Episode Five Heaven of the West
Over 1,300 years ago, Xuanzang, a senior monk in Tang Dynasty, left Changan for the Heaven of the West to acquire the Buddhist Scripture. He arrived in India and studied hard for over ten years and brought back 1,335 volumes of the scripture. Based on this trip of his, Wu Chengen of Ming Dynasty wrote a ghost novel "Pilgrimage to the West" which became extremely well known among the Chinese people.
Somehow, the legend that there were a genuine scripture and extreme happiness in the West had always intrigued the Orientals. But where was this heaven of the West? Nowadays, it is known that both geographically and culturally, India and China belong to the East. The Nirvana in the West yearned for in India's Amitabha Sutra is obviously not India. One has to look further west.
However, Xuanzang the Tang monk, riding on a white dragon horse, never walked out of the East. Instead, over a thousand years later, messengers from the West came to the East on wings of science and brought to the Chinese people a dazzling array of new things: a map of the world, armored ships, fierce cannons, logical deduction by reasoning, astronomy, democracy, republicanism, market economy and Jesus Christ.
Since then, no word has been able to arouse so much a mixture of hatred and love among the Chinese as "the West."
Since then, the destiny of the Chinese has got tangled with the West that is at the same time evil, untrustworthy and lovely. China cannot fully embrace the West, nor can it disengage itself from it.
Nowadays, the craze of going abroad and the fashion of studying overseas that show no signs of slowing down are importing to China the Western science of government and the soul-cleansing Scripture which are remaking this ancient culture.
(caption: Heaven of the West)
In 1582, Matteo Ricci came to China. He was not a special envoy of the Italian government, nor was he a distinguished guest of the Chinese imperial court. Instead, he was a messenger of God and went right into the lowest stratum of the Chinese society. He spent 20 years at a stretch in Zhaoqingxiang Village, Guangdong Province.
One day, seeing a dying man deserted on the roadside, Ricci carried him to a small hut where he took great care of the man. Before long, this humble and pitiful poor man became the first Christian in this "Land of God."
Matteo Ricci is regarded as Confucius of the West.
When Ricci found the ancestors of the Chinese were awed by the Tao of the heaven, he was excited and was convinced this was an evidence of Christian belief in ancient China. 20 years later, he went to preach in Beijing and converted to Christianity Xu Guangqi, director at Wenyuan Pavilion Library, Li Zhizao, director at Department of Water Conservancy and Yang Tingjun, supervisor of magistrates.
Xu Guangqi, author of "Comprehensive Agriculture," not only loved the land of his motherland, but also knew very well the grace of God. He said: if we Chinese could revere heaven, worship heaven, how could the 3-generation tradition of Yao, Shun and Yu not return?
Messengers of God also brought science to China. Matteo Ricci wrote and taught a dozen of books on geometry, astronomy, music, painting, irrigation works and cannon technology.
Joseph Needham, author of the famous "Science and Civilisation in China," commented: since Jesuit missionaries entered China, the Chinese science and the world science were mingled together.
In the reign of Shun-zhi in Qing Dynasty, Adam Schall von Bell, a missionary from Germany, was appointed head of the Imperial Board of Astronomy and was in charge of reforming the old Chinese calendar. He became such a trusted friend of Shun-zhi that the royal ritual of greeting was waived between them. When the first European-style cathedral was built at Xuanwu Gate, Shun-zhi personally bestowed an inscribed board on which was written: gateway to the perfect world.
After Shun-zhi died, Yang Guangxian, a minister of the monarchy, advised: those who do not belong to our race must have a different heart. We would rather not have a good calendar than have Westerners in China. At the time, Kang Xi was only 7 years old. Ao Bai, the regent at the time, went so far as to sentence Adam Schall von Bell to death by dismemberment and other missionaries to a whipping exile.
At 11 o'clock on the morning of April 16, 1665, when the verdict of death sentence on Adam Schall von Bell was handed to the young emperor and the empress dowager, an earthquake suddenly occurred and the imperial palace shook and shook amid a strong wind and the whole city was plunged into darkness. The quake lasted three days. Alarmed by the inauspicious sign, ministers for the regency hurriedly asked the young emperor and the empress dowager for directions. The answer they got was: immediate vindication and release of the prisoners.
