks that the image connotes more than just a wild-haired demon or a justly executed criminal. Ricci's text redirects the hallowed ideal that filial children must protect their bodies, as they derive from their parents: the Tianzhu shiyi asserts that our bodies derive from the Lord of Heaven, and hence former conceptions of filial piety are overturned.

Not long after Ricci's generation of Jesuits had been buried or left China, as such missionary images as the crucifixion became increasingly noticeable on the Chinese landscape, native responses became correspondingly more virulent. One rather rancorous song, popular near the end of the nineteenth century, illustrates this point. The song was one of many such ditties disseminated in order to instruct Chinese how to deal with those who had converted to Christianity; it centers its aggression on the image of the crucifixion. The song exhorts its listener to:

   Draw a cross on the ground,
   draw the demon [who] hangs on it,
   and tell the convert to discharge a pile of urine and excrement on
      it if he wants to be unbound. (Hung and Shan 2000, 252)

Just as in the crucified pig [Jesus] illustrated in the Bixie jishi, this popular song dilates on the crucifixion as the focus of its indignation. The required form of apostasy ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in fact, was to invite (or more often force) Chinese converts to trample a cross or crucifix placed on the ground. Japan employed similar means to coerce or force apostasy. Joseph Jennes notes that "as early as 1631, tortured Christians had been urged to trample upon a crucifix" in a ceremony was known as fumi-e [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "trampling on a holy image" (1973, 166).

In addition to the illustration in the Bixie jishi of the magistrate ordering his lictors to "shoot the pig [Jesus] and behead the goats [foreigners]," another image in the same series functions as an exhortation to "beat [foreign] devils and burn their books" (fig. 4). The violence carried out by both the native Chinese and foreign powers, especially during the Boxer Uprising (1898-1900), resulted in the deaths of several tens of thousands of people. This is the most terrible aspect of this period of cultural conflict. My intention is not to impugn the good intentions of the missionaries living in late Imperial China or to villainize the Chinese who reacted to their presence. Surely the missionaries' work was not easy, and cultural misinterpretation and conflict is perhaps inevitable in such a context as theirs. De Morales had witnessed his Dominican brother Francisco Fernandez de Capillas (1607-48), now declared a saint, tortuously executed for his open displays of Christ's crucifixion and public preaching, an event that moved de Morales to even greater zeal. (17) The missionaries could not have anticipated that such a hallowed image in their own tradition would, in the end, contradict persistent Confucian values. In a very real way, the image of one peoples' religious piety (indeed, salvation) represented what equated to the collapse of civil society to another.



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Halbertsma, Tjalling. 2005. Some field notes and images of stone material from graves of the Church of the East in Inner Mongolia, China. Monumenta Serica 53: 113-244.

Hung, Eva, and Tam Pak Shan, trans. 2000. Anti-Christian propaganda. Renditions: A Chinese English Translation Magazine 53-54: 250-55.

Jennes, Joseph. 1973. A history of the Catholic Church in 7apan: From its beginnings to the early Meiji era (1549-1873). Tokyo: Oriens Institute for Religious Research.

Legge, James. 1888. Christianity in China: Nestorianism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism. London: Trubner & Co.

Luo Jinsheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1996. Dongfang jioaohui shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Eastern church]. Shanghai: Shanghai shuju.

Lutz, Jessie Gregory. 1988. Chinese politics and Christian missions: The anti-Christian movements of 1920-28. Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural Publications.

Medhurst, Walter. 1847. A dissertation on the theology of the Chinese with a view to the elucidation of the most appropriate term for expressing the deity, in the Chinese language. Shanghai: Mission Press.

--. 1848. An inquiry into the proper mode of rendering the word God in translating the sacred scriptures into the Chinese language. Shanghai: Mission Press.

--. 1849. Of the word Shin, as exhibited in the quotations adduced under that word, in the Chinese Imperial Thesaurus, called the Pei-Wan-Yun-Foo. Shanghai: Mission Press.

Mungello, David E. 1989. Curious land. Jesuit accommodation and the origins of Sinology. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Ning Luke [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1964. Li Madou zhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Biography of Matteo Ricci]. Taizhong: Guangqi.

Reinders, Eric. 2004. Borrowed gods and foreign bodies: Christian missionaries imagine Chinese religion. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

Ricci, Matteo. 1953. China in the sixteenth century: The journals of Matthew Ricci, 1583-1610. Trans. Louis J. Gallagher. New York: Random House.

-- [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1985. Tianzhu shiyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [True meaning of the Lord of Heaven]. Trans. Douglas Lancashire and Peter Hu Kuo-chen. Taipei: Ricci Institute.

--. 1986. Li Madou quanji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Collected works of Matteo Ricci], 4 vols. Trans. Luo Yu, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Taipei: Guangqi.

--, and Nicolas Trigault. 1978. Histoire de l'expedition chretienne au royaume de la Chine, 1582-1610. Paris: Desclee de Brouwer.

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Saeki, P. Y. 1916. The Nestorian monument in China. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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University of Alabama


(1) Although the Hunan Bixie jishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] may have been the most extensive treatise against Christianity, a later work--published in 1919--by Zhu Zhixin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a Marxist supporter of Sun Yatsen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1866-1925), includes an almost equally caustic tract entitled "Yesu shi sheme dongxi?" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (What kind of thing is Jesus?). Jessie Lutz notes that "while the Bixie jishi concentrates on the activities and teachings of the evangelist within the Chinese context, Zhu adds details on the role of the church in Western history and the textual criticisms of Western scholars. The nineteenth-century document denigrates Christianity with scatological accounts of church rituals, while the twentieth-century article scoffs at the validity of the Gospels and the virtue of Jesus" (1988, 19). Another anti-foreign work that dilates on Western missioners is the 1640 Ming work by Xu Changzhi (1997).

