The cross, the Chinese emperor and the Roman Curia
by P. Peter (伯鐸神父)

China is fertile ground for all religions. Christianity has always faced difficulties but has also been able to flourish. Tensions and resistance exist between imperial Confucianism and faith in God the Father over the subjects who are also “children of Heaven and brothers of the emperor.”  Martyrdom cannot be eliminated, despite talks between China and the Vatican. A Chinese priest offers his thoughts.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Despite difficulties, from the beginning, Christianity has overcome several obstacles in China. The famous Fr Matteo Ricci was the founding father of the mission thanks to his knowledge of Chinese culture and language. Ricci opened China’s door with sciences and sowed the first seed of the Christian faith.

China is an ideal land to spread religious beliefs. Nestorianism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islamism, Christianity, etc. all came here. Historically, some religions have disappeared, whilst others have survived until today.

In China, Taoism is a native religion; Buddhism came from outside but is well rooted in Chinese culture; Islam, given its cultural origin, brought Arab culture; the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches have the same root, but for cultural, historical, and political reasons have become three separate communities. The development of the Christian mission in China coincides with the age of colonialism, a fact that inevitably sparked many conflicts.

Under papal rule, Catholicism has had several encounters and clashes with the culture of China’s imperial power, such as the persecution of Yang Guangxian, the controversies over Chinese rites at the time of Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722), and many others in the following periods under the rule of Yongzheng and Qianlong.

During the Kangxi era, the famous controversy between various religious orders over Chinese rites soon became a conflict between the power of the pope and that of the emperor. The conflicts between the two became an inevitable clash between the Catholic faith and the culture of imperial China. For this reason, our history has many martyrs. On 1st October 2000, Saint John Paul II proclaimed 120 saints: priests, religious, and lay people.

Catholicism favours equality among people because we are all sons and daughters of God the Father and we must love one another. The Confucian doctrine is based on hierarchy and the veneration of the emperor, which goes from ministers to the emperor, from sons to fathers. If the emperor condemns a minister to death, that minister must die; if the father condemns the son almost to make him die, the child must obey. After two thousand years, Confucian culture has taken root in the hearts of the Chinese and has become the core of a system of domination. In the feudal period, the emperor declared himself to be Tian Zi, Son of Heaven, and his power was granted from above or from the supreme deity. In such a situation, it is therefore impossible to make people understand that even the subjects are themselves children of Heaven and brothers of the emperor.

The founder of Catholicism, Jesus Christ, taught his disciples: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The Lord’s Prayer tells us that God is the Father of all, that we are God’s family; that we therefore must love one another. At the same time, it also means that human rights and equality between people are granted by Heaven. The imperial mentality has influenced China for about 2,000 years: how is it that this [Christian] teaching can be easily accepted in China? It is almost obvious that it is the result of so many persecutions.

So, how can the Catholic faith spread in China? I think we must have a spirit of perseverance and be ready for martyrdom. There are no shortcuts. Anyone who thinks of saving the Church in any other way, without martyrdom, even considering martyrdom as stupid, really makes an absurd mistake.

Today, the great leaders of the Roman Curia, facing China’s ancient civilisation and imperial power, try to confront them. On the one hand, they appreciate Chinese civilisation, to please state power; on the other, they neglect what has been defended for years from a spiritual point of view. Worse still, they ask for the resignation of a bishop faithful to Catholicism, whilst choosing a traitor as a new pastor of the Lord's flock.

Will this policy of the Holy See really work? We only have to wait and see for results. If the worldly spirit comes to coincide with the divine spirit, then why was Jesus Christ crucified? Is the Lord’s wisdom not superior to that of the high prelates of the Holy See? With China having 5,000 years of civilisation, how should the Catholic faith spread? The perspectives of the future are still unclear and we are still a long way from discovering the path.