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  • Jingjiao: The Church of the East in China and Central Asia
  • John W. Witek (bio)
Roman Malek , editor. Jingjiao: The Church of the East in China and Central Asia. Collectanea Serica. In connection with Peter Hofrichter. Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica, 2006. 701 pp. Paperback $65.00, ISBN 3–8050–0534–2.

In 1623 near Xi'an, a farmer unearthed a stele bearing a lengthy Chinese text on its face with Syriac inscriptions on its sides that recounted the development of the Syro-Oriental Church. Its leader, Aluoben, came to Chang'an, the capital of the Tang dynasty under the Taizong Emperor (627–649) in 635. Within three years, the emperor issued an edict allowing the diffusion of Christianity. Buddhist and Daoist opposition in the late seventh and early eighth centuries curtailed such Christian endeavors, but the Jingjiao beiwen (Stele of the Luminous Religion, called the "Nestorian monument" in the past) erected in 781 described the history of Christianity in that period.1 Entwined with the persecution of Buddhism by the state in 845, Christianity was uprooted from the capital and virtually disappeared from China until it was introduced for a second time before the opening of the Yuan or Mongol dynasty (1279–1368). From the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, the stele was considered a hoax in some scholarly circles. But archaeological discoveries as well as Chinese and non-Chinese written sources of the last century explain the presence of the Syro-Oriental Church in China under the Mongols. With two exceptions, the thirty essays in this volume stem from the conference titled "Research on Nestorianism in China" held in Salzburg, Austria, in May 2003. Historians, archaeologists, theologians, and sinologists were able to present their findings in an interdisciplinary setting that resulted in a collection of research materials, not final studies in this field.

The preface by Peter Hofrichter and the editorial introduction by Roman Malek explain why "Nestorian" in the title of the conference was an overarching term that is commonly known, but that more appropriately Jingjiao (Luminous Religion) in the Tang period and yelikewen (in the Yuan period) "should no longer be translated as "Nestorianism" (p. 12). The Church of the East fled from the Roman Empire but continued the theological tradition of Syria and Antioch as they settled in Persia. Over many centuries, misunderstandings resulted in the use of "Nestorianism" as a heresy opposed to the teaching of the Church in Rome. Not until 1994 was a doctrinal agreement on Christology between the Church of the East and the Holy See concluded that led to the latter accepting the liturgy of the Church of the East in 2001. No longer is the term "Nestorian" an appropriate designation; instead Jingjiao, as in the title of the book, is preferable.

The two essays in part 1 focus on past and present studies on Tang dynasty Jingjiao. Matteo Nicolini-Zani indicates that past research developed in three [End Page 513] phases. Japanese scholars such as Haneda Toru and Saeki Yoshiro made the documents known, edited them, and began to interpret them. A watershed was reached with Saeki's The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China (Tokyo, 1951) so that from the 1960s to the 1980s studies were done mostly by Chinese scholars in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but with no appreciable addition of new elements to the Japanese findings. But more recently scholars such as Chen Huaiyu, Lin Wushu, and Wu Qiyu have reformulated the issues on a more scientific basis and thereby have developed "a turning-point in the history of the research on the Christian Syro-Oriental documents in Chinese" (p. 26). The companion essay in part 1 by T. H. Barrett, "Buddhism, Daoism and the Eighth-Century Chinese Term for Christianity. A Response to Recent Work by Antonino Forte and Others," originally appeared a few years ago.2 A discussion of the impact of Daoism and Buddhism shows that in his 745 edict, the Xuanzong emperor changed Bosi jiao (the Persian teaching) to Da Qin jiao (Teaching of Great Qin).

The first two essays of the nine in part 2 show thematic connections of Jingjiao with specific Buddhist and Daoist texts. Stephen Eskildsen notes...