Huanqiu Shibao: Why the Retired Pope’s “China Dream” remained unachieved (1)

Catholicism isn’t a big religion in China, but there seem to be several millions of Catholic Christians – organized inside or outside the official “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association”.

This topic is unchartered territory to me, and mistakes in the following translation(s) are not unlikely. This is a translation of the first chapter of a topical page on Huanqiu Shibao. I haven’t made up my mind yet if I should translate the remaining chapters, too. But it seems to be an attractive topic, also in the light of soft-power issues — JR

[Observation: there seems to be a rather thoughtful – by Huanqiu Shibao commenter standards, that is – discussion going on in the thread underneath the topical page.]

[Links within blockquotes added during translation.]

Main Link: Why the Retired Pope’s “China Dream” remained unachieved – 退位教皇为何没圆“中国梦”, Huanqiu Shibao, March 5, 2013

Introduction: On February 28, 2013, in the evening, Roman Pope Benedict XVI formally relinquished the papal duties, thus becoming the first “retiring” Pope in 600 years. It is also the fifth “retiring” Pope in history. Benedict XVI, during his “reign” of six years, tried to improve Chinese-Vatican relations and to establish diplomatic relations with China, but up to his “retirement”, this hadn’t been achieved. What are the origins of this City of Shang Di‘s relations with China?


In 1582, xx years into the reign of Emperor Ming Wanli, Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci was sent to Macau to learn Chinese. In 1583, he founded a Catholic missionary base in Zhaoqing to introduce mathematics, geometry mechanics and similar science to the Chinese people. He studied China’s “Four Books and Five Classics”, went deep into the study of Chinese traditional culture, wore the Han Chinese clothing and said that to be a missionary, one had “to do as the Romans do”. Ricci came to Beijing in 1601, he was in charge of the construction of the Xuanwumen Church, and died in Beijing in 1610. Ricci was a brilliant man of wide learning, and a pioneer of Chinese-Western cultural exchange.


After the introduction of Catholicism into China, the so-called “disputes about the rites” (“礼仪之争”) broke out within Catholicism, with the focus on how to translate the appellation of “God” into Chinese, and how to deal with traditional Chinese traditional custom. Ricci believed that the appelation of “God”, besides using the term “Lord of Heaven/God” (天主), “Heaven” or “Shang Di” were also options, and that Chinese believers could retain traditional ancestoral and religious worship. But the Spanish Dominican missionaries and Franciscan missionaries believed that ancestoral and religious worship was idolatry and violated “biblical” rules. They thus sent people to the Holy See in Rome to complain about Ricci’s Jesuits there.


In 1700 (39 years into the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi), Kangxi entered the rites dispute and declared ancestoral worship (祭祖) and memorial ceremonies of Confucius (祭孔) weren’t parts of traditional Chinese traditional customs, and no religious activities. In 1704, Pope Clement XI publicly ordered the prohibition of ancestoral worship and memorial ceremonies of Confucius among followers of Catholicism, as well as the use of “Shangdi” and “Heaven” as other terms for “Lord of Heaven/God” (天主). He sent an envoy to China for talks. When papal special envoy Charles-Thomas Maillard de Tournon (铎罗) declared in 1706 that his mission to China was to ban ancestoral worship and memorial ceremonies of Confucius among Chinese Catholics, Emperor Kangxi was furious, believing that this move spelled interference in Chinese customs. He sent people to bring Maillard into a temporary residence in Nanjing and ordered the expulsion of missionaries who opposed Chinese rites, and also sent envoys to Rome for talks. In 1707, Maillard, in disregard of Kangxi’s decree, announced the papal ban. Therefore, Kangxi ordered Maillard to be taken to Macau to be held under house arrest there, and issued a decree: “tell the Westerners (西洋人) that from now on, if they don’t respect Matteo Ricci’s rules, they will not be allowed to reside in China and will be sent home.”


In 1715, Pope Clement XI reiterated the ban of 1645 – offenders [against the ban] would be punished for heresy (以异端论处). Kangxi was furious, ordering the arrest of the missionaries and a ban on missionizing. In 1719, the Pope sent a delegation to Beijing for talks again, but Kangxi refused a meeting and rebuked them: “You Westerners don’t understand Chinese writing, so how can you discuss the rights or wrongs of Chinese reason” (尔西洋人不解中国文字,如何妄议中国道理之是非) and “in future, Westerners must not proselityze in China, all of which will be prohibited” (以后不必西洋人在中国传教,禁止可也). Kangxi therefore ordered the expulsion of the guests. Rome’s Pope was forced to make concessions, and in 1720, he announced the “Eight Permissions”.*) [The permissions] agreed to [the legitimacy of] non-religious Chinese rites. Kangxi ordered that only missionaries who were prepared to respect traditonal Chinese rites should reside in China, and banned overt missionary work. It wasn’t before 1939 that the Holy See in Rome revoked all bans on rites, thus bringing the dispute, which had lasted for more than 300 years, to an end. From this, it can be seen that the so-called “disputes about the rites” were completely caused by the Roman Popes’ ignorance of China.


Continued here »



*) According to other versions, it wasn’t the Pope who announced these “eight permissions”, but the delegate, John-Ambrose Mezzabarba. The “Eight Permissions” weren’t long-lived, and apparently overturned by Pope Benedict XIV, in 1742.



Hao Jinli, 1916 – 2011, March 28, 2011


5 Comments to “Huanqiu Shibao: Why the Retired Pope’s “China Dream” remained unachieved (1)”

  1. Meanwhile, the gushing by BBC reporters in St Peters Square last night when white smoke was seen was THE cringeworthy moment in that broadcaster’s mostly stellar history.

    Disgusting reporting even by CCTV standards.

  2. Och, I was in the process of getting used to BBC reporters with emotional breakdowns during the months or years before they switched the medium wave broadcaster in Orfordness off. Their emotions weren’t about losing listeners, of course – who cares -, but about all those things with a human touch.

    When the Chilean miners left the mine they had been trapped in for 69 days, they kept covering it without a break for other news – and the host made “no apologies for that”. (At least his remark revealed that he felt that something might be wrong with this kind of coverage.

    A listener from somewhere in Africa got a serious dressing down in a feedback program some years earlier – on the phone. In a letter, he had dared to criticize the focus on the BBC’s kidnapped correspondent in Gaza back then, Alan Johnson.

    I take it that the new pope will mainly talk to the birds. That should become a rather relaxing papacy for the rest of the world.

  3. All this papal choice will produce is a border war between Argentina and Brazil.

    Prepare yourself for real pomp and ceremony when BBC reports the death of Queen Elizabeth.

    Personally I’d be happy if BBC devoted half its hours to reporting on football.

  4. Church and state affairs seem to have in common that transparency is rare, KT. But what interests me when it comes to the Catholic church are two things: their teachings (as dogmas and what is built on those, as a way of thought) and their role in “ordinary people’s” (mostly Catholics, in this case) lives.

    Don’t know how the Argentine public reacted to the new Pope’s election, but the state-owned foreign broadcaster RAE didn’t sound terribly enthusiastic.

    Obviously, president Cristina Kirchner won’t like the idea of sharing the national limelight with the guy in Rome. That’s pretty much for sure.

    Angela Merkel didn’t either.

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