China has bulked large in the imagination of the Catholic Church for 500 years. It had been central to the missionary dream of the Jesuits for almost as long. However, only with this book’s appearance has the detailed focus of attention shifted to the substantial and neglected period of catholic and Jesuit engagement with china – the almost 120 years from the second arrival of the Jesuits.
Matteo Ricci the polymath, Ferdinand Verbeist and Adam Schall von Bell the astronomers and the exquisite painter who influenced Chinese painting beyond measure, Giuseppe Castiglione, have been written about, made ls of and been the heart and soul of the first stage of Jesuit impact on China – in the 17th and 18th Centuries. They brought Western learning and art to China and took Chinese language and literature to Europe.
The Jesuits were the first multinational to be welcomed in China and they came with a specific method of engagement – to make friends build relationships and share their gifts before anything else was transacted, including conversations about Christianity. It remains an unsurpassed method of engagement with a rich and ancient people.
But the second arrival – from the 1840’s – was very different. It was made possible by the arrival of European governments and traders, many of whom came not just for financial gain but to spread their “superior” religion.
This work by David Strong in two volumes is the first major treatment of the period from the arrival of the European and eventually American Jesuit missionaries under the protection of the so called Unequal Treaties through to their expulsion after the Communist victory in the long running civil war in 1949.
Volume 1: The French Romance – traces the people, projects, expansion and impact of those who provided the predominant Jesuit presence. At the height of it’s engagement with China, the French Government has 19 Consulates and attendant military and navy throughout China. The French Jesuits were afforded access and protection by their government and activated missions in northern and central China – schools, seminaries, universities, parishes, retreat houses, publications – and attracted Chinese nationals to join their number.
Volume II- The Wider European Adventure- covers the commitments, places and activities of missions undertaken by the Spaniards, Austrian, Hungarians, Italians, French Canadians, and lastly in the 1930s, the Americans from California.
Over 15 years, Father David Strong SJ has quarried the archives of the Jesuits in Europe, Asia and the North America to provide a story as intimate as it is comprehensive. A mammoth undertaking to report and assess the works, successes and failures of over a thousand foreigner and hundreds of Chinese Jesuits. Through the narrative, we feel what daily life in cities and villages is like, we have a window on the grand shaping events that tumultuous century and more of Chinese history and we marvel at the sacrifices and idealism of generations caught by the dream and reality of evolving China anything else was transacted, including conversations about Christianity. It remains an unsurpassed method of engagement with a rich gain.