In a world where we are bombarded daily by voices from our phones, TV’s, and radios, sometimes it’s good to put them all down and listen to some voices from the past. My friend Andrew Kaiser has just published an e-book that allows us to do just that.
Here’s what Andrew has to say about his book in the preface:
Over the years, the words of wisdom contained in the letters and diaries of these spiritual ancestors have profoundly shaped my own sense of purpose and calling, informing my identity and my life and work in China. This booklet is an attempt to share these lessons from history with other expatriates around the world who are committed to building God’s Kingdom in China. The quotations contained herein were chosen for purely subjective reasons, betraying my own struggles and interests. The selections are arranged in no particular order, with only the briefest comments added to provide sufficient context for understanding. Readers are encouraged to linger over each quotation, perhaps reading only one entry a day, and to spend time afterwards in prayer, reflecting on the theme in light of their own experiences.
Whether you are serving in China, thinking about serving in China, or are just interested in a broader historical perspective of the history of Christianity in China, this book is for you!
And here’s the great news — it’s only $0.99 on kindle!
Here are some interesting excerpts from Madsen’s comments.
On the subject of his next book:
My research project is on searching for a good life in China in an age of anxiety. Where do they see their lives going? Where do they see China going? Its aimed at tapping into people’s sense of meaning. I’m doing it with several other colleagues.
On the need for moral anchors:
People’s lives are disrupted by urbanization, economic change, and so on. There’s also a collapse of Marxist ideology and a sense of dislocation. There is a need for new moral anchors.
On the relationship between unhappiness and religious revival:
In the reform era, the revival of religion is probably a quest to return to a normal life to carry out normal festivals, to do things in a normal way, which always had a religious element to it in China. In China, religion has always been more about practice than about belief. You do those things — you sweep the graves of your ancestors because that’s what you do to remain in connection with your family. People have been dislocated from their villages, but there’s a sense that you have to maintain your roots. So they might go back and rebuild a temple or ancestral hall.
On whether China might become a Christian country:
If you look at the growth and project that over the next fifty or one hundred years, that would happen; but I would predict that the current trajectory will plateau out, like in Taiwan, in the range of 7 percent of the population. Maybe 10 percent. It’s a guess, a hypothesis. But other things like Buddhism are becoming more popular. People will look at other things for meaning and that will crowd out Christianity.
On whether or not Christianity has failed in China:
It hasn’t failed. What does success mean for a religion? Taking over the country? Or is it just becoming an accepted part of the plurality of understandings, and permanent in a sustainable way? You can definitely argue that its like that for Christianity in China today. We’re seeing new ways for people to find meaning in their lives. Its definitely changing and broadening. Christianity is a part of it.
“When Matteo Ricci walked the streets of Beijing more than 400 years ago, he was a celebrity. The Jesuit was the first Westerner to enter the gates of the Forbidden City. He impressed the emperor by predicting solar eclipses. He created an enormous map that gave Ming dynasty Chinese a sense of the rest of the world for the first time. He spoke and read Chinese well enough to translate Euclid.
And even though, after 13 years in China, he began to dress in the garb of an imperial scholar-official, his goal was to convert the Chinese to Catholicism, which he did with some success and considerable flair.
Now all he needs is a miracle or two. Literally.
In May, the Vatican body that overseas canonization pushed ahead the case for making Ricci, who died in 1610, a saint. The Catholic Church has collected hundreds of documents that provide evidence of his “heroic virtues” and has dubbed him a Servant of God, which puts him on the first rung of four steps toward full-fledged sainthood. In order for him to advance, Ricci’s supporters must now find evidence of popular devotion to Ricci, that prayers to him have cured fatal illnesses, or that his body hasn’t decayed in the 403 years since his death.”
The article then goes on to give a good overview of the issues that remain sticking points between the Vatican and the Chinese government, and the likely impact conferring sainthood on Matteo Ricci would have on Sino-Vatican relations.
In 2010 I wrote a post about visiting the Metteo Ricci exhibit at the Capital Museum in Beijing to commemorate the 400th year of Ricci’s death. You can read it here.
Protestant or Catholic, anyone serving in China today is standing on the shoulders of Matteo Ricci.
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)