Abstract: Christianity in China is an accredited multi – countenanced religion, trading the deep rift between Catholicism and Protestantism since infancy. As a ‘whole’, it has glided through its volatile reception in a strange land of heathens, lavish Imperial persecutions, controversy over the appellate attached to the Holy Trinity, devising of impious means of survival, contribution to the havoc that razed Manchu China to the ground; and survived to be studied under the label of “religious effect on the economic growth of a country”. The present paper purposes to study the ‘chaotic’ effect of Protestantism on the Chinese affairs of the State from 1840-65, paying particular attention to it being a significant causative in the Opium Wars (1842 – 60), as well as the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 64).

Keywords: China; Protestantism; chaotic; Opium Wars; Taiping Rebellion.

In the Shoo-king, 4th book, section 9, “The eleven men who aided Woo-wang [King Wu] were able to trace out and understand the decree of Shang-te,” which decree is called by the Commentator, “the decree of Heaven.”(Reilly, 2004, p.85)

Christianity in China is an accredited multi – countenanced religion, trading the deep rift between Catholicism and Protestantism since infancy. As a ‘whole’, it has glided through its volatile reception in a strange land of heathens, lavish Imperial persecutions, controversy over the appellate attached to the Holy Trinity, devising of impious means of survival, contribution to the havoc that razed Manchu China to the ground; and survived to be studied under the label of “religious effect on the economic growth of a country”. The present paper purposes to study the ‘chaotic’ effect of Protestantism on the Chinese affairs of the State from 1840-65, paying particular attention to it being a significant causative in the Opium Wars (1842 – 60), as well as the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 64).

The Christ of China.

China provided a shaky start to the preachers of Christ, in general. Around the world, the Jesuit preachers outran their Protestant counterparts in their endeavour to spread the word of Christ, and even when Protestantism received the opportunity of a head – start, it suffered setbacks, thanks to its rival denomination and the potent heathen faith that existed across the length and breadth of the country[1]. An equally dangerous adversary was the Imperial Cult, each viewing the other as sheer blasphemy. For this foreign enterprise was not only a treason, disturbing the official tranquillity and reputation, it was also the representative of the derisive blow to Sinocentricism, and everything destructive of the passive dynamics of ‘good’ Chinese traditionalism .i.e., ‘evil’ modernity[2]. More importantly, its association with the immorality of opium and ability to stir chaos in physicality and mentality – made even sympathetic contemporaries dub Christianity as the “religion of the hairy barbarians, foreign devils, fan kuei” (Fay, 1975) of flourishing commerce. The Chinese approach to Christianity, irrespective of the denomination, was similar in the early days; however Protestantism, alongside “Chinese Religion”[3], emerged as the dominant contestant in the 1840s, inspiring a series of civil unrest[4] – starting with the minor White Lotus Rebellion of 1796 – 1804[5], and ending with the Taiping Rebellion.

Rebellions in a Timeline.

“Chinese” Protestantism had an interesting beginning. Protestants were not only late arrivals to the Chinese mission scene, they were late arrivals to the entire world of missions. There was no significant Protestant mission effort anywhere until the end of the eighteenth century. The English Baptist William Carey published his An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen during the turbulent tides of the 1759 Evangelical Awakening; bringing forth a religious movement, which rose in the early eighteenth century, endured through the first decades of the nineteenth, and affected all the Protestant denominations, particularly those in England and America. It gave birth to the Methodists and other Wesleyan groups as well as to evangelical social crusades, such as the anti-slavery campaigns and temperance societies. This movement also produced the first Protestant missionary societies. The earliest of the missionaries included the Moravians, a German Pietist group, which coincidentally profoundly influenced Rev. Karl Gützlaff (1803 – 1851), and individuals like John Wesley, Robert Morrison, etc. The first modern Protestant mission society, the Baptist Missionary Society, was formed in 1792, immediately after Carey published his appeal. The London Missionary Society was formed in 1795 and was the first mission to send evangelists to China (Reilly, 2004, pp.54-55). This was followed by similar attempts by the Netherlands Missionary Society in 1797 and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1830; others in the picture were affiliated with the BaptistsSouthern BaptistsPresbyteriansMethodistsEpiscopalians, and Wesleyans. Most missionaries came from England, the United StatesSwedenFranceGermanySwitzerland, or the Netherlands (Wikipedia, 16 October 2016). These missionaries were inexperienced but they made up what they lacked in, with energy, and through the ‘use’ of their positions. These missionaries played multiple roles: pioneering scholars with several path-breaking publications, educators, official interpreters, amateur diplomats and Sinologists who interpreted China to the Western nations, and vice versa (Bays, 2012). They were also translators of the Bible, and custodians of Evangelism in China – and under them, the Scriptures strove to take shape in the Chinese tongue, portraying a unique mix of Catholicism and Protestantism. This was natural, provided that the Protestant editions of the Bible were hesitant, yet necessary copies of incomplete Catholic translations of the Testament. Moreover, the Protestants imparted great importance to the translations for they had the instinctive ingrained Protestant conviction that every people needs to have the scriptures in their own language; and there was the fear of an unwelcomed taint of Christianity, with its unpredictable consequences, to interfere with the already troubled commercial activities[6] (Bays, 2012, pp.44-45). In fact, the Protestants found themselves trapped between the need to validate and the need to be vague – and finally began to acknowledge that they were in utter desperation, for now they needed to preach to survive. And they needed to preach with the zeal that stuck a cord with the rubrics of British imperialism.

“No, Sir. I expect God will.” (Morrison in Fay, 1975)

‘Business’ was indeed slow for the Protestant missionaries in China. The Protestant fraternities grew but with a snail’s pace! Before the outbreak of the Opium War in 1839, altogether from 1807, very few missionaries stayed in their assigned positions in China. The China mission was scattered from Guangzhou-Macao to Singapore and Batavia, restricted to the coastal Treaty Ports. The cost of the efforts to advance this enterprise had been great: the labours and tedium of language study and development of basic language learning tools; the frequent illnesses of themselves, spouses, and children, and the high toll of lives; and the frustrations of living within the narrow parameters of the restrictions imposed on foreigners by Chinese government policy[7] (Bays, 2012, p.46). Even more troubling was the small number of converts. The flaw lay within the denomination itself: unlike Catholicism, Protestantism was unaccommodating[8] and non – relatable to the masses; it could “no more develop true faith and check error than a code of laws without judges can preserve order in the body politic”(Fay, 1971). Nonetheless, it was more aggressive as demonstrated by ill, depressed, stalled on the edge of the mainland, and frustrated missionary observers of the 1830s speaking a pure dialect of imperialist paternalism[9]:

“China still proclaims her proud and unapproachable supremacy and disdainfully rejects all pretentions in any other nation to be considered as her equal. This feeling of contemptible vanity Christianity alone will eventually destroy. Where other means have failed, the gospel will triumph; this will fraternize the Chinese with the rest of mankind … [linking] them in sympathy with other portions of their species, and thus add to the triumphs it has achieved”. (Lovell, 2011, p.4)

By the 1830s, the Protestant missionaries became natural allies of the smugglers of opium: when they first arrived on the coast of China, they docked among opium traders on the island of Lintin; they interpreted for them in exchange for passage up the coast, distributing tracts while the drug was taken onshore; and in the Chinese Repository, they shared a forum for spreading their views on the urgent need to “open China”[10] by whatever means necessary (Ibid., 2011, pp.4-5). Like the merchants, they favoured violence to subjugate the “crouching, gentle, and even kind” Chinese; for instance, in 1839, Gutzlaff would lead the British military occupation of eastern China, running armies of Chinese spies and contributors (Lovell, 2011, pp.4-5). The vignette of Economic Imperialism of the country was becoming clearer: a feat to be achieved by violence and diplomacy – and the need of the hour suggested that the same means should be employed for the end of driving out the idolatry of the Chinese Empire. As Fay states, “Only Christ could save China from opium. But only war could open China to Christ” (Fay, 1971).

The Opium Wars.

