- China’s Saints: Catholic Martyrdom during the Qing (1644–1911) by Anthony E. Clark
Little has been written on China’s Catholic Christian martyrs in English, particularly those from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially the Chinese martyrs, for whom scarce documentation exists even in Chinese. Hence this volume supplies a noticeable lack in information about Catholic Christian martyrs in China and is a welcome addition to the field.
Clark discusses methodology in the introduction, emphasizing the need to give an account that takes seriously the martyrs’ religious faith while observing academic objectivity. What he hopes to achieve, he states, is to retell the history of Catholic martyrs in China “… with equal respect for both the motives of martyrdom [End Page 184] and for the scholarly works that describe it” (p. 3). He notes the difficulties of dealing with the available sources—Chinese and Western, secular and religious.
Chapter 1 is a very useful discussion of how the concept of Christian martyrdom was explained to Chinese Christians. Although in Western usage the word martyr is always understood to include the idea of being a witness for the faith, there is no Chinese equivalent of this concept. Martyrdom was mostly understood negatively in traditional Chinese society because once dead, a son could no longer carry out the sacrifices to the family or to his ancestors. Taught the Christian meaning of martyrdom, Chinese Christian martyrs died as witnesses and also believing that their death would lead them to a paradise very different from the bleak afterlife of the Chinese traditional view.
Chapter 2 gives an overview of Catholic Christianity in China beginning with the legend of St. Thomas, the Nestorians of the Tang Dynasty, the Franciscans of the thirteenth century, the Jesuits and their arrival at the end of the sixteenth century with their accommodative approach and concern for Chinese culture, and the Rites Controversy. The chapter ends with a short overview of the Boxer Uprising and a review of the attitude of the Chinese Communists toward Christianity when the People’s Republic of China was established, foreshadowed by the killing of the monks at the monasteries of Our Lady of Consolation and Our Lady of Joy in 1947. Chapters 3 through 6 tell the stories of the martyrs, beginning with the Dominicans, then Jesuits, then Franciscans, and then martyrs from other missions. For each martyr, Clark summarizes what is known (which, for some of the Chinese Christians, is very little) and gives the background and events of their martyrdom. His decision to discuss the martyrs by religious order is probably due to the fact that China was evangelized by religious orders that were given the right to work in certain areas, and their priest missionaries were the ones who watched over the flocks in those areas. Still, a brief explanation of why this way of organizing the book was chosen would have been helpful. Otherwise, it seems, the religious order really has no connection with the fact of martyrdom, especially in the Boxer Uprising.
This is a well-crafted book that provides the first English narrative of most of these martyrdoms. The inclusion of the controversy that erupted after Pope Saint John Paul II canonized the 100 martyrs on October 1, 2000, shows that the cultural differences and misunderstandings that lay at the roots of many of the martyrdoms in the earlier centuries still exist. [End Page 185]