Adam Schall von Bell died at 75 and was buried beside Matteo Ricci. Their bones lie in eternal peace in Beijing and their names were written down into "History of Ming Dynasty" and "History of Qing Dynasty." Their lives belonged to China.
When Kang Xi began attending to affairs of the state by himself, he ordered Yang Guangxian the minister and Ferdinand Verbiest the missionary to predict the sun's shadow and the star images at an astronomy platform. Everything occurred as Verbiest predicted while Yang Guangxian couldn't correctly predict anything. Kang Xi then immediately appointed Verbiest as director of the Imperial Board of Astronomy. He held a memorial ceremony for Adam Schall von Bell, got rid of Yang Guangxian and arrested Ao Bai.
On March 22, 1692, Kang Xi issued an imperial decree and listed the contributions the Western missionaries had made to China and gave them freedom to propagate Christianity.
Kang Xi personally came to Xuanwu Church and wrote on two inscribed boards "revere the heaven" and "everything has a source." There was a couplet which says: With no beginning and no end, the real creator first came in shape and sound; he propagates benevolence and righteousness and shows forth the deliverance and salvation of the masses. Kang Xi then wrote poems praising Jesus Christ for shedding blood at the cross that formed a stream of benevolence flowing from the West. In the article "Treasure of Life," Kang Xi explicitly expressed his idea: the gate of heaven was closed to the first people for a long time; the road to happiness was opened by the holy child. I'm willing to accept holy Christ, so that the humble me will be blessed with an eternal life.
At that time, missionaries translated dozens of categories of scientific works of the West and helped China manufacture several hundred cannons. Every day, Emperor Kang Xi asked Ferdinand Verbiest, Xu Risheng and Min Mingwo to give him two to three hours of lessons in astronomy, geography, anatomy, pharmacology, music, Latin, etc.
Assisted by Xu Risheng and Zhang Cheng, Kang Xi signed with Peter the Great of Russia an equal treaty rarely seen in the modern history of China: "Treaty of Nerchinsk" and they swore an oath before God to abide by it.
Kang Xi also abolished the ban on maritime trade and for the first time ever, there was a foreign firm in the land of China.
No one know whose fault it was or it could be pure a bad luck. As China peacefully and luckily walked step by step toward the world and science and was embracing the marine civilization, a minor incident and a hasty decision turned China right back to a self-imposed isolation and a subsequent doze of two hundred years in which it missed the most glorious era of the Industrial Revolution.
In the early 18th century, Vatican sent the 34-year-old Bishop Carlo Tommaso Maillard de Tournon to China and issued a decree in the name of "safeguarding a pure belief:
The word "God" shall not be used. In its place, "Deus" shall be used. Inscribed boards such as "revere heaven" shall not be hung in churches; Confucius shall not be revered and people shall not offer sacrifice to their ancestors; ancient Chinese scriptures shall not be praised, etc. Violators of these rules shall be excommunicated.
Kang Xi immediately drove him out of China, saying: the "God" of the Chinese is the real god. Heaven is not a heaven made of materials. Revering Confucius and offering sacrifice to ancestors are not a religion but an expression of filial piety and reverence and they do not conflict with Christianity.
The pope remained indifferent and clung obstinately to his own way. He again sent Bishop Carlo Ambrosius Mezzabarba to China to reaffirm the decree. Kang Xi received him 13 times. Seeing no room for a breakthrough, he then wrote the following instructions:
None of the Westerners knows China well enough and most of their remarks and comments are ludicrous. The announcement of their legates shows they are no different from heretics and cultists like the monks and Taoist priests. They are no more than a bunch of raving idiots. From now on, we do not need Westerners to preach Christianity in China. Missionaries will be banned to avoid further troubles.
Four years later, Yongzheng finally sounded the death knell of Catholicism in China. All the Chinese Christians were given the capital sentence; all the properties of churches were confiscated and all missionaries were driven out of the country.