China had to be “opened” by diverse approaches: firstly by opium immorality, secondly by use of physical force and thirdly, by Christ – necessarily in the same order. In the first two, they did their fair share, somewhat against piety or conscience – the latest, they left, unperturbed, the true path to Christian conversion; i.e., the path of intense individual religious experience – the sinner, brought face to face with the fact of his own absolute depravity, and despairing of all earthly succour, at last throws himself without reserve upon God’s mercy through Jesus Christ His Son (Ibid.). Such was the engagement of the missionaries with opium trade that it became well known that the preachers offered the Chinese “the word in one hand, and fire, blood and misery in the other” (Guan, 1987). The charade profited survival but peace was to come when they would become accomplices to the triumphant consequence of their indirectly stimulated violence .i.e., the “unequal treaties” (bupingdeng tiaoyue) that followed the Opium War (Yapian Zhanzheng) (Bays, 2012, p.42). The foremost 1842 Nanjing Treaty had for its primary objectives the changing of the framework of foreign trade imposed by the 1760 Canton System, the abolition of the monopoly of the Cohong and their Thirteen Factories and the opening up of four additional “Treaty Ports” for foreign trade. However, its aftermath was of significance – it earned the foreigners the courtesy, ‘friendly’ visits and occasional hospitality of various local officials during the latter part of 1842 (Cheung, 2004). From there on, evolved the concept of the ‘centre’ approach  within the framework of the itinerant preaching strategy – conceived by Burns in 1852, it took the treaty port as the base from which missionaries may reach out to the vicinity and the interiors but only within the limits of the Sino-Western treaties. Both situational and methodological considerations made native agency a must in evangelistic and church work, and this contributed to an increase in the number of converts (Cheung, 2004, pp.172-174). The 1844 American Treaty at Macau followed suit, adding considerably to the accumulation of foreign special privileges in China. The Opium Wars of 1839 – 46 didn’t lessen the opium degradation – as more of the native population fell to the depravity and the social institutions and practices reflected the perilous times, the missionaries engaged their attention, hopes and services in saving the Chinese soul and body. It was unfortunate in the proper ordering of priorities; therefore, bringing Christ to China came before taking opium away.

The opium “Opening” of China.

The flexibility of the situation was reflected in the manner the Protestant missionaries openly constituted their ‘duty’, particularly in the final revision of translation of the New Testament. A Jesuit missionary, Jean Basset of the Missions Étrangères de Paris gave the first, albeit incomplete, Catholic translation of the New Testament in Chinese; which included a “harmony” of the gospels (in which the four gospels were combined into one account of the life of Jesus), the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letters, and the first chapter of Hebrews (Reilly, 2004, p.58). The translation was “at once wholly original and totally puzzling”, because:

[Firstly] the most intriguing aspect of his work was his translation of the term for God. Basset did not use the term Tianzhu (Lord of Heaven), as mandated by the 1715 papal decree, nor did he use Shangdi (Sovereign on High), the name forbidden by the same decree. Rather, he used Shen (God or Spirit) consistently throughout the harmonized gospel and the epistles. This translation of God creates a problem. The difficulty in translating the term shen is that since there is no capitalization in Chinese, there is no indication that this is a proper noun in the Chinese. With the other Chinese terms for God, Shangdi and Tianzhu, translators can capitalize them in English, as they are more clearly proper terms in the Chinese. Translators who used shen usually worked around this problem by referring to this particular god as being either the one and only god or the highest god, and so arrived at a proper name for God … The first chapter of his gospel harmony, for example, taken mostly from the Gospel of John, states that in the beginning was the word (yen), and the word was a god (shen), and that this word-god was in the embrace of another god (shen). Neither of these gods is identified with Tianzhu, and Basset never has recourse throughout his translation to this term.

[Secondly there was] Basset’s irregular translation of the term for angel. In all other Catholic literature the term used was tianshen (Heavenly god). But since Basset adopted the term Shen to name the highest God, he could hardly refer to choirs of angels as occupying equal status with the high God. Consequently, Basset used two different terms in translating the word angel: tianshi (heavenly or imperial messenger—this term was used by the Qing court to designate its messengers) and shenshi (divine messenger). So in Basset, the angel who appeared to John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was called the Lord’s heavenly messenger, while the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, bringing her glad tidings, is a divine messenger. And on that starlit Christmas night, when the birth of Jesus was announced to the shepherds, it was a crowd of heavenly messengers who declared to them that peace has come to men of good will. There were no “Heavenly gods” (that is, tianshen, the conventional term for angels in all previous Catholic publications) in Basset’s constellation of beings. (ibid., pp.58-60)

