Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Catholic Invasion of China: Remaking Chinese Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Catholic Invasion of China: Remaking Chinese Christianity

Article excerpt

The Catholic Invasion of China: Remaking Chinese Christianity. By D. E. Mungello. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. 2015. Pp. xviii, 175. $40.00. ISBN 978-1-4422-5084-2.)

D. E. Mungello is a distinguished scholar of China who has written or edited several books as well as important articles, mainly about Christianity in that country. Here he presents a nuanced argument about how the modern history of Catholicism in China (that is, from 1800) should be evaluated. Although he is critical of an earlier generation of Western interpretations of Catholic missions for judging the whole effort a failure, he readily acknowledges the errors and damages incurred, as suggested by his use of invasion in the title. From the beginning, however, he states his position that the ultimate achievement of an indigenous form of Catholicism, after centuries of European local management, was more important than the deleterious short-term effects of "this invasion" (p. 1).

He pursues this position through a series of essays on selected aspects of the modern history of the Chinese Catholic Church. He provides brief sketches of the larger narrative but offers considerable detail about a few limited topics. Among these essays is an engaging account of the contested return of the Jesuits in 1842, after a sixty-nine-year absence, to the Yangzi delta area, centering on Shanghai. He also closely examines charges in recent Chinese official diatribes of sexual malfeasance by three Catholic missionaries who were killed locally at widely separated moments and were beatified as martyrs in 2000. A particularly meticulous account is given of the case of the priest Auguste Chapdelaine, whose execution in 1856 became the justification for France joining Britain in a war with the Chinese government. Mungello is evidently skeptical of the charges against Chapdelaine but judiciously accepts that such misbehavior (although not in the extravagant manner in the hostile Chinese accounts) cannot be excluded in all cases. One might add that missionaries occasionally made charges of this sort against their own confreres.

Catholic missions were often accused of abuse of the children in their orphanages and even of exploiting their moribund bodies for outrageous purposes. The communist government revived these accusations in the 1950s. …

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