Oh, the great 18th and 19th centuries! You are the turning point in the history of man! You witnessed the invention of flying devices, looms, steam machines, electricity, telecommunication, railroads, petroleum, French Revolution, God-endowed human rights and separation of three powers. China, why did you faint away again right at the time when the values of man experienced a rapid advance?
The Qing court drove away once for all the messengers of God, banged its door up, withdrew to its shell and enjoyed the mummy-style "time of peace and prosperity."
In 1852, as the Taiping Army was suffering losses in the battlefield, they accidentally found several huge cannons Wu Sangui buried underground before they fled. Adam Schall von Bell and his entourage had helped manufacture these cannons at the end of Ming Dynasty and beginning of Qing Dynasty. With these few cannons, the Taiping Army turned the tides and immediately captured Wuhan and Nanjing.
What followed is a story full of historic significance that also most hurts the nationalist psyche. This story, full of sufferings, humiliations and shame, is the real dawn of modern China.
In 1792, the British envoy George Macartney led a huge delegation to visit China. Among its members were several hundred scientists, mathematicians, artists and doctors. The presents they had brought included six hundred boxes of scientific instruments, paintings, military materiel, wagon and ship models.
Unexpectedly, upon getting ashore, the whole mission was viewed as "tribute messengers" coming to celebrate the emperor's birthday and pay tribute. Qian Long gave an imperial edict to the king of Great Britain on which it was written:
Your request to send a person to station in our country to take care the trade issues of your country is incompatible with the system of our country and absolutely cannot be granted. There are many countries in the West and you are not the only country. If everyone of them requests to station people in Beijing, how can we allow it? I'm here to let you know that China encompasses four seas and is absolutely self-sufficient and does not need goods from your country....
24 years later, the British special envoy William Pitt Amherst again came to China to negotiate commercial matters. He met an even worse fate this time. At the imperial court, however, as he declined to perform the kowtow to Emperor Jiaqing, he was driven out of the country, and the mission failed.
The British traders, obsessed with potential profits and burning with impatience, reminded the British Parliament that any noble diplomatic measures would not bring any result in China. On the other hand, however, they were engaging in the most ignoble deeds: smuggling a large quantity of opium to China.
China, despite its poverty, weakness and corruption, never lost its manner as a great empire that controlled the known world.
In 1839, Lin Zexu destroyed all the opium of British traders amounting to over 2 million jin and drove Charles Elliot, the general superintendent, to the sea.
At the news, 16 warships of the British Expedition immediately sailed northward, seized Tianjin and threatened Beijing. What followed were a series of defeats of the Qing court, a series of concessions and a series of unequal treaties.
Having suffered defeats, the self-conceited Qing court, however, still did not wake up. Zuo Zongtang sighed with sadness: the situation hasn't changed for 20 years. When the Anglo-French allied forces retook Tianjin in 1860, Emperor Xian Feng wrote with anger at seeing the word "I the sovereign" on the national letter of credence from the queen of England: "ludicrous conceit and parochial arrogance." He then ordered to deal the invaders head-on blows and annihilate all this ugly race. In addition, he put in prison an Anglo-French negotiation delegation of 39 people. When the allied forces entered Beijing three days later and Xian Feng fled to Cheng-te, half of the 39 delegation members had died of torture at the hands of their jailers. In anger, the allied forces burned the Garden of Yuanming, Xian Feng's luxurious summer palace in a suburb of Beijing.
A dozen of years later, under the pressure of the Powers, the Qing court gave up the requirement of kowtow on foreign visitors, received envoys from various countries. It also sent out overseas Guo Songtao, the first ambassador in the history of China.
Oh, China! Described by Marx as "a mummy carefully stored in a sealed coffin," you are a piece of land well sealed but couldn't stand a breath of wind. The strong wind from the western sky at last blew into your body together with the waves of the sea. You resisted, you were angry, you were nervous and restless. You were like a frame that had lost its joints, shaking inside out and creaking all over.
You could no longer assimilate these self-invited guests from the other side of the ocean as you did to the rounds of "barbarian outlanders" in the past.