Morrison’s 1813 Protestant translation was heavily inspired by the “translation of an idiosyncratic interpreter of Catholic terminology” (ibid., p.60) with a small exception: the angels (shenshizhe; divine messengers) appeared as a heavenly army (tianjun) rather than as just a crowd of angels, rendering glory to Shen (ibid.). Following the opening of the Treaty Ports in 1843, Western missionaries gathered in Hong Kong in 1843, and began to set down a plan for a unified translation of the Bible. The plan called for the apportioning of the Bible among the missionaries resident at the five different treaty ports. Once a draft of the apportioned section of the Bible was completed at one port, it would be sent to the other ports for evaluation. When the evaluation process was finished, each port’s representatives appointed delegates who assembled at Shanghai in 1847 to undertake the final revision. As the delegates began preparing the final draft of the translation, it was immediately apparent that the committee had become polarized over what came to be known as the “term question” and the proper term to be used for translating the name of God became the central focus of a great debate, intensified between the chief protagonists: Rev. William Boone, who served in China from 1840 until his death in 1864 as a missionary bishop of the American Episcopal Church and who endorsed the use of the term Shen; and Dr. Walter Medhurst, erstwhile colleague of Gützlaff in the translation of what became the Taiping Bible, who advocated using the term Shangdi.[11] Each mission and Bible society decided for itself which term seemed most appropriate, and so two different translations of the Bible, one featuring Shangdi and the other Shen, were published, a practice that continues to the present day (ibid., pp.81-91). This incident, however, had serious repercussions – theological, political, and cultural.

Fortunately for the Protestant missionaries, the combined dream of Medhurst’s Shangdi served by Morrison’s ‘militant angels’ was driven home, into the patriotic imagination of ‘rotting’ Chinese masses through the very “image of the Lord Jesus” (Fay, 1975) – Morrison’s Bible printer and first ordained evangelist[12], Liang Afa. Liang’s nine – volume booklet Good Words to Admonish the Age, stressed individual salvation from sin over national deliverance from oppression and which entirely overlooked corporate aspects of salvation. Like other contemporary works[13], it drew a distinction between the sacred and the secular spheres of life – a view natural to the Enlightenment and Evangelic scenario, but unnatural to Chinese understanding. He went out of his way to exclude any discussion of economic, political, or social consequences for the religious ideas he explained, in effect polarizing the world of religion and the world of government and society. This made a discussion of matters outside a narrowly conceived religious sphere unnecessary (Reilly, 2004, p.92). Also, he had refrained from using the shortened title Jidu[14] (Chinese for “Christ”) except when quoting directly from Morrison’s New Testament. He most frequently used the title Jiuzhu (“Salvation Lord”) and Jiushizhu (“World’s Salvation Lord”) This title was never imbued, however, with the holistic sense in the Testaments; that “saviour” could refer to a leader or ruler who would save his people from sin and deliver them from political oppression (ibid.). This was the orientation imparted to the indigenous Christians, on the eve of the next chapter of chaos, triggered by a Protestant plethora of explosive terminology and ‘misunderstood’ meanings – the Taiping Rebellion.

The Taiping Rebellion.

Ironically Protestantism made the secular/sacred distinction alongside allowing the declaration of political ambitions that were solidly rooted in their religious beliefs. By the 1840s, it had assumed the form of a balm that sustained the ‘redemption’ of the Chinese masses, body and soul, exhausted by Imperial rigour. And the greatest demonstration of this was the Taiping Rebellion. More than being a physical outburst, it turned out to be more of an ‘ideological’ outburst; conforming to legitimization through a number of paradoxical elements such as vision and arms, law and belief, etc. Its chief protagonist was a disillusioned academician, Hong Xiuquan, who launched the “movement” keeping in mind –

… that he was the younger brother of Jesus, who was sent to rid China of the “devils”, including the corrupt Qing government and Confucian teachings. He felt that it was his duty to spread his interpretation of Christianity and overthrow the Qing dynasty. (Wikipedia, 2 November 2016)

In fact, blasphemy was the root concern of the debate between what the Imperial devotees believed and what the Protestant devotees wanted to believe. And the latter mistook the erred Protestant translations in their literal sense. Again Protestantism provided a cure, but in its own decadent and deceiving manner.

