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  • Ecclesiastical Colony: China’s Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate by Ernest P. Young
  • D. E. Mungello
Ecclesiastical Colony: China’s Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate. By Ernest P. Young. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. Pp. xii, 383. $74.00. ISBN 978-0-19-992462-2.)

This is a sad and frustrating story of how the political and economic interests of European colonialism retarded and corrupted the development of Catholicism in China. It is a story tainted by the belief in European superiority and Chinese inferiority. However, it has a happy ending due mainly to the remarkable leadership of Chinese Catholics like Ying Lianzhi (1867–1926), radically pro-Chinese missionaries like Vincent Lebbe (1877–1940), and reform-minded popes like Benedict XV (r. 1914–22) and Pius XI (r. 1922–39).

Ernest P. Young has made a thorough study of numerous French and Chinese documents related to the French Religious Protectorate. He describes how this institution had no clear basis in either law or formal delegation of power from China or the papacy, but was “extrapolated” (p. 255) from the Sino-Western unequal treaties by French diplomacy and military power. It was strengthened by the frequent requests for assistance from different nationalities of Catholic missionaries. Its continued existence depended on perpetuating the organizational weakness of the Catholic mission in China and preventing the creation of an indigenous (Chinese) clergy. Most non-French Catholic missionaries in China, given the greater power of France to represent them with the Chinese government, preferred to hold French passports.

It began with the Sino-French Treaty signed at Huangpu (Whampoa) in 1844 that gave the French rights in the five treaty ports. If the missionaries proceeded beyond the five treaty ports and were arrested in the Chinese interior, they were to be sent unharmed to the French consul in the nearest treaty port. In this way, limits were placed upon the Chinese officials to control the missionaries. Article 13 of the Sino-French Treaty negotiated at Tianjin in 1858 re-established the toleration of Christianity and assured the right of missionaries with special French passports to enter into the interior of China (pp. 28–29). Article 6 of the Beijing Convention (1860) established property rights for the French in the interior of China, even though differences in the Chinese and French versions of the treaty gave rise to disputes over its exact meaning (pp. 30–33).

Although the French Protectorate established by these treaties did not contain an explicitly religious dimension, the French would intervene in decisions about missionary [End Page 811] personnel appointed in China, creating a barrier to direct relations between the Vatican and Beijing. Ironically the anticlerical governments of nineteenth-century France generated remarkably enthusiastic Catholic missionaries in China. French wealth and personnel came to dominate the China mission such that by the time of the Sino-French War (1884–85), more than 70 percent of the Catholic missionaries in China were French. In 1886 when Li Hongzhang, the leading figure in foreign affairs, and Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878–1903) had tried to bypass the French Religious Protectorate to establish direct relations, they were defeated by French interests, creating for the pope the “greatest disappointment of his pontificate” (pp. 57–59). It was not until the erosion of European colonialist power in World War I and the rise of Chinese nationalism that the papacy was able finally to overcome French resistance to papal leadership of the Catholic Church in China and the protectorate came to an end. The watershed event was the consecration of six Chinese bishops by Pius XI in Rome in 1926.

The deficiencies of this book are few and minor. Young’s treatment of the important Chapdelaine incident (1856), which contributed to France’s role in the Second Opium War (p. 27–28), is incomplete and uninformed. His portrayal of the pioneering Bishop Johann Baptist Anzer, S.V.D. (1851–1903), as a drunk who fell off his horse and had to sleep off his drunkenness by the side of the road (pp. 65–68) is more of a caricature than serious history. Young’s claim that Ma Xiangbo “reconciled with the...


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