Are these blondes from the West a curse or messengers, friends or foes?
China! You should not forget that two hundred years before, Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall von Bell had patiently baptized you with science and faith like breezes and drizzles, yet you rashly shut off your door and indulged in the great self-imposed isolation, until this time when the strong armored warships and fierce cannons of the Western Powers completely bathed you like a wild storm and you could no longer close up your gate already broken in pieces.
Oh, God of the boundless heaven! Why wouldn't you give up until you opened the gate of this "Land of God" and forced her to embrace the world and yet ignored her feelings of deep hatred through clenched teeth? Why wouldn't you give up until you beat him awake from a fast sleep and tame her from arrogance by stick and carrot or by pure brutal force, in spite of a hundred years of her resentment and two hundred years of obsession with the humiliation.
Now, a hundred and fifty years have passed and China is finally walking out of Yellow River toward the sea and is about to fly in the blue sky. Looking back on it, the gunfire on the Pearl River, the smoke at Tanggu, the arrogance, stupidity, defeat and all the humiliations of the Qing emperor seem to carry with them a touch of mystery and will of heaven. They seem to be beckoning at today's blessing and tomorrow's hope.
(caption: Heaven of the West)
The cannon fire of 1840 brought not only opium and might of the Powers, but also civilization of science that the Chinese had not quite seen or heard, democracy and freedom that the Chinese had never thought of and the belief in Jesus Christ that the Chinese had thought hard about but had not been able to understand.
These three things demonstrated, in gradual increment of importance, three aspects of the Western civilization: economic materials, political systems and religious beliefs.
The conservatives totally objected to all of the above, such as Qian Long, Ci Xi and Mao Ze-dong. The Westernization proponents preferred only the economic aspect of the civilization, such as Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang and Deng Xiaoping. The reformists tried to imitate the political system, such as Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Not many people approached the Western civilization from the religious aspect and there were no schools formed thereon. These few Christians were Xu Guangqi, Hong Renxuan and Sun Yat-sen.
Arnold Joseph Toynbee, the renowned historian, once said: a whole integrated civilization would be divided into science and technology, politics, art, religion and so on during its dissemination. At this time, the ability to disseminate is usually in reverse proportion to its value. The resistance to the unimportant aspects during the dissemination is smaller than that caused by dissemination of the important aspects. For example, dissemination of science and technology is faster and more widespread than religions. The automatic choice for the minimum value that achieves the largest, the fastest and the most widespread dissemination is obviously an unfortunate law in cultural exchanges.
Unfortunately, in the past 150 years, China has been lingering around under this unfortunately law. The gunboats, unequal treaties, the tangling associations with the missionaries, aided by faint tingling nationalist sentiments, greatly aggravated this unfortunate lingering.
Bo Yang Interview
Western civilization is Christian civilization. There is a very good fundamental faith in Christian civilization, a faith we Chinese do not have. This faith does not recognize the classification of people and believes that we are all children of the one God. We are called brothers in Lord because we are all equal. This concept of equality is the foundation of faith in Christianity. If one denies that we are brothers and believes that he is the greatest, he is not practicing Christian faith, but a different faith. We do not have the concept of equality in China. Confucianism classified people into different levels. Chinese culture lacks another thing, an ultimate concern. Why do we live? What do we love? Do we love our emperor? No. It was faked. Chinese are not honest. We truly love our parents, our children, and ourselves. Our love cannot transcend blood relations. One’s learning and endeavor fail once he goes beyond the kinship It is because we lack an ultimate concern. Why do I live? In the word of the west, it is for whom do I fight? For whom do I live? What is the purpose of my life? For the Christians, it is simple. To glorify God. You may mock at him. But he has his ultimate concern.
Liang Yancheng Interview
We accepted the western civilization without a knowledge of its complete history. We accept the results of its recent development. The west for us is the west after Enlightenment. The democracy Chinese embraced is not the democracy of John Locke, which is moderate and has a God. In fact, if we studied thoroughly, we would find a close connection between western democracy and God. Actually the first people who proposed democracy were Calvinists, and the first people who overturned dictatorship were Lutherens. It was Religious Reformation that started the practice of democracy. It seems that Chinese do not pay adequate attention to Religious Reformation. Kang Youwei paid a little attention to it and no one followed.