The growth and development of Protestantism in China is no different from other South – East Asian countries, progressing in a manner that is deceptive, overpowering and ill founded. It caused unrest not only between the foreigners and the indigenous lot, but between the government and its subject. The problem lay, as in with the translation of the term ‘God’ and the subsequent meaning of the body of the Divine, and with relating to the actors concerned in the fascinating world of the new Scriptures. The concepts of the Christian world threw the ‘pagan’ Kingdom into turmoil, creating obnoxious irreconcilable differences, and consummating chaos that could only be resolved by aggravated lies and violence. Its agents, the missionaries – hand in hand with Imperial nourishment – acted as the channels of religion, ideology and politico – cultural imperialism, creating a Protestant ‘cocoon’ of China that beguiled ‘desperate’ masses with complex ideologies that suited complex societies and not ones seeped deep into feudalism. The cocoon stirred discontent, before bowing to the greater popularity of the ‘Chinese religion’. Today, it still remains the very ‘cocoon’ it was conceived as, in the distant 18th centuries, sans the treaties, and over powering tint of the ‘Anglicised’ hands. It was no mass religion; it rather took root in a hamlet of convertees, who simply related to the words ‘suffering’, ‘oppression’ and ‘redemption’. Weaved by notions of Predestination and a militant religiosity, and hardly ‘modern’ it can be said that Protestantism was one of the reasons, did loosen the hold of rigidity, rather than of conservatism over Imperial China, making it vulnerable to change in accordance to the rhythms of Time and Situation. It caused chaos, for the Chinese masses were not as ‘Protestant’ as their Western counterparts, and all they had was the reaping of some disjointed and dislocated philosophies that triggered unrest and the imbecile faith on an Abstract, as supreme. Its infidel projections did guarantee its survival but in the size of the cocoon that supported the projections in the first place, and allowed them to delve into the souls of the deceived poor of China.

It was more than a “Decree of Heaven”. It was a decree of a human lie … a white one, nonetheless.


[1] China was never a “united front” in the sense of a Western State and in the 18th century, there was no confident definition of “China”.  In theory Qing orthodoxy held that the Manchus formed ‘one family’ with the Han Chinese that they ruled. In reality, the Manchu population worked to keep a sense of their ethnic otherness alive. It was a cross – bred state, held together by coercive cosmopolitanism: by a sense of unbounded entitlement to rule and control, justified by the Confucian Mandate of Heaven, the Manchu way, Tibetan spirituality, and European firepower. A demographic explosion of non-relatable ethnicities led to fierce competition for work and resources, ecological degradation, price rises and bureaucratic chaos and corruption. Qing China was a vast, multi – ethnic jigsaw of lands and peoples. British opinion – and policy makers of the 1830s made the mistake of – or deliberately deceived themselves into – simplifying the territory they called China into a complacent unity: an obstinate duelling partner from whom satisfaction must be extracted (Lovell, 2011).

[2] Historians have always equated colonialism with modernity: the coming of the modernizer colonist introduced the oriental despot and oppressed to the requiems of enlightenment; and delivered them from the oppression of ignorance and traditionalism. In the context of China, the foreign traders and missionaries viewed the seeping of modernity as the “open[ing] of China” to the march of Western civilization. In the eyes of the Chinese, however, this was an encroach into and disruption of their traditional morally – superior world, causing chaos in the process.

[3] China has long been a cradle and host to a variety of the most enduring religiophilosophical traditions of the world. Confucianism and Taoism, later joined by Buddhism, constitute the “three teachings” that historically have shaped Chinese culture. There are no clear boundaries between these intertwined religious systems, which do not claim to be exclusive, and elements of each enrich popular or folk religion. Folk or popular religion, the most wide-spread system of beliefs and practices, has evolved and adapted since at least the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The government formally recognises five religious doctrines: Buddhism, Taoism, IslamProtestantism, and Catholicism(though enforcing a separation of the Chinese Catholic Church from the Roman Catholic Church). In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing institutional recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion (Wikipedia, 2 November 2016).

[4] The widespread conflation of the Taiping, White Lotus, and Heavenly Lord sects in the accounts of Qing loyalist observers and in publications such as A Record of Facts to Ward Of Heterodoxy, along with the tendency of White Lotus followers to convert to Christianity, shows that the Taiping legacy for the Heavenly Lord, Protestant, and even native Buddhist sects was a tradition of iconoclasm directed at the imperial force and the ascription of Heaven’s approval to those persecuted by the government. In the chapter of his reconnaissance report for Zeng Guofan devoted to the “bandit [foreign] religion,” Zhang Dejian recounts how White Lotus and Eight Trigrams sectarians had used religion to stir up the common people in past rebellions. Zhang notes that Guangdong and Guangxi had many followers of the Heavenly Lord sect (these two provinces actually represented a very small contingent) who, under persecution from the authorities, concealed their name by changing the term jiao (teaching) to hui (society— i.e., signifying a secret society), so that there were now such names as Shangdi Hui (Society of God),Tiandi Hui (Increasing Brothers Society), and Xiaodao Hui (Small Sword Society). Zhang even traces the genealogy of the Taiping: “Hong and the other rebels, when they first swore brotherhood, called themselves the Shangdi Hui. Then they changed the name to the Tiandi Hui [Heavenly Emperor Society], and also went under the name of the Tiandi Hui [Increasing Brothers Society]. This is why all those who enter these societies, regardless of whether they are old or young, afterwards all consider each other brother. Even though there have been these multiple changes in the name, in substance it is all still the Heavenly Lord sect [Tianzhu jiao] (Reilly, 2004).

