Chapter 5: Christianity in China
Origins of Christianity in China
The Chinese empire attained its greatest brilliance under the T’ang dynasty (618-907). The Song dynasty (960-1279) fell to the Mongols under Chengis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century. Chinese rule was restored by the Ming dynasty, in AD 1386, who in turn was ousted in 1664 by the Manchu dynasty.
The period of T’ang rule was a time of prosperity and peace. People could travel safely along good roads in almost any part of the country; mules and horses were available to travelers. Chang’an (Hsi-an-fu) was the capital of the empire. It was the largest walled city ever built and about 2 million people lived in and around the city. Officials from every part of the great empire, travelers, merchants and representatives of other countries were able to meet and exchange news and opinions. People became receptive to new ideas and customs. In the sea ports, especially Canton, there were large permanent communities of Arabs, Persians, Indians, and other foreign traders, people of many races, religions and backgrounds.
A.C. Moule in his book: Christians in China before 1550 mentions a tradition that St. Thomas visited China. Both the Latin and Syriac writers in the medieval period (Francis Xavier, de Cruz and de Gouivea, de Burros among the Latin writers and Ebed Jesus among the Syrians) mention this tradition.
John Stewart refers to another tradition current among the Chinese of Chang-an, a tradition referred to also in the Chinese records. According to this tradition, in AD 64, the Chinese emperor Ming-ti, as a result of a dream, sent messengers along a road leading to the west to find out who was the greatest prophet who had arisen in the west. They met two Christian missionaries on the way to the court and returned with them. The missionaries remained there till they died six years later. The only relic of their stay is to be found in a scripture of forty-two sections and a logia of the New Testament. We are not sure of the reliability of this tradition.
Arnobius who wrote about AD 300 tells that the Gospel had been preached in China; so also Cosmas Indicopleustes in the sixth century. From the end of the fifth century, Nestorian missionaries were working in Central Asia and there was a possibility of Christians coming into contact with the Chinese. Moreover, the Sassanid Persia had opened trade connections with China in the fifth century and Nestorian merchants were numerous in the merchant class of those times and Persian Nestorians might have gone to China for trade. About this, K.S. Latourette writes,
For centuries commerce between its [China’s] millions and Central and Western Asia had been carried on by way not only of the sea, but also by overland routes across what is now Sinkiang and through the oases of the Oxus valley. Since so many of the Mesopotamian Christians were merchants, Christianity was especially strong among the mercantile communities in such caravan centres as Merv and Samarquand, and many of the traders who traversed the land routes to the Far East and settled in China were probably Christians. So, too, in the coast cities of China Christian merchants who had come by the sea from Mesopotamia and Syria might be expected. (K. S. Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, vol. ii, London, Eyre and Spottis Woode, 1955, pp. 275-76.)
However, the first effective Christian missions to China of which we have definite knowledge was that sent by the Patriarch Yeshuyab II in about the year AD 635. Early in AD 1625 when trenches were being made for the foundation of some building near Chang’an (Hsi-an), the capital city of T’ang empire, a great slab of stone with an Inscription both in Syriac and Chinese was discovered. The monument was erected in 781. The long inscription speaks of the coming of one Alopen about the year AD 635 bringing Christianity to China. The inscription contains a long list of Persian missionaries and also a summary of the teachings of the church called Ta-Chin (Syrian).
Alopen came to China during the reign of T’ai-tsung (627-649). The emperor received Alopen warmly and after studying the Christian scriptures (sutras) he brought with him, the emperor thoroughly understood "their propriety and truth and specially ordered their preaching and transmission." The emperor was favourable to the new religion. It is said that the emperor’s mother came from a Turkish-Mongolian Nestorian family. It is difficult to say whether it contributed to a favourable reception of the first known Christian mission to China or not.
Though the religion of northern China was basically Buddhism, the first emperor of T’ang dynasty, Kao-tsu, the father of Tai-tsung turned anti Buddhist accepting the usual Confucian argument that Buddhism was alien and unChinese. One of Kao-tsu’s ministers, Fu-yih, presented a petition to the king criticising the Buddhists. His criticisms of Buddhism was not theological but social. He asked the Emperor to deal with the hundred thousand Buddhist monks and nuns whose idle, unproductive lives he felt to be a scandal. In his petition he said:
The Buddha was of the west. His words were mischievous and he was far from us. The Han Dynasty unhappily caused Hu books to be translated, and thus gave free course to this false teaching. This caused disloyal people to cut off their hair,(to become monks and nuns), and to give only second place to their prince and to their parents. On the other hand idle vagabonds donned the cowl in order to avoid the usual forced labour.... They fear no rules to the contrary, and are always ready to break the country’s laws. (John Foster. The Church of the T’ang Dynasty, London, SPCK. 1939, p.40.)
