For the Seed Planted by a Chinese Confucian Diplomat

For the Seed Planted by a Chinese Confucian Diplomat May 24, 2011

The Holy Father has asked us to pray for the Church in China today. News reports are saying that security is tight in Sheshan. Of course, we must not forget that Mainland China is still under the control of a form of government that is not altogether friendly to the Church. Militant xenophobia has run through China long before she fell to the Communists.

That’s why I feel compelled to share the following story from my dear, departed friend named Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang. Doesn’t he look stunning in this photograph? That was taken in 1906 when he was a diplomat to the Hague. At that time, China was still ruled by the soon to be extinct Manchu Dynasty.

From an earlier post you may recall that Lou was briefly the Premier of China, after the revolution of Sun Yat-sen ushered in a republican form of government. Alas, that was not to last long as the forces of Mao Sedong would overthrow the democratic republic following on the heels of the end of World War II.

I don’t believe Dom Lou saw that one coming. Besides, he had retired from the Diplomatic Service in 1922 and settled in Europe to care for his wife who was ill. He never returned to his homeland. As I reported in another post, he became a Benedictine soon after her death in 1926.

The interesting twist in Lou’s conversion story, is that he was encouraged to become a Catholic, and a Benedictine to boot, by his mentor in the Diplomatic Service named M. Shu King-Shen. Lou was already a rarity in that he was born and raised as a Protestant Christian, see. King-Shen never got the chance to convert himself, as he was executed during the Boxer Rebellion when the anti-foreigner (hence, anti-Christian)  xenophobia hit a high mark.

But I am overstepping myself and must let Dom Lou himself tell the rest of the tale,

from Ways of Confucius and of Christ.

Periods of decadence have a singular attraction for those who live in them. To embark upon their reform it is necessary to some extent to be ignorant of their manners. In China, I had known neither the world of officialdom nor society. M. Shu King-Shen gave me as a first rule that of not attaching myself to a declining regime; neither to enter into it nor to condemn it, but to confine myself to doing my duty and, while studying the most distinguished servants of the European countries, to make a personal program of life and action for myself.

Dom Pierre-Célestin

My master prescribed that I should Europeanize myself for love of China. How would I have been able to follow these instructions if my countrymen had succeeded in keeping me in ignorance of foreign countries, or if foreign countries had led me to disparage my own country? In every period of transition the two opposing currents are very violent. To escape from them, one must be prepared to be judged unfavorably by both.

So one must learn to be alone. The Christian life, for it’s part, does not escape this rule. Our Lord Jesus Christ is so often all alone on His Cross.

M. Shu desired for China a complete rejuvenation, and he desired that in every sphere, the country should emerge from the condition of stagnation in which the best ancestral traditions, deformed and become sterile, were leading to a result diametrically opposed to the spirit which had given them birth and which had enabled them in the past to give us our finest epochs of richness and splendor.

He wanted a modernization which should cause the spirit of Yao, of Choen and of Yu, to live again in the world of today. He studied Europe, seeking to grasp the principle of its best institutions, the source of its progress, seeking to discover, in order to win them and to give them to China, the moral forces which assured the balance of European society, and to distinguish them sharply from the forces, from the passions and infatuations, which compromised that balance.

Christianity, the Church, and in particular the Catholic Church, imposed themselves on the respectful attention of M. Shu. He had been struck by the existence of a world-wide spiritual government, of which the history went back right to the Founder of the Christian Religion. So as to study this fact more closely, in the course of a journey which took him to Europe, he had stopped in Rome and had there spent the Christmas holidays.

I remember very clearly the first conversation in which he spoke to me of it, giving to the expression of his thought, as he often liked to do, the form of a fable. He had got me to call at his home, and he begun thus:

M. Shu King-Shen

One day the Minister of Commerce in England noticed the arrival and entry into the country of a new commodity, previously unknown in Europe—tea; ten chests of tea, coming from China. The following year the number of cases increased tenfold. Two years later it rose to a thousand.

Surprised by the unexpected growth of this import, he called a tree-planter and bade him set out for China and there study the cultivation of tea, instructing him to choose some of the finest seeds and then to betake himself to Ceylon, in order there to introduce this crop, so that England might no longer need to purchase her tea in China.

M. Shu went on,

The strength of Europe is not to be found in her armaments; it is not to be found in her science; it is to be found in her religion. In the course of your diplomatic career you will have occasion to study the Christian religion. It comprehends various branches and societies.

Take the most ancient branch of that religion, that which goes back most nearly to its origins. Enter into it. Study its doctrine, practice its commandments, observe its government, closely follow all its works. And later on, when you have ended your career, perhaps you will have the opportunity to go still farther.

In this most ancient branch, choose the most ancient society. If you can do so, enter into it also. Make yourself a follower, and study the interior life which must be the secret of it. When you have understood and won the secret of that life, when you have grasped the heart of the strength of the religion of Christ, bring them and give them to China.

I hear him still. He continued,

St. Ignatius Cathedral

You are from Shanghai. Have you seen the foundation at Zikawei?

I had to confess that I did not know it. The foundation at Zikiwei, as you will hardly be unaware, was a gift of the Minister of State Paul Siu, converted to the Catholic Faith by the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, in that 17th Century which might have marked the beginning of the evangelization and the modernization of China.

You know (Ed. This was all news to me!) also, alas, how the long quarrel over the rites, by its state of inept and sterile passions and arguments, destroyed the magnificent work undertaken with such vision by the missionaries of those days, the intellectual and moral work which have endowed the Catholic apostolate with a strength and with a vitality from which one would have been able to expect the complete regeneration of our society and country.

M. Shu said to me,

Study, then, what was done three centuries ago at Zikawei. And see what has come of it.

In those few words, he set before me the whole problem of the relations between China and Christianity, the whole of that missionary question which had to wait for the pontificates of Benedict XV, of Pius XI and of His Holiness Pius XII before its solution could begin.

If M. Shu were alive today he would be profoundly happy; he would see China, victorious over herself, treated by the Powers on a footing of equality; in his clarity of vision he would rejoice to see the Church, freed of her former shackles, coming into contact with our country in a new fashion, on the solid foundation of a direct understanding with the Chinese State, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and sympathy, of understanding, of independence, and of cooperation.

Not quite Dom Lou, but things could be worse. But things could be far, far better too, which is why we’ve been asked to pray today. Here is the prayer Pope Benedict XVI recommends to us,

Prayer for the Intercession of Our Lady of Sheshan:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians”, the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said “yes” in the house of Nazareth, you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption. You willingly and generously cooperated in that work, allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul, until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary, standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way, the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross. Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter. Grant that your children may discern at all times, even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus. In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love. Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.

Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Update: Mark Shea on the diversity, and yet the sameness, of Mother Church. Dom Lou’s book is out of print. However, this is sort of the Readers Digest Condensed version of his book. And here is the post that opened my eyes to the fact the Christianity and China are compatible.

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