[5] The anti-Imperial factor in the White Lotus Rebellion hasn’t been addressed in the paper concerned. The rebellion began in 1794, when large groups of rebels claiming White Lotus affiliations rose up within the mountainous region that separated Sichuan province from Hubei and Shaanxi provinces. Members of the society were not ethnically different from Han Chinese, but subscribed to a belief based on a mixture of TaoismBuddhism, and Manichaeism. The group forecast the advent of Maitreya, advocated restoration of the Han Chinese-led Ming dynasty, and promised personal salvation to its followers while promising the return of the Buddha. “Return of the Buddha” is popularly used to describe the coming descent of Maitreya as Buddha on earth: “Buddha come-again”. Though many movements and rebellions were considered by imperial bureaucrats to have been led by White Lotus Society leaders, there is reason to doubt that the White Lotus Society had any organizational unity. BJ Ter Haar has argued that the term “White Lotus” was used primarily by Ming and Qing imperial bureaucrats to disparagingly explain a wide range of unconnected millenarian traditions, rebel movements, and popular religious practices. According to Ter Haar, it is clear that the “White Lotus” rebels of the uprisings that occurred between 1796 and 1804 did not voluntarily use the term “White Lotus” to refer to themselves or their movement. The term was only used by the millenarian rebels under intense pressure during government interrogations. It is only as historical sources look back upon these events do they began to summarize the various aspects of these uprisings as the “White Lotus rebellion” (Wikipedia, 21 October 2016).

[6] Many scholars have looked for the origins of the missionary impulse in the imperialistic designs of Britain. Although imperialistic imagination, which often accompanied imperialistic enterprise, did contribute to the movement, it is also widely recognized that the trade barons who were constructing their economic empire often clashed openly with the missionary bishops who were building their ecclesiastical empire. Dramatic changes coinciding with the loss of the American settlement colonies and the gain of the entire Indian subcontinent were certainly afoot in Britain’s idea of empire at the end of the eighteenth century. The progress of the Industrial Revolution further affected the British idea of empire and provided the economic conditions that made the missionary movement possible. Nevertheless, the sponsors of the trading and economic empire did not warm to the zeal of the emerging religious enthusiasts. The British Crown had granted the East India Company the monopolistic right to trade in Asia, and it had become a matter of company policy to prohibit missionary work among native peoples. The search for the origins of the Protestant missionary impulse has yet to take into account the response of British evangelicals to political events in France and on the Continent, a factor that probably contributed more than any other to the missionary movement. Millennial visions were a prominent feature of early British Protestantism, and the dates for the founding of all the modern missionary societies correspond to a renewed sense of the imminence of the millennium and the apocalypse that must precede it (Reilly, 2004).

[7] The foreign relation between the Western powers and the Chinese Imperial authorities was a shaky one and the authorities came down heavily on the foreign religion of Christianity. Under the “fundamental laws” of China, one section is titled “Wizards, Witches, and all Superstitions, prohibited.” The Jiaqing Emperor in 1814 A.D. added a sixth clause in this section with reference to Christianity. It was modified in 1821 and printed in 1826 by the Daoguang Emperor. It sentenced Europeans to death for spreading Christianity among Han Chinese and Manchus. Christians who would not repent their conversion were sent to Muslim cities in Xinjiang, to be given as slaves to Muslim leaders and beys. The clause stated: “People of the Western Ocean, [Europeans or Portuguese,] should they propagate in the country the religion of heaven’s Lord, [name given to Christianity by the Catholics,] or clandestinely print books, or collect congregations to be preached to, and thereby deceive many people, or should any Tartars [Manchus] or Chinese, in their turn, propagate the doctrines and clandestinely give names, (as in baptism,) inflaming and misleading many, if proved by authentic testimony, the head or leader shall be sentenced to immediate death by strangulations : he who propagates the religion, inflaming and deceiving the people, if the number be not large, and no names be given, shall be sentenced to strangulation after a period of imprisonment. Those who are merely hearers or followers of the doctrine, if they will not repent and recant, shall be transported to the Mohammedan cities (in Turkistan) and given to be slaves to the beys and other powerful Mohammedans who are able to coerce them. . . . All civil and military officers who may fail to detect Europeans clandestinely residing in the country within their jurisdiction, and propagating their religion, thereby deceiving the multitude, shall be delivered over to the Supreme Board and be subjected to a court of inquiry.” Some hoped that the Chinese government would discriminate between Protestantism and Catholicism, since the law was directed at Catholicism, but after Protestant missionaries in 1835-6 gave Christian books to Chinese, the Daoguang Emperor demanded to know who were the “traitorous natives in “Canton who had supplied them with books.” The foreign missionaries were strangled or expelled by the Chinese.  In 1860 Protestant missions were confined to five coastal cities. By the end of the century, Western powers had forced the government to allow missionaries into the interior (Wikipedia, 16 October 2016).