We only talk about how atheism and gnosticism brought forth Enlightenment Movement, and we only talk about democracy and science in a spirit of replacing violence with violence. I have a very deep discovery into this matter, as I have come to the west to spend much time on understanding the history of the west. The development of western history cannot be separated from Christianity, and the most successful revolutions in western history, the revolutions that shed least blood, were Christian revolutions. This was mostly due to a spirit of forgiveness.
True, it was for none other than the trade and political interests and absolutely not for helping China bring a thorough change to itself that the Western Powers invited themselves to China. However, God has His own intentions. Amid the heavenly intentions, God knows it all: the real shortage in China was not in manpower, nor materials, nor wisdom, nor morality. China did not have any less of these than the West. What China lacked was this God in heaven, the source for honesty, benevolence, beauty, belief, hope and love. Once the relationship between man and God in heaven is twisted and turned upside down, then the relationships between men themselves, man and materials, man and state and man and himself would inevitably experience a series of twists and downturns, which in turn would inevitably lead to isolation, bitterness and craftiness which again would inevitably lead to self-slaughtering, self-abuse and life-and-death conflicts. Under such a circumstance, God of the boundless heaven had no choice but set His own foot to this dying but still obstinate yellow land.
Given other choices, God of the boundless heaven would certainly not have the heart to wrap the true scripture of the West in the sound of cannon and baptize China with humiliation and tears.
As the Western capital sucked the blood of China, messengers of God were quietly devoting their lives to China.
In 1862, as Karl Marx sat in the British Museum and mocked China in a tone of wise man as a "living obstinate stone," he might not know that 300 years before, Alexandre Nalignani the missionary had already crossed the oceans and called China with his life and love: my dear obstinate stone, when will you open up?
Robert Morrison came and died. His captain once asked him: "Do you want to change this great and proud country?" He replied: "No, it's God."
Richard Timothy came and died, but his private secretary, Liang Qichao, became a newborn child in China.
Hudson Taylor came and died. His descendents of five generations devoted their lives to China. He said: "If I had a million pounds, I would leave every single penny to China. If I had a hundred lives, I would leave every single one to China."
Thousands of messengers from the West came wave upon wave amid misunderstanding, hostility, hardship and sacrifice and died in China.
Why did they do this? Was it for money? No, they all were people of little means. Was it for the Powers? No, they were actually critics of the Powers. Was it for fame? No, they always came quietly from a comfortable place and died quietly. For some, their entirely families died under the swords of the Boxers, some died in poverty and famine---what were they really after?
There is only one answer to these questions: Jesus Christ also came in this way and died in this way. To save man from sins, he died in man's sins.
When the order of heaven enters the secular world and the reality is hallowed, it is so marvelous and so grandiose.
Numerous messengers from the West followed the steps of Jesus and came with crosses on their back and died.
They were the seeds falling from the heaven.
A seed falls in the earth and dies. Many seeds will come out of it.
When Song Shangjie threw his Ph. D diploma in chemistry into the Pacific and decided to devote all his life to that of a missionary, when Ni Tuosheng beat the watches at midnight and opened up one church after another in this "Land of God," when Wang Mingdao walked one step after another toward the jail and returned his release certificate to the jailer and would rather get a life sentence for his belief, when all the missionaries from the West were driven out of China and atheism brutally ruled the entire "Land of God," the number of Christians in China multiplied by hundreds and thousands. Oh, God of the boundless sky, your majestic footsteps have already gone on this "Land of God." These footsteps are so grandiose, magnificent and irresistible.
Oh, China! You have at last gone on a newly-found journey. You have seen step by step the round arc of the earth and have seen it carry the whole world of man, being turned around and around in an oval path by the distant sun. At the two thousandth turn, you at last have to raise your head and look at the blue sky along the end of the blue sea!