2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 81

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Treasure Hunt: New Primary Sources and New Scholarship on Chinese Catholicism in Modern Chinese History

Organizer and Chair: Xiaoxin Wu, University of San Francisco, USA

Discussants: Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, Pace University, USA; Paul Mariani, Santa Clara University, USA

Chinese primary sources on Chinese Catholicism have long been regarded as difficult to obtain in China. However, with recent development in access policies in libraries and archives at national and local levels, an increasing amount of new materials have been re-discovered and re-collected. Based on some of these newly available materials in Chinese, Mongolian, and Western languages, this panel explores such basic issues as land use, water rights, property ownership, wealth, longstanding local customary practices that had affected the presence of rural and urban Catholic communities in the interior during the late Qing and early Republican Era. Central to each presentation are the tensions between local citizens, government authorities of various levels, and foreign missionaries from different Catholic orders. A common theme of the panel is not how the various Catholic missions functioned in each and every location as previous scholarship has done, but how the local Chinese, both Catholics and non-Catholics, reacted to the presence of missions and missionaries as documented in these multi-language materials, and consequently affected the political, social, and cultural life of different societies in modern China. The panel will also include a discussion concerning the improved access to the Catholic archival materials in China and their contributions to the field.

The Cross on the Grasslands: the Influence of Catholicism on Nomadic Culture in Inner Mongolia in the Late 19th Century China
Shirnuud Sudebilige, Independent Scholar, China

The history of the 19th century unequal treaties between the Qing government and Western powers has been studied extensively, but what has largely remained unknown was the intentional altering of a line in the Beijing Treaty of 1860 by an interpreter-priest that had a great impact on border areas outside the Great Wall. This paper draws on the Mongolian language sources from the Dzungar Banner Jasagh Yamen Archives to explore the interaction between the Catholic Church, local Mongolians in the Ordos, Tümed, and Alashan (Alakshan) regions of Inner Mongolia, and ethnic Han immigrant workers from the Chinese interior. I will argue that the Catholic missionary activities significantly impacted the long established social system of the grasslands, especially land ownership in the “League and Banner” system that prohibited sale of land, and the customary relationship between banner nobles / princes and their subjects that were built upon loyalty, labor and tax responsibilities. This presentation employs previously unknown Mongolian language sources to throw new light on this turbulent period in Mongolian history and to examine the Christian influence in areas far away from China proper.

Missionaries, Money, Power and Violence: Correspondence from the Parishes of Taiyuan Diocese 1901-1949
Henrietta Harrison, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Catholic villagers in Shanxi today tell a story of how a missionary, angered by a dispute over a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, took off his shoe as he left, shook the dust off it, and cursed their village with seven years of bad weather. This paper will use the newly discovered archives of Taiyuan diocese, which contain the correspondence both of the missionary concerned and the Chinese priest called in to sort things out, to unravel the larger issues that lay behind the dispute between the missionary and the Catholic villagers. I will argue that the story reflects Chinese Catholic resentment against missionary power at the time of the 1911 Revolution. In Taiyuan the missionaries had become rich and powerful as a result of the unequal treaties and especially the Boxer Indemnity. They were also under great pressure from Europe to make conversions. Their poor language skills made this very hard and combined with their great power inclined them to the use of physical gestures and, when they could not cope, to violence. The dispute over the statue reflects competition for water between Catholic peasants and the missionaries, who had a large vineyard and wine-making operation, in the context of acute water shortage and immigration of new converts to the village. Overall the paper argues that the links between Christian missions and Western imperial power led not only, as has long been argued, to popular hostility to Christianity, but also to tensions between Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries.

The Secret of Holy Economics: Power Projection through Property Ownership by Catholic Missions to Guangzhou, China (1860–1910)
Hongyan Xiang, Colorado State University, USA

Nineteenth-century China saw an increase in property disputes between the Catholic Church and ordinary citizens. This development may be attributed in part to manipulation of unequal treaties after the Opium War, as property ownership had become crucial for the survival of the mission. This paper examines how the Missions Étrangères de Paris (M.E.P) used real estate property to enhance their social status and economic power in Guangzhou from 1860 to 1910. Based on newly available sources from the Canton (Guangzhou) Diocesan Archives, I argue that the pattern of property accumulation by MEP missionaries was often the result of conversion within families, similar to Chinese lineage-based businesses. Conversions often led to donation and selling of properties to the Church and this expansion of holdings created both visible and invisible power. Visible power was observed as the Church became a large regional landlord and affected residents’ daily lives in many ways. Invisible power was based on Catholic social networks and relationships. The Church in Guangzhou eventually grew from a few priests without fixed residence into an influential community with a grand cathedral and ownership of a considerable amount of property, thus becoming a significant force within the local society.