The same argument would have applied to Christianity also. Had Alopen arrived ten years earlier, in the reign of Kao-tsu, he would have been expelled.
In AD 626, Tai-tsung came to the Chinese throne by a palace coup with the help of some Buddhist priests. In return for their support he reversed the anti-foreign and anti-Buddhist policies of his father. The twenty-two years of his reign was a period of wide religious toleration. In AD 635 he welcomed the Christian bishop Alopen. To the Christians it seemed that the reign of Tai-tsung was the fullness of the time for God’s purpose in China.
The historical section of the Nestorian Tablet begins with the following words:
If there is only a way (Tao) and no sage, it will not expand. If there is a sage and no way, nothing great will result. When a way and a sage are found together, then the whole Empire is cultured and enlightened. (Ibid., p. 37.)
The coming of the Christian way was at a time when there was a worthy emperor upon the throne. It was the greatness of the Emperor T’ai-tsung which gave the Christian Church its opportunity. In AD 638 the emperor issued an edict of universal toleration and granted approval to the propagation of Christianity throughout the empire. It reads:
The Way has no constant name, nor the sage a constant form. According to environment religion is set forth quietly affording salvation to all living. The Persian monk Alopen, bringing a scriptural religion, has come to present it in our capital. If one studies the meaning of his religion, it is mysterious, wonderful, spontaneous, producing perception, establishing essentials, for the salvation of creatures and the benefit of man. It ought to spread through out the Empire. The officer of works is to build in the I-ning ward one monastery to house twenty-one monks. (Ibid., p. 53.)
The church and the monastery in the I-ning ward of Chang’An was built by grant from the imperial treasury. As a mark of special honour the emperor sent his portrait to be hung on the church wall. This was the sign of special patronage. This first Christian church of China remained one of the noted buildings of the capital. It is mentioned in Records of Chang ‘An, a book completed in the year AD 1076, and this seems to imply that it was still there, though only as a relic of the past.
A.C. Moule points out that a large number of manuscripts were discovered in north west China which speak of Christianity in China in the seventh and eighth centuries. One of the manuscripts written around AD 800 contains a hymn addressed to the Holy Trinity.
When T’ai-tsung died in AD 649, he was succeeded by his son Kao-tsung who continued his father’s policy of religious toleration and favoured the Nestorians. The Nestorian movement speaks of his establishing a number of monasteries or churches in the latter half of the seventh century. He gave Alopen the title ‘the Great Patron and Spiritual Lord of the Land.’ It was during Kao-tsung’s reign that Christian missionaries began to extend their work from one centre at Chang’An to other cities.
After Kao-tsung’s death, one of his queens Wu-Hou (Wu Chao) seized power (690-705). She was pro-Buddhist and against the Christians. She officially declared Buddhism as state religion in AD 691. The Buddhists hailed her as an incarnation of Maitreya Buddha. She persecuted the Christians. The Nestorian tablet does not say much about the persecution. But it did say that after the persecution in the capital "there were fallen roofs and mined walls to raise, desecrated altars and sanctuaries to restore." (Ibid., p. 655.)
During the reign of Wu Hou’s grandson, Hsuan-tsung (712-756), it was a period of recovery for the church. At the time of the Arab invasion of Persia in AD 636, many refugees including the Persian Shah, found shelter in China. Thus there was a very high ranking Persian community in the Chinese capital in the seventh century. The spread of Arab empire across Asia, rather than interrupting mission to China, actually stimulated the Nestorian mission. Nestorian missionaries accompanied Arab embassies to China, taking advantage of Arab sea and trade routes. The Arab embassies employed Nestorian missionaries as interpreters and advisers in their dealings with the Chinese government.
