State-Missionary Relations in the Control of Christianity in the Late Qing

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.3, 2016


State-Missionary Relations in the Control of Christianity in the Late Qing



Tao Feiya and Li Qiang


After the First Opium War, the unequal treaties made Western religion in China a relatively independent part of civil society, forcing local government to protect and manage it rather than banning and proscribing it. Because Christianity had long been proscribed and little was known about Western religion, the Qing court dealt with it under the all-embracing category of heresy. During the Daoguang and Xianfeng reigns, the state and the missionaries began to come into contact, and the relations between them changed accordingly. After the Second Opium War, the Qing government was forced to completely open up to missionary work, and conflicts between the populace and the missionaries escalated. Most officials sympathized with anti-missionary feeling and did little to restrain the people. After the Tianjin missionary incident, missionaries responded to China’s development needs, improving their image, and some Chinese officials took a pragmatic attitude to incidents between missionaries and the people. After the Yangtze River missionary incident, the court approved missionaries’ “good deeds,” strengthening communication between the two sides. Following internal and external disturbances, official policy shifted from an excessive bias in favor of the missionaries to a burning anti-missionary stance. The 1900 anti-missionary “Boxer Rising” was a disaster for both sides, prompting the court and the churches to cooperate in shared governance and respectively set up institutional arrangements for distinguishing between contradictions and assuming responsibility. Although this approach was still tied to the treaties, from the perspective of national governance it was a preliminary step in easing the dilemma posed by the problem of Christianity.