[8] The Protestants had little to show but had begun with nothing, whereas the Catholics had the great days of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to look back upon. Then Jesuit priests lived openly in the imperial capital. Then they prescribed medicines, cast cannon, reformed and directed the calendar (a thing the Son of Heaven had a special responsibility for and was always having trouble with), gave advice on how to handle the Russians, and in return were allowed to celebrate the Mass publicly, to preach, and to baptize. Through their good services China and Europe touched and mingled at the highest level of culture and with an astonishing degree of mutual respect. Even Protestants grudgingly admitted this. While in the provinces the number of the converted approached a third of a million. But the Jesuits paid a price. To get themselves accepted, they deliberately accommodated themselves and their religion to Chinese life. They dressed as mandarins dressed; they avoided unnecessary display of the crucifix; they took pains to learn Chinese, to become familiar with the Chinese classics, and were quick to point out passages in the latter that seemed to teach of God (whom they denoted by characters suggesting a prior Chinese acquaintance). Above all they permitted their communicants to observe the rites and ceremonies by which Confucius and one’s ancestors are honoured. Thus they soothed the apprehensions of the magistrates at the same time that they won the adherence of a respectable number of ordinary Chinese. Rome permitting what, after all, Rome did not hear very much about. Eventually, however, critics of accommodation, from conviction or from jealousy, brought this compromising behaviour so insistently to Rome’s attention that she was obliged to act. As the seventeenth century gave way to the eighteenth she commanded the Jesuits, at first tentatively, at length categorically, to stop (Fay, 1975).

[9] The supposed benevolence of modernity brought to an oriental land by the Westernizer. The colonial state (though irrelevant in the context of “Economic Imperialism” that took place in China) is metaphorically considered the “Father” to the “Son” – the subjugated subjects of the Oriental and Despotic state.

[10] It was during a visit to England, in the course of which James Matheson was exposed to the enthusiasm of the outports for the China market, that he wrote and published The Present Position and Prospects of the British Trade with China (London, 1836). In this short polemic Matheson invoked Vattel, the celebrated Swiss jurist, on the natural law basis of free trade, and called on England to send warships to the coast to force changes in the Canton commercial system. But he did not ask for other ports; he did not use the phrase “to open China” or any variation thereof; the Jardine Matheson Papers and the Forbes Papers (Russell and Co.) for the years immediately preceding the war has nothing to suggest that these two firms wanted to “open” China. That ambition came upon them during the war and was even then limited to seeking access to the “principal marts” (Fay, 1971). Under the Protestants, the term came to mean the freeing of China from oriental despotism and ushering in modernity and the rightful salvation.