As for the church in China, the years between AD 712 and 781 were years of greater progress. New missionaries arrived in China with a bishop named Chi-ho. Christians were enjoying again the generous patronage of the emperor. Monasteries had been restored at Chang’An, Lo-yang and in the provinces. In AD 745, the official Chinese name for the Christian religion was changed from the Persian religion to the Syrian (Ta-ch’in) religion. Chinese records include an imperial edict of the year AD 754, which says: "The Persian scriptural religion began in Syria (Ta Ch’in). By preaching and practice it came and long ago spread to China It is necessary to get back to the original name. Its Persian monasteries shall therefore be changed to Syrian monasteries ... throughout the Empire." The reason for such a change, John Foster suggests, was that Christians in China wanted to free themselves from some of the misunderstandings under which they had hitherto laboured. Those were connected with the name ‘Persia’ by which they had been called. Christianity had been confused with Zoroastrianism and Manicheism since all are from the same root, about the same time and have the same popular name, ‘Persian barbarian religions.’ Now Islam also was added to the jumbled confusion. Besides, retention of the old name looked as though their religion belonged to a fading past. Old Persia had disappeared. For the Christians, the name ‘Persian’ had become a misnomer. The name ‘Syrian’ means to the Christians, restoring the original name. Christ was born and lived his earthly life in Ta-Chin. If their religion must have a geographic label, that is the most fitting one. John Foster further states that in discarding the term ‘Persian’, they naturally thought of their pre-Persian history. "Their Church had for centuries been dependent upon the patriarchate of Antioch, which was the capital of Ta-Chin (eastern part of the Roman empire). It is still a common experience for the missionaries in a pagan land to find the divisions of the Christian church of less significance than in the place of their origin. Among the Nestorian missionaries in China there is evidence of such growing catholicity." (Ibid., p. 89.)
What was the real reason for the change of Persian to Syrian? Some of the reasons suggested by John Foster seem to be far fetched. It does not seem that the change was made because the name Persian belonged to a fading past nor because they wanted to reaffirm their connection with the church in the Roman empire. The main reason was political. The church in China did not want to be tied up with any particular nation, Persian, Arab, Mongolian or Chinese empires. In the west the church was part of the political system -- the Roman empire. This was the reason that Christians were persecuted in Persia. They were suspected as an ‘ally’ of the enemy of the Persians. Even in China, foreign religions were suspected as dangerous to the security of the nation. The anti Buddhist sentiments among the early T’ang rulers were due to this. It seems that this was the main reason the Nestorian Christians in China rejected the name ‘Persian’ and adopted the name ‘Syrian’. Syria was where Christianity was born. Syrian Christianity refers to the origin of Christianity. There is no political overtone in the name Syrian. Syrian Christianity also means the Christianity which maintained the Jewish Christian heritage. Moreover, ‘Syrian’ is often used in a linguistic sense. The Syrian church-whether in Edessa, Persia, or in China-maintained the liturgy in Syriac. So when the church in China rejected ‘Persian’ for Syrian they were reaffirming their origin as well as the special theological and linguistic character of their church. At the same time they were also rejecting any idea that its loyalty was with any particular nation politically, as was the Latin or Byzantine church in the Roman empire. The Nestorian church was an independent church and ‘catholicity’ did not mean for them that they should be under Antioch or Constantinople. The adoption of the name ‘Syrian’ was not an effort to re-establish its link with Antioch or an effort to acknowledge the glories of the Roman empire, as John Foster suggested. (Ibid., p. 90.) The Persian church in its origin was independent of Antioch.
There were Christians in China who distinguished themselves by their service to church and state. One of them was Yazdbozid known by the Chinese name I-ssu. Another was one Adam (Ching-Ching). It was Adam who brought the church of the T’ang dynasty to its classical period of literary production in the second half of the eighth century. In him the church can boast, a scholar who, though a foreigner from the west, knew the Chinese classics and was able to fill his works with classical allusions. He had studied the writings of Taoist mystics, and was skillful in choosing illustrations from them. Above all, he was able to talk with Buddhists in terms of their philosophy, and was accustomed to borrow from them both background and terms to expound his Christian theme. Adam was first and foremost the chief composer of the Nestorian Tablets’ inscription. He has translated a number of Syriac books into Chinese.
He borrowed many terms from Buddhism. "Not only was this missionary endeavoring to make Chinese people Christian, he labored also to make Christianity, in a worthy sense, Chinese." But the opposition to such attempts came from the Buddhists. The fierceness of Buddhist attack was an evidence of their nervousness. "Christianity as represented by Adam is called a perversion, even wrong. Contrasted with Buddhism, it is as the Ching and Wei rivers, one of which was very muddy." John Foster comments, "Undoubtedly Buddhists regarded Adam as a dangerous man. He was dangerous not because he was making Christianity too Buddhist. But because he was trying to make Buddhism too Christian." (Ibid., p. 114) According to A.C. Moule, it is clear that a Christian literature existed in Chinese. The Hsi-an-fu inscription displays a grace of style and contains literary allusions and phraseology which indicate competence in Chinese language and familiarity with Taoism and Buddhism. He points out that one of the Christian documents discovered in recent years begins as does a Buddhist sutra and has a Buddhist coloring.
