Chinese Female Propagators of the Faith in Modern China – The Tortuous Transition from the “Institute of Virgins” to Diocesan Religious Congregations
A more discerning look at the history of Christianity in China reveals quite clearly that the foreign faith would have found it extremely difficult to persist without the vital role played by various Chinese facilitators. Indeed, the first missionaries to enter the Chinese mainland were rather fortunate to arrive at a time when the intellectual climate of the late Ming encouraged some prominent literati (wenren 文人) to challenge the teachings of the imperially sanctioned version of Neo-Confucianism. In other words, China’s scholars were more open to new ideas, especially with regard to science and knowledge. As Ronnie Hsia has shown so eloquently, it was the network of friends and acquaintances that enabled Matteo Ricci 利瑪竇 (1552–1610) and his companions to overcome the many obstacles during their difficult journey to Beijing in 1601. Crucial to Ricci’s early Christianizing endeavours was the conversion of several influential Confucian officials. Much has been written in recent decades about the so-called “Three Pillars of the Catholic Church,” namely Paulus Xu Guangqi 徐光启 (1562–1633), Leo Li Zhizao 李之藻 (1565–1630) and Michael Yang Tingyun 楊廷筠 (1557–1627). These as well as some other early “Christianized Confucians” certainly were important to the initial implantation of Christianity in the Chinese Empire. For one thing, they played an essential role in various translation projects and the production of Chinese Christian literature.