On Geopolitics

The Catholic Church and China: Where Religion and Geopolitics Meet

Evan Rees
Asia-Pacific Analyst, Stratfor
Mar 30, 2018 | 17:37 GMT
Chinese worshippers attend Christmas Eve Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing during 2015.

Chinese worshippers attend Christmas Eve Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing during 2015.

(WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1594, Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci excitedly hailed the coming of Catholicism to China after "having been blocked for thousands of years by high mountains and lofty hills, by the impassible Islamic barriers." He celebrated the clear compatibility of China and the Roman Catholic Church's long-separated traditions and the striking "uniformity between Christian tenets and the ancient Chinese sage's rationality and teachings." Indeed, Ricci saw fantastic success during his time in China, becoming an adviser to the Kangxi emperor and winning numerous high-profile converts. But frictions that spelled trouble for Catholicism as a mainstream Chinese religion were on their way. In 1700, there were an estimated 200,000 Chinese Catholics. Three decades later, the adherents of the "Religion of the Lord of Heaven," as the Chinese called Catholicism at the time, would find themselves cut off from Europe then banned entirely. Catholicism's challenges in China are not unique to the religion. Indeed,...

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