The ninth century was a century of persecutions in China. During the reign of Wu-Tsung (841-846), Uigurs who were a powerful force in Central Asia and had great influence in China came to the end of the period of their power. Uighurs were patrons of Manichacism. The eclipse of the Uighur power brought about the disappearance of Manichacism from Chinese soil. Throughout the empire Manichaean monasteries were closed. This state of things affected the security of the Christian churches. Manichaeism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism were classified together as Persian religions in popular thought.
Before long it was the fate of Christianity, too, to disappear from China, and to persist only in those lands beyond the Tarim desert from which it had previously made its triumphal entry in the days of T’ang Tai Tsung. "There were also strong anti-Buddhist feelings. The Chinese intellectuals thought of Buddhism as superstition. The Confucian scholars advised the government to extend the persecution to that greater ‘foreign religion’ Buddhism" (Ibid., p. 121)
Taoists were also against Buddhists. There are a number of important Chinese records which speak of the great anti-Buddhist persecution which broke out in AD 845. In these records it is definitely stated that the smaller ‘foreign’ religions, Zoroastrianism and Christianity were regarded as heretical forms of Buddhism, and were included within the scope of the edicts. According to the report prepared by the Board of Worship, there were 4600 monasteries, 40,000 hermitages (places of retreat), 260,500 monks and nuns. By the edict of AD 845 all these monasteries were abolished except for a very few. When the monasteries were broken up the images of bronze, silver or gold were to be handed over to the government. "As for the Tai-Ch’in (Syrian) and Muh-hu (Zoroastrian) forms of worship, since Buddhism has already been cast out, these heresies alone must not be allowed to survive. People belonging to these also are to be compelled to return to the world, belong again to their own districts, and become tax payers. As for foreigners, let them be returned to their own countries, there to suffer restraint." (Ibid., p. 123.)
One of the reasons for the suppression of monasteries was that it affected the economic prosperity and social life of the nation.
Buddhist monasteries daily grew higher. Men’s strength was used up in work with plaster and wood. Men’s gain was taken up in ornaments of gold and precious stones. Imperial and family relationships were forsaken for obedience to the fees of the priests. The marital relationship was opposed by the ascetic restraints. Destructive of law, injurious to mankind, nothing is worse than this way (Tao). Moreover, if one man does not plough, others feel hunger, if one woman does not tend the silk worms, others go cold. Now in the Empire there are monks and nuns innumerable. All depend on others to plough that they may eat, on others to raise silk that they may be clad. Monasteries and Refuges (Homes of ascetics, kuti in Sanskrit) are beyond compute.
All are as high as the clouds, beautifully ornamented; they take for themselves palaces as a dwelling.... We will repress this long standing pestilence to its roots ... In all the Empire more than four thousand six hundred monasteries are destroyed, two hundred and sixty thousand five hundred monks and nuns are returning to the world, both (men and women) to be received as tax paying householders. Refuges and hermitages which are destroyed number more than forty thousand. We are resuming fertile land of the first grade, several tens of millions of Ch’ing ( 1 ching is 15.13 acres). We are receiving back as tax paying householders, male and female, one hundred and fifty thousand serfs. The aliens who hold jurisdiction over the monks and nuns show clearly that this is a foreign religion.
Ta Ch’n (Syrian) and Muh-hu-fo (Zoroastrian) monks to the number of more than three thousand are compelled to return to the world, lest they confuse the customs of China. With simplified and regulated government we will achieve a unification of our manners, that in future all our youth may together return to the royal culture. We are now beginning this reformation; how long it will take we do not know. (Ibid., p. 125.)
The suppression of monasteries and persecution of foreign religions was part of a reformation undertaken. The persecution lasted for twenty months -- not long, but long enough to have permanent effects. Buddhism, for all its strength, never completely recovered. For centuries afterwards, it was merely a tolerated religion. The days of its greatest building, sculpture, and painting, and its most vital creative thought, were past.