(2) For an exhaustive account of nineteenth-century anti-foreignism with a discussion of the Bixie jishi see Cohen (1963). Cohen notes that the Bixie jishi "was so explosive in content that it was banned by the Chinese authorities in at least three provinces" (45). A Chinese source with an excellent account of anti-foreign activities during the late Qing is Zhang Ze (1992).

(3) There are several good studies regarding the thorny problem of translating Christian terms and ideas into Chinese characters. See, for example, Medhurst (1847, 1848, 1849); Spelman (1969). The question of which Chinese character best matches Christian terms and ideas was, in the end, less of a Jesuitical dilemma than a Protestant one. For this issue, see Girardot (2002). Also, for a somewhat polemical discussion of the "term question," see Wolferstan (1909), especially chapter 2. In addition to these texts, other useful general works on Jesuits in China include Dunne (1962); Mungello (1989); Rienstra (1986); Ross (1994); and Ryan (1965).

(4) For a general sketch of Ricci's activities in China see Ning (1964); Xianhua Xiaozu (1983). Ricci's complete works in Chinese are Ricci (1986). See also Gronin (1955); Spence (1983).

(5) Discussions of Aleni's illustrated volume can be found in Criveller (1997, 233-53) and Grafton (1993, 274-75). One notable fact about Aleni was that, later in his ministry, he changed his mission approach, moving away from Ricci's court- and science-centered method to a more popular level. From 1621 to 1624, early in his mission, Aleni lived in Hangzhou and authored numerous books concerning Western science and education, including Fihe yaofa [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Essentials in geometry), Wanguo quanta [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Map of ten thousand countries), and Xi xue fan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (A general account of Western studies). Hangzhou was a cultural center for Chinese intellectuals, and it made sense for him to devote himself to the production of more scientific works, since he was likely still influenced by Michel Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Ricci's top-down model of conversion. But once he moved to poorer Fujian in 1625, Aleni was among the common people, and his writings became less scientific, more concentrated on issues of devotion and piety. This latter period is when he produced woodblock images of the crucifixion, something Ricci would have been less willing to do.

(6) For a study of popular movements in late Imperial China see Chesneaux (1972).

(7) Matteo Ricci adopted more of an accommodationist approach, and he understood that there were aspects of Christian belief and devotion that would need to be adjusted in the context of China to facilitate easier cultural digestion. Ricci acknowledged that there were intrinsic cultural aversions in China to such images as Christ's Passion; and, despite the Jesuit practice of meditating before the crucifix, he decided to withhold some aspects of Christianity until the Chinese were more prepared. Ricci wrote to his Superior General in 1596: "We only venture to move forward very slowly ... it is true that up till now we have not explained the mysteries of our holy faith, but we are nonetheless making progress by laying the principle foundations." Quoted by Joseph Shih, in his introduction to Ricci and Trigault (1978, 38). See also Charbonnier (2007). Ricci sought to interpose such ideas as Christ's crucifixion more gradually.

(8) Xie Gonghua, in Poxie ji 4: 428. This passage appears in juan 6 in the original woodblock edition. An alternative translation of this passage is in Gernet (1985,120-21).

(9) For information regarding the provenance of this text see Boltz (1993, 149).

(10) One can add an additional problem to this indictment: Christ died without leaving an heir. This criticism had already been leveled against Buddhist and Catholic clergy who lived celibate lives. The most often cited passage in support of this accusation against Christ (and all men who died without an heir) is from the Mencius [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] wherein Mencius asserts, "Of unfilial acts there are three, and not having an heir is the worst" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Yang 1992, 245).

(11) For a history of the Eastern Church in China see Luo (1996).

(12) Several studies comment on the discovery and meaning of the Nestorian tablet, including Bernard (1935); Feng (1970); Legge (1888); Saeki (1916, 1951); Vermander (1998); plus several articles published in the journal Monumenta Serica.

(13) For the Chinese text of the stele and a translation, see Legge (1888, 4-6).

(14) Besides the well-published images of the cross at the head of the Nestorian stele, there have been an increasing number of archeological finds related to the Eastern Nestorian Church in China during the twentieth century that have revealed similar crosses. Of the unearthed depictions of the Nestorian cross, not a single image of Christ's body has been located. See the many excellently photographed crosses in Halbertsma (2005, esp. 130, 134,136, 141-42, 146, 148, 150, 154, 156, 158-69).

(15) Such direct and aggressive missiological methods were common among the mendicant Orders. As Charbonnier (2007, 251) writes, these friars adopted a very different attitude from the Jesuits: "On the other side were the Dominicans, Franciscans, Vincentians, and the Paris Foreign Missions, who were struggling with popular superstition in the countryside and who had fewer contacts with the scholar-gentry. They tended to preach first the Cross of Jesus Christ and salvation through grace, even though this might scandalize those who were wise in the eyes of the world."

(16) Although this accusation may be largely true in terms of iconographic representation of the crucifixion, Jesuits were much more willing to depict Christ's execution in written works. One late Ming work (Aleni, Rudomina, de Mattos, and da Cunha 1872) contains explicit passages devoted to the pious contemplation of the suffering Jesus. This work even contains a semiotic explication of the cross.

(17) For an encyclopedic and painstaking history of the Dominican missions in China, including a long account of Francisco Capillas, see Gonzalez (1952).
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Author:Clark, Anthony E.
Publication:Southeast Review of Asian Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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