THE door buzzer on Mosque Junction Street is cryptically marked
with a strip of paper bearing two Chinese characters, "Weixin,"
meaning literally, "safeguard the faith."
Upstairs, in a headquarters hidden in the maze of meandering
lanes above Hong Kong harbor, a team of Jesuit priests practices
the arcane art of "China watching" with a mastery esteemed by
Yet far removed from the cynical motivations of their
cloak-and-dagger counterparts, the scholarly fathers find success
in devotion to a nobler aim.
Inspired by their predecessor, the 16th-century Jesuit pioneer
Matteo Ricci, the priests are working to deepen the philosophical
discourse between Confucian and Christian cultures.
"We're like Ricci, comparing maps and methodologies," observes
the Rev. Michel Masson, an unassuming, bespectacled expert in
modern Chinese history.
Every morning, Fr. Masson and his colleagues scour the official
Chinese press, reading some 20 newspapers and 50 periodicals.
In a labor likened by Sinologist Simon Leys to "swallowing
sawdust by the bucketful," they scavenge the mountains of
mind-numbing propaganda for clues to important political, economic,
and social shifts.
Each useful article or biographical note is carefully clipped,
referenced, and filed away with half a million others. The
archives, dating back to 1949, rival those of the United States
State Department and are frequently consulted by diplomats,
scholars, and journalists.
The nuggets of fact and insight are then published in the
fortnightly newsletter China News Analysis - nine crisp pages of
riveting observations and one of the world's best China-watching
The newsletter is part of the nonprofit organization "Weixin,"
named after Zheng Weixin (1633-1673), the first Chinese Jesuit
priest and a brilliant scholar who taught classics in Rome before
returning to China incognito as a missionary. Weixin also offers
workshops on China for visiting Jesuits and scholarships in
comparative literature for Chinese academics.
For director Masson and the Rev. Yves Nalet, the editor, China
News Analysis exemplifies the Jesuit emphasis on education in
addition to missionary goals.
"It's very important that people in the church are doing
something in China that is purely intellectual and disinterested -
without a Bible up our sleeves," says Masson.
"It is almost a Christian necessity to try to understand what
kind of people the Chinese are, what questions they are asking," he
Moreover, for the first time since the iconoclastic May Fourth
movement of 1919, mainland Chinese intellectuals are showing a
serious interest in Western theology as relevant to revitalizing
China's ancient Confucian culture, Masson says.
Increasingly, he says, scholars such as Shenzhen University
sociologist Liu Xiaofeng are finding meaning in Christian ideas
that are radically different from Confucianism, such as the concept
of life as a journey.
"In Confucianism, man stays at home and cultivates his moral