The largest, and one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China is home to almost 1.4 billion people.
Though Chinese emperors worked for millennia to shelter their territories from external influences, several waves of missionary work brought the faith to China over the centuries. Still-celebrated Jesuit missionaries brought the Catholic faith to China in the 16th and17th centuries in a manner that was highly respectful of Chinese culture, but the Jesuits were ultimately expelled when Vatican rulings thought that their cultural accommodations went too far. Nineteenth-century missionaries reestablished the faith when the European powers forced China to open to the West, but were ultimately expelled after the Communist revolution. The government created an entity it controlled, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), to take over the leadership of Catholic churches in China. An underground Catholic church endured, and in the post-Mao years took on a more public life alongside the CPCA church. In recent decades, Christian faith has grown enormously in China, though Catholic growth has lagged behind Protestant growth, in part because of CPCA-underground tensions. In 2018 the government and the Holy See reached an agreement to unite these Catholics and recognize bishops, but the Chinese government has also ramped up restrictions and oversight on all religious practice since then.
Though more than 90% of Chinese are ethnically Han people, the government recognizes 55 other ethnic groups. Linguistically China is united by the use of Mandarin Chinese, though in ordinary life Chinese speak hundreds of regional, often mutually unintelligible dialects like Cantonese and Shanghainese, and distinctive tribal languages. Though one can very meaningfully to speak of Chinese culture as a whole, and though Catholic leaders often think about how Catholicism fits in a Chinese cultural context, it is important to recognize that there are also significant local cultural differences within China.
One of those local cultures is covered in some depth here, in articles about a remote river valley near the borders of Tibet and Burma, where minority peoples in a chain of villages continue to practice a unique form of Catholicism that honors the legacy of French missionaries who introduced the faith to them in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the News
- In one of China's rare Catholic communities, Christmas is a colorful mix of customs - NPR - December 25, 2020
- African influences on Chinese Catholicism - La Civiltà Cattolica - September 14, 2020
- Fenggang Yang explores the Christian growth in China [VIDEO] - October 15, 2018
- Why China may want to repair its fraught relations with the Vatican - The Conversation - March 3, 2017
- Easter in China: rebirth in a Tibetan Catholic village - South China Morning Post - April 5, 2015