Its effect on the Christian church might also have been several. The foreign leaders who were not able to remain in hiding must have found their way back across the Tarim desert or gone by the merchant ships which sailed from Canton to the Persian Gulf. Their Chinese colleagues -- how many of the three thousand, we do not know -- being freed to return to the world, would scatter to home villages to seek a living.
In AD 847 Hsuan Tsung came to the throne and he issued an edict of religious toleration. The second part of the 9th century was a period of internal rebellion and civil wars in China which contributed to the decline of the Tang dynasty. In AD 907, the last T’ang emperor was deposed. After a period of divisions, the Sung dynasty reunified the empire and established their control over China by AD 960. Their rule lasted almost towards the end of the 13th century. But they were defeated by the Mongols and the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty came to power in China (1259-1386) when Christianity found a second opportunity to enter China under the toleration of Mongols.
Christianity at the Time of the Mongols
The history of the church in Asia in the 13th and 14th centuries outside the subcontinent of India to the south, says Moffett, was dominated by the political power and traditions of three great Mongol conquerors, Hulegu, Kublai and Timor (better known as Tamerlane). (Moffett, op.cit., p. 422.) Hulegu and Kublai were sons of the Christian queen, Princess Sorkatani. Tamerlane was an outsider, not of royal Mongol blood and more Turk than Mongol. Hulegu and Kublai protected Christians; Tamerlane destroyed them.
Kublai Khan was the ruler of China from AD 1215-1294. He was a friend of Christians, but not a Christian himself. With the use of Mongol power in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Nestorian church followed by Roman Catholics, began to come to China once again. In spite of the low state to which the church in China was reduced in the 10th and 11th centuries, a recovery undoubtedly took place. Marco Polo’s account of his journey to China and of the Christians he found there is one of the most important pieces of information that has come down to us about the church in China in the 13th century. Marco Polo’s travels speak of Christians not only in China but also in Central Asia and in other parts of Asia
Marco Polo speaks of widespread Nestorian communities scattered across the Chinese empire. At Foo Chow, a Muslim told Marco Polo about a religious community whose religion nobody understood. Marco Polo traced them and found that they were Christians. They had books and they had preserved their faith for seven hundred years. They had a temple which was dedicated to three persons, painted on its walls. It is possible that the reference to a seven hundred year old tradition indicates that they might have been surviving descendants of the Christians at the time of Alopen. The three apostles celebrated were the three earliest leaders of pre-Nestorian, East Syrian Christianity -- Addai, Aggai and Mari.
Polo also reports of Christians and Nestorian churches in at least eleven other Chinese cities. The largest concentration of Christians was in the northwest along the old silk road. Another area with many Christians was on the southeast coast of China in the province of Chinkiang and Fukein. There was a strong Christian community at Chinkiang between Nanking and Shanghai. At one time the Nestorians had seven monasteries there, all of them founded about the year AD 1279 by Mar Sargis, a devout governor of that city. Kublai Khan appointed in that district a succession of Christian governors and assistant governors and the Christian community greatly benefited from it. After Kublai Khan’s death, between AD 1309 and 1333, Buddhist pressure at the imperial court compelled the Christians to surrender the monasteries one after the other to the Buddhists.
Though Kublai Khan was tolerant of all religions, he had a special affinity to Buddhism. But he knew that China cannot be governed long without the co-operation of the Confucian bureaucracy. To the Confucians, Buddhism was not only superstitious and unacceptable intellectually, it was a foreign religion and unacceptable culturally. He built Confucian temples in the capital and encouraged the veneration of ancestors. Christians benefited from the fact that Christianity was the faith of Kublai Khan’s mother. Christian advisers were well known at the court. Kublai Khan’s vulnerable situation as a foreign Mongol ruler of a conquered but thickly populated and highly civilized Chinese nation led him to adopt a strategy of governing through intermediaries. This in turn tended to enlarge the powers of foreign advisers, including Christians. One of them, the only European, was Marco Polo. He was governor of a district on the Grand Canal for three years. Marco Polo says that Kublai Khan was not anti-Christian, and that he was convinced that the Christian faith was the best of all religions but the low level of learning he found among the Nestorians and his fear that adherence to any one religion would divide the people and set the other religions against the government, prevented him from being baptized. But this did not seem to be the case. This mistaken notion was based on a conversation between Kublai Khan and the uncles of Marco Polo, when the Khan sent them as ambassadors to the Pope. They asked the Khan why he had not accepted the Christian faith. He said to them:
How do you wish me to make myself a Christian? You see Christians in these parts are so ignorant that they do nothing and have no power; you see these idolators do what ever they please, and when I am sitting at tables the cups which are in the middle of the hall come to me full of wine or drinks of other things, without anyone touching them, and I drink with them. They compel the bad weather to go any direction they please and do many wonderful things. And as you know their idols speak and tell them all that they want. But if I am converted to the faith of Christ and make myself a Christian, then my barons and other people who are not attached to the faith of Christ would say: What reason has moved you to baptism and to hold the faith of Christ? And these idolators say that what they do they do it by the holiness and power of the idols. Then I should not know what to answer them; and these idolators who do such things with their arts and knowledge could easily make me die. But you shall go down to your High Priest and shall pray him on our behalf to send me a hundred men skilled in your religion who before these idolators may be able to reprove what they do and may say to them that they know and can do such things but will not, because they are done by diabolical art and through evil spirits, and may so restrain them that they may not have power to do such things in their presence. Then when we shall see this we shall consider them and their religion; and so I shall be baptized, and when I shall be baptized, all my barons and great men will be baptized, and then their subjects will receive baptism, and there will be more Christians here than there are in your parts. (Moule, op.cit., p. 156.)
