CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 10 November 2018

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New book on Jesuits in China

SYDNEY (UCAN): A first in publishing on China, the two-volume A Call to Mission: A History of the Jesuits in China 1842-1954 was launched in Sydney, Australia, on February 19.
 
Jesuit Father David Strong, the author, spent 15 years writing and researching material covering three continents in this work which covers the second phase of the Jesuit engagement with China. 
 
In that period of 112 years, more than 1,200 European and North American Jesuits were joined by up to half that number of Chinese entrants to the order, working across China until the communist government expelled the foreigners and imprisoned most of the Chinese.
 
Essential reading for an informed perspective on current Vatican-China negotiations, the singular merit of this work is the comprehensive nature of its coverage of the life of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church in the most convulsive century in Chinese history.
 
No less than six major eruptions of social and political unrest in this period ripped an ancient civilisation out of cultural and political patterns that prevailed for over two millennia.
 
The author’s access to the impact of these convulsions at a local level—through the diaries and letters of the Jesuits stationed across China—give a taste for what life was like in villages and cities.
 
China has loomed large in the imagination of the Catholic Church for 500 years and had been central to the missionary dream of the Jesuits for almost as long. 
 
However, only with this book’s appearance has detailed attention been given to the substantial and neglected period of Catholic and Jesuit engagement with China—from the second arrival of the Jesuits in 1842 to 1954.
 
Polymath, Father Matteo Ricci, astronomers Father Ferdinand Verbiest and Father Adam Schall von Bell and the exquisite painter who influenced Chinese painting beyond measure, Giuseppe Castiglione, have been written about, made much 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.
 
However, the second arrival—from the 1840s—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 what they felt was their superior religion.
 
This work by Father Strong 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.

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