Mon Van Genechten (1903-1974), Flemish Missionary and Chinese Painter: Inculturation of Christian Art in China

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Mon Van Genechten (1903-1974), Flemish Missionary and Chinese Painter: Inculturation of Christian Art in China.

By Lorry Swerts and Koen De Ridder. Louvain: Louvain Univ. Press, 2002, Pp. 188. (EUR)16.15.

When the Belgian missionary-artist Mon Van Genechten, C.LC.M., arrived in Inner Mongolia in 1930, he sought to implement the Vatican's recently promulgated "principle of adaptation" to indigenous cultures by pioneering, in his own words, a "true Chinese Christian Art ... without any Western symbolism in it" (p. 39). In local churches he painted murals so that their walls "would become ... the Bible," which would "allow the poor and the illiterate to see ... what they cannot read in books" (p. 74). He also fashioned catechetical woodcuts to supplant the traditional door gods on converts' homes.

In 1938 Van Genechten was assigned to Beijing's Catholic University to paint, draw, and etch Christian themes in scholastic Taoist and Buddhist styles so as to convince the literati that the "'foreign' God ... has lived among" the Chinese (p. 47). While under Japanese house arrest in 1942-45 and following his return to Belgium in 1946, the missionary continued to perfect his evangelistic art, which he increasingly embued with sociopolitical commentary.

The authors conclude that, whether employing popular or elite styles, Van Gen2 ten was one of the few Catholic missionaries for whom Christian art was no longer "inculturated 'from above' . …