A number of western historians have misread the statement of Kublai Khan and his intentions. Stephen Neil wrote, "If attention had been paid to this request at the time, the result might have been considerable. But twenty years passed; and when Pope Nicholas IV decided, in 1289, to resume the practice of embassies, he sent two men, one of whom died on the way." (Stephen Neill. A History of Christian Missions, p. l26.)
The first Roman Catholic missionary to China was John Montecorvino who came to China just after the death of Kublai Khan in AD 1294. Shortly after his arrival, he converted a Nestorian prince, Prince George to Roman Catholicism, which made the Nestorians furious. There developed a strong friction between John Montecorvino and the Nestorians. With the help of prince George, Montecorvino made about six thousand converts and built a church. In AD 1307 he was made the Archbishop of Peking.
In AD 1318 Pope John XXII divided Asia into two missionary districts; one for China under the jurisdiction of Franciscans and the other for Ilkhanate Persia under the Dominicans.
By the time of Montecorvino’s death, sometime between AD 1328 and 1333, the Mongol dynasty that gave the Christians the freedom to preach and build churches, was disintegrating. There were rebellions against the Mongols. "Farmers rebelled against the rich; Chinese rose against the Mongols, the south invaded the north under the anti-Mongol slogan, These barbarians are created to obey and not to command a civilized nation." (M. Pradwin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy, 1940, p. 36. ) By AD 1368, the Mongol empire had fallen. "The Mongols had been dominant in Asian history from AD 1203 to 1368. Their genius in war and astounding victories had created a great military empire, stretching from Japan to Austria. Yet their disintegration was rapid, they had shown little cohesion and had consequently been quickly assimilated by other cultures."
With the defeat of the Mongols. China turned Chinese in the matter of religion also, "China as it has so often done, turned away from the world and turned in upon itself. The new China was to be isolationist, nationalist, and orthodox Confucian, ruled by a completely China centered dynasty, the Ming (l368-l644)." (Moffett, op.cit.. p.474.) But there is little evidence of direct religious persecution. Later writers have assumed that foreign proteges of Mongols whether Christian or Muslim were massacred with their patrons. K.S. Latourette observed, "It is just as likely that Nestorians and foreigners were killed indiscriminately in the pursuit of Mongols, and without foreign support a church that became dependent upon it withered away." (K. Latourette, Missions in China, p. 74)
Did Christianity completely disappear from China after the fall of the Mongols? We are not sure of this. It is unlikely that Christianity completely disappeared. There might have been small groups here and there. But its visibility has disappeared. Moffett observes that it is no surprise that the church fell with the old dynasty. This was the pattern of past Chinese history. Both Nestorian and Roman Catholic Christianity were considered foreign by the Chinese. Compounding the hardship, this imposed on the church, the Mongol dynasty itself was foreign. So to the Chinese, Christianity appeared as a foreign religion, protected and supported by a foreign government. Roman Catholic missions gave the impression of being even more foreign than the Nestorians, who were almost entirely Mongol, for they received far more visible support from outside China than was ever true of the Nestorians either in the ninth or fourteenth century. The Catholic cathedral in Zaithun was built and endowed by the wealthy wife of an American trader. An Italian trader bought the land for John Montecorvin’s church in Peking. (Moffett. Op.cit. p. 471.)