[11] The Shen advocates emphasized the need to follow the apostolic precedent in searching for the proper term for signifying the deity. Boone and his allies liked the term Shen because it seemed to better fit with the apostolic example as seen in the New Testament of translating the name of God from the Greek theos (god or God, depending on the preceding article). The apostles, though, were not pioneers in using this Greek term. They were merely following the lead of the translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the pre-Christian translation known as the Septuagint. (The name for this translation is derived from a story about seventy elders originally assembled to translate the Hebrew Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, into Greek.) In that translation, Jewish translators favoured the term theos in their Greek translation for the Hebrew term for God, Elohim. This apostolic model became for Boone and his colleagues the sole criterion for judging the suitability of the term for God. The apostles did not use the name Zeus, the high god of the Greeks, for referring to the God of the Hebrews. Rather, they designated the common generic sense of deity in using theos. In the Chinese context, they thus argued that missionaries should also use the generic term for the deity. Conversely, in using the term Shangdi, Boone objected that missionaries would unwittingly be promoting the worship of a pagan god. Medhurst responded to this approach with an argument taken from the context of Chinese culture. The apostles, he argued, did not adopt the term theos unconstructed. They added the singular nominative article to it, so that in the New Testament the name of God is always “(the) God.” Yet there was no such grammatical tool available in the Chinese context. Instead, translators always had to fall back on putting together strings of attributions to convey their meaning of the one God, most simply designated by the form “One True God” (weiyi zhen shen). Medhurst reasoned that in the Chinese classical texts, the term shen denoted the generic name for a god and did not evoke the respect and awe due to the highest God. Medhurst objected to the use of the term shen because it could and did signify everything from the spirit of a waterfall to the deification of a dog. Moreover, he pointed out that shen is often paired with the word gui (ghost) and frequently with a malevolent ghost or demon, which demonstrates that both terms refer to lower level spiritual beings and not at all to higher-level beings. In fact, Medhurst argued that, in a sense, the Chinese were not polytheists at all. While they recognized the existence of a plurality of spiritual beings, they nonetheless accorded Shangdi only the highest honor. The Lord of Heaven ruled over a vast host of lesser spiritual beings, whose titles were rendered into Chinese by combining different attributes with the generic name for deity: tianshen (angel; literally, Heavenly god), shengshen (Holy Spirit; literally, holy god), and xieshen (evil spirit or evil god). Medhurst was not always so imaginative in his presentations as here. His comments, however, do reveal what he took to be the critical issue. While the Greek word theos could refer both to the highest deity and to the plurality of deities, the Chinese word shen referred only to the latter. Therefore, the apostolic example could not be followed in this situation, since the Greek case was not truly parallel to the Chinese. Medhurst emerged victorious in the debate, though two separate Bibles came into vogue. (Reilly, 2004).

[12] The Protestant denominations prevalent in China were Anglican and Calvinist.

[13] Wylie’s Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese, other than his translation of the Bible, Robert Morrison published eleven works in Chinese, including: A True and Summary Statement of the Divine Doctrine, An Outline of Old Testament History, Daily and Evening Prayers, and a geography primer, Tour of the World. In addition to his multiple translations of the Bible, Gützlaff composed some works in Chinese, including such titles as History of England, Doctrine of Redemption, Precious Words of Jesus, God (that is, Shangdi) the Lord of All, Outlines of Political Economy, and Abandoning Depravity and Returning to Righteousness.

[14] The Catholic transliteration of Christ differed from the Protestant version in only a minor fashion. The characters of the transliteration are exactly alike except for the character representing si; the Protestants used the character for scholar, which is transliterated shi. For the Catholic transliteration Buglio’s ritual guide Shengshi lidian used the transliteration Jilisidu for the title of Christ throughout, including in his translation of the sign of the cross and in the Apostles’ Creed. Buglio translated many major pieces of Catholic literature in the seventeenth century. In addition to the ritual guide, he also translated the missal and the breviary. The Catholic and Protestant transliterations usually appear in a shortened form as Jidu (Reilly, 2004, p. 195).


  • Northrop, H. (1900). Chinese horrors and persecution of Christians. Anonymous.
  • Fay, P. W. (1971). The Protestants and the Opium Wars. USA: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Fay, P. W. (1975). The Opium War, 1840–1842: barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the early part of the nineteenth century and the war by which they forced her gates ajar. USA: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Alvares, C. (1980). Decolonizing history: technology and culture in India, China and the west 1492 to the present day.  India: The Other Indian Press.
  • Ching, J. (1997). Cambridge studies in religious traditions II: mysticism and kingship in China. United Kingdom: The Cambridge University Press.
  • Flynt, J. W. et al. (1997). Taking Christianity to China: Alabama Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1850-1950. USA: The University of Alabama Press.
  • Hanes, W. T. et al. (2002). The Opium Wars: the addiction of one empire and the corruption of another. Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc.
  • Cheung, D. (2004). Christianity in modern China: the making of the first native Protestant church. The Netherlands: The Koninklijke Brill N.V.
  • Bays, D. H. (2012). A new history of Christianity in China. United Kingdom: Wiley – Blackwell.
  • Stark, R. et al. (2015). A star in the East: the rise of Christianity in China. West Conshohocken: Templeton Press.
  • Reilly, T. H. (2004). The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: rebellion and the blasphemy of Empire. USA: The University of Washington Press.
  • Wikipedia Articles:
  1. Protestantism in China (16 October 2016)
  2. Taiping Rebellion (2 November 2016)
  3. White Lotus Rebellion (21 October 2016)



One thought on “A COCOON OF CONCEIT

  1. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one these days..

    Liked by 1 person

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