Christianity in Rural China: Conflict and Accommodation in Jiangxi Province, 1860-1900

Article excerpt

Christianity in Rural China: Conflict and Accommodation in Jiangxi Province, 1860-1900. By Alan Richard Sweeten. [Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies, no. 91.) (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan Press. 2001. Pp. xii, 281. $ 50.00.)

The study of the history of Christianity in China in recent years has shifted from the vast national panorama (macrohistory) with the focus on the imperial court at Beijing to regional and local histories (microhistory) with the emphasis on ordinary people. This shift has been reinforced by the current interest in social history. Christianity in Rural China reflects both of these tendencies.

Ironically, we have imperialism to thank for this study of indigenous Chinese Christians. The Chinese government was forced to establish the Zongli Yamen (Office of Foreign Affairs) in 1861 as part of the treaty ending the Arrow War to ensure that there would be diplomatic channels for dealing with foreign concerns in China. Because Christianity was regarded as a foreign religion propagated by foreign missionaries, local legal cases involving Christianity were part of the Zongli Yamen's jurisdiction. Dr. Sweeten focuses on a collection of documents in the Zongli Yamen entitled Jiaowu Jiao'an tang (Archives on Christian Affairs and on Cases and Disputes Involving Missionaries and Christians). He deals with cases entirely from Jiangxi province. These involved transcribed oral depositions from litigants who were often illiterate and would otherwise have left no record in history. The value of the Zongli Yamen records for reconstructing the past is underscored by the fact that the Jiangxi county archives for this period, like so many other local archives in China, are no longer extant.

Sweeten's conclusions differ from some of the widely accepted interpretations that were first formulated by scholars like Kenneth Scott Latourette in his History of Christian Missions in China (1929) and in more recent scholarship by Paul A. Cohen. He argues that Catholics (his documents do not deal with Protestants) were not isolated or segregated from the rest of their communities. Furthermore, local conflict and litigation were due not merely to religious persecution (as French priests of that time maintained), but were more complex in origin. …


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