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Re-entry of Christianity

The earliest version of Christianity in China was called Jingjiao or Nestorianism, with this version having diverged from the Eastern Orthodox Church and spoke of Christ as one person (prosopon) with two natures (physis), human and divine. Olopen, a clergyman from Rome, arrived at Chang'an the capital of the Tang dynasty, and was welcomed by Emperor Taizong in 635. In 638 Olopen was allowed to build a church, the Daqin Temple for the emperor. During the reign of the Emperor Gaozong, Nestorian churches began appearing all over China, but 250 years later, the religion became prohibited. Nonetheless, groups in northwest China continued in their faith and practice of Nestorian Christianity. It wasn't until the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century that Nestorian Christianity spread again to central China and four bishoprics were established in Datong, Beijing, Zhangye and Kashgar.


The first Catholic priest to visit China was Giovanni da Montecorvino who was sent in 1294 by the Vatican to Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty, which is now Beijing, the capital of China. He was well received by the emperor and was given permission to build a church and preach in Dadu. A bishopric was set up in Dadu in 1307 with da Montecorvino as bishop until his death in 1328.


The Franciscan priest Marignolli was dispatched by the Vatican to become the bishop in Dadu in 1342. However, Catholicism was only prevalent amongst the Mongolian ruling class and once the Ming dynasty overthrew the Yuan dynasty, Catholicism and Nestorian Christianity were banished from central China along with the Mongolians.


The second influx of Christianity to China came with the arrival of the Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, in Macau. He built churches in Guangdong and developed a local priesthood numbering about 80. Ricci and his followers worked within the framework of Chinese culture and etiquette and introduced advanced western science to China. He was given the position of court astronomer and served both the Ming and Qing dynasty, gaining the trust of emperors and court officials. Catholicism thus developed rapidly and had about 300,000 followers and 250 churches around China; however, the Franciscans and the Order of Preachers condemned the Jesuits. Their disagreement triggered the Rites Controversy and in 1704, the Vatican issued a ban on Chinese customs such as ancestor worship, which the Jesuits had argued wasn't incompatible with Catholic teachings. This irritated Emperor Kangxi and he ordered the expulsion of all missionaries who sought to convert the Chinese from their customs. This initiated a 100-year-long ban on Catholicism and the end of the second stage of missionary activity in China.


In 1807, Robert Morrison, from the London Missionary Society arrived in Guangzhou. He not only preached the gospel but also translated the New and Old Testaments into Chinese. He was the first to preach Protestantism, but his mission wasn't successful and by 1814, he had only one follower. The third entry of Catholicism to China came in 1840 after the Opium War. The war had turned China into a half-colonial state and foreign missionaries secured a series of privileges including the right to proselytise. This did little to win over the Chinese who continued to view Christianity as a "foreign religion".