The Jesuits in China, 1842 to 1954

David Strong, SJ

 David Strong, SJ / Mission / 16 July 2018

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In 1582 Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci were the first Jesuits to be allowed into China. This first period of presence of the Society concluded – following wonderful moments and also periods of persecution – with the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773. The Jesuits were present again in China for a second period following the reconstitution of the Society (1814) from 1842 through to 1954, when they were expelled from the country.

We are looking at the 1,121 foreign Jesuit missionaries sent to Jiangnan, central China, up to the 1950s. They collaborated with 286 Chinese Jesuits and a small number of Chinese secular clergy, as well as many lay catechists, male and female. It was a century of tumultuous change in the social and political life of China, and the Jesuits were challenged not only to understand the traditional and current Chinese way of life but also the changes that were taking place, both locally and nationally.[1]

The first mission came from the Jesuit Province of France, and subsequent divisions of the Jiangnan region brought missionaries from the Provinces of Champagne (France), Leon and Castile (Spain), French Canada, Austria, Hungary, Italy and California to form separate vicariates.[2] 

The primary sources useful for studying this history include letters, diaries, reports, reflections and many statistics sent by the missionaries to home base, reporting observations on Chinese culture and encounters with the people and government officials. A variety of opinions is included to show the contrasting responses of the European and Chinese missionaries to social, political or ecclesiastical situations. These sources also focus on the administrative challenges faced by the missionaries, both internally and externally, such as the tension that existed between Roman directives and differing local missionary opinion, as well as descriptions of negotiations between the missionaries and various Chinese governments.

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