My fellow bell-hunters and I somehow convinced the priest to let his assistant take us up into the towers to see the old bells. We climbed up the dusty stairs into the east steeple (on the right in the photo) to see the bell hanging there. But where was the second bell?
It was in the west tower, which meant in order to see it we would have to climb into the space between the sanctuary ceiling and the roof of the cathedral and crawl across some ancient dust-covered beams. Spring did her best to talk me out of it, fearing that I might fall through the ceiling and land on the parishioners praying in the sanctuary. But I was not to be thwarted; I was determined to see this bell, her pleadings notwithstanding. (p. 76)
When I first went to China, I was bombarded with many questions that seemed rather odd: can you use chopsticks? How much money do you make? Why do American parents kick their children out of the house at age 18? On and on they went.
But the oddest question I encountered was, “what’s the difference between Catholic and Christian?”
The question itself made no sense to me; it was like asking, “what is the difference between a Volkswagen and a car?”
Back in the 1980’s the confusion was perhaps understandable. Many Chinese at that time had almost no knowledge of religion, let alone western religions. Truth be told, they had no idea what either of those terms (Catholic and Christian) meant.
It wasn’t until I studied Chinese that I came to realize that the oddness of the question was rooted in linguistics. Catholicism is Christianity, but in the Chinese language it has a completely different name.
In English, we distinguish between different strands of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. But in the Chinese language only one of those strands gets translated as “religion of Christ,” Christianity.
The Chinese word for Catholicism is Tian Zhu Jiao (天主教), “Religion of the Lord of Heaven.” Matteo Ricci, the first Jesuit missionary to China wrote a book called “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven,” trying to link the God of the Bible with the traditional religious notion of a supreme being, which was referred to as Heaven. It thus became known as the Religion of the Lord of Heaven, Tianzhu Jiao.
To distinguish Protestant Christianity from Catholicism, it was translated as Jidu Jiao (基督教), “Religion of Christ.” This then gets translated back into English as “Christianity.” Sometimes it includes the word xin (新),” which means “new” to try to distinguish it, but most of the time this is left off.
Hence the odd question about the difference between Catholicism and Christianity.
Earlier this month I attended a conference on the Catholic Church in China. This topic came up during one of the seminars. One of the participants, a researcher and scholar on China, suggested that one way of clearing up some of the confusion would be to refer to Catholicism as Tianzhu Jiao (天主教), Protestantism as Jidu Xinjiao(基督新教), and Christianity (which encompasses both) as Jidu Zongjiao (基督宗教). Zongjiao is a more scholarly term for ‘religion,’ whereas jiao can be understood simply as ‘teaching.’ Eastern Orthodoxy, by the way, is Dongzheng Jiao(东正教), Religion of the Eastern Truth.
Here are some photos of Catholic Churches in Beijing, Tianjin, Harbin, and Shanghai.
Church of the Savior, Beijing — also known as Beitang or Xishiku Catholic Church
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception — known locally as Xuanwumen Catholic Church
Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Beijing — known locally as Xizhimen Catholic Church
St. Therese of Lisieux Church, Beijing, known locally as Nangangzi Catholic Church
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Beijing – known locally as Wangfujing Catholic Church
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Tianjin — known locally as Xikai Catholic Church
St. Ignatius Cathedral, Shanghai — known locally as Xujiahai Catholic Church
Gexin Jie Catholic Church, Harbin (originally a Russian Orthodox Church)
In the course of my research on church bells in Beijing, I have been learning a lot about the history of the Catholic churches here. One thing I have learned is that, even though the Jesuits had favor at the imperial court and were often on friendly terms with the emperor and his family, who were Manchu (Manchurians), most of the converts were Han Chinese.
After the handover of power to the new Qing regime, and the Jesuits success in maintaining residence in Beijing, the congregation of believers continues to grow. By 1700 it included a small but increasing number of ethnic Manchus. Several of these were from the Sunu family, (Sunu was a cousin of the Yongzheng emperor, who reigned 1723 –1735). After Yongzheng’s prohibition of Christianity in 1723, he punished the Christians in Sunu’s clan over the next few years and Manchu converts seem to have disappeared, except for perhaps a handful. Despite the hostile atmosphere, a small number of converts, 2000 or so, continued to exist in Beijing through most of the eighteenth century.
On Tuesday, in a Catholic church in Beijing, my research assistant and I met a descendant of this clan.
I and a few friends spent yesterday afternoon traipsing around the city of Tianjin looking for old church bells. Why Tianjin, you may ask?
First of all, with the high speed train that runs every ten minutes between Beijing and Tianjin, it’s an easy ‘day trip’ destination. In our case, it was just an afternoon trip. We left at noon and were back in Beijing by 7:30.
Secondly, because of the city’s history of being colonized by numerous western powers (all at the same time), there are quite a few old churches there.
We confirmed the existence of 4 old bells, most likely brought over from Europe in the early part of the last century, and we saw a hundred year old bell made in China for a Catholic Church. We were only able to get a portion of the story of this bell, but we have some leads to get the rest of the story. When I have pieced it all together I’ll post the photo and story.
In the meantime, here are pictures of the towers in which the other 4 bells reside.
Wanghai Lou Catholic Church was established in 1869 by French Catholics. This current structure dates to 1903, and, as you can see is undergoing renovations. We wandered into the compound and talked with the engineers overseeing the project. They confirmed that there is a bell in the tower, but declined our requests for them to take us up to see it. Can’t blame them, really.
Xikai Catholic Church was built by the Jesuits in 1917, and is today the largest church in Tianjin. We had a long chat with the priest, who confirmed that there are bells in those towers, but he would not take us to see them.
The Anglican Church is now closed, but is a site protected managed by the Tianjin Bureau of Antiquities. We could see a giant bell hanging in the tower. I’m hoping the Antiquities Bureau has some information on the bell, and hopefully some photos.