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The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village

Henrietta Harrison

Publication Year: 2013

The Missionary’s Curse tells the story of a Chinese village that has been Catholic since the seventeenth century, drawing direct connections between its history, the globalizing church, and the nation. Harrison recounts the popular folk tales of merchants and peasants who once adopted Catholic rituals and teachings for their own purposes, only to find themselves in conflict with the orthodoxy of Franciscan missionaries arriving from Italy. The village’s long religious history, combined with the similarities between Chinese folk religion and Italian Catholicism, forces us to rethink the extreme violence committed in the area during the Boxer Uprising. The author also follows nineteenth century Chinese priests who campaigned against missionary control, up through the founding of the official church by the Communist Party in the 1950s. Harrison’s in-depth study provides a rare insight into villager experiences during the Socialist Education Movement and Cultural Revolution, as well as the growth of Christianity in China in recent years. She makes the compelling argument that Catholic practice in the village, rather than adopting Chinese forms in a gradual process of acculturation, has in fact become increasingly similar to those of Catholics in other parts of the world.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright

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pp. i-xi


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pp. xii-xiii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xiv-xv

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pp. xvi-xix

...Because this book covers three hundred years of history, has taken ten years to research and write, moves between China and Europe, and uses sources in fi ve languages, I have needed a lot of help in writing it. I am deeply indebted to many people though I fear that, for the same reasons, there are probably still many mistakes...

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A Note on Terminology and Names

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pp. xx-xxi

...Both Chinese history and the history of the Catholic church are vast fi elds and what may be basic general knowledge to one set of experts is often completely unknown to others. In the hope of making this book accessible to all I have tried to avoid using too much technical vocabulary, using the terms bishop, diocese, monk, monastery, nun...

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pp. 1-12

...The village streets are dry and rutted, fl anked by high walls stained yellow by the dust. The sky too is a grayish yellow with the pollution brought by coal mining, steel mills, and the rapid industrial development of the surrounding area. A painted notice running along one wall calls on people to observe the one-child policy...

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1. The Ancestors who Founded the Village

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pp. 13-40

...There are three different stories about how Cave Gully was founded. Many people will tell you that the village began when a foreign missionary settled there, but the Duan and Wu families both claim that their ancestors were the fi rst to arrive, some eight generations ago, and that they settled land occupied only by abandoned...

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2. The Bishop and the Wolf

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pp. 41-64

...A Franciscan missionary who lived in Cave Gully in the early twentieth century published a story he had heard about a Chinese priest sent by Bishop Giovacchino Salvetti in the early nineteenth century to give confession and communion to Christians who had been exiled to Yili, beyond the Gobi desert. The priest set off, riding...

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3. The Priest who Ran away to Rome

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pp. 65-91

...The orphanage gatekeeper in Cave Gully used to tell the story of a Chinese priest who entered the seminary late, after he had been married and widowed. He had very good grades so he did well, but he could not accept the low status of the Chinese priests. The Chinese priests were not treated with respect: at meals they sat at seats below the foreigners so when there was chicken the best bits were all...

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4. The Boxer Uprising and the Souls in Purgatory

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pp. 92-115

...All the Catholic villages of central Shanxi have tales of the Boxer Uprising. Often it is the first story the villagers tell about themselves, and the focus is on how few people survived the terrible massacres. The Cave Gully people do not have a story like this because there was no massacre. When asked about the Boxers, the orphanage caretaker told instead a story that explains how the village was preserved...

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5. The Missionary who Cursed the Village

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pp. 116-144

...There was once a French priest called Fa who brought a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to the village. Some years later he was transferred to another parish and wanted to take the statue with him. He got a wooden box ready to pack it in, but the Christians prevented him: they blocked the church door with stones...

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6. The Four Fragrances and the Flying Bicycle

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pp. 145-171

...People say that during the Cultural Revolution, Catholics were forced to leave the church, so they thought that the end of the world was coming. A group of women known as the Four Fragrances went around the Catholic villages urging those who had left the church to return before the Day of Judgment. They were very brave. They even persuaded officials to hand over the letters of apostasy that...

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7. The Village Since the 1980s

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pp. 172-198

...The return of a Cave Gully priest to his family in the mid 1980s is not a folktale that belongs to the whole village, but a story told by his family. He had been in prison for many years far from home in the mountains east of Shanxi and his release took place quite unexpectedly on a winter evening; the old man had nothing but a quilt and a few personal possessions, and he was very weak. The only...

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pp. 199-210

...In Shanxi today not only do Catholic villagers tell stories of their history, but their teenage children know many of these stories too and gather round to listen, asking questions and evidently fascinated, especially when their elders talk of the events of 1965. Church newsletters publish regular columns on...


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pp. 211-248


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pp. 249-252


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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780520954724
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520273115

Page Count: 279
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes