The Introduction and Development of Nestorianism and Other Foreign Religions

2017-04-28 10:11:35 , Source : The Government Website of Shaanxi Province

People generally believe that the time when Christianity was introduced to China was during the Opium War in 1840, but few people know that Shaanxi is the first place in China where Christianity was disseminated. As early as in the period of Emperor Taizong of Tang (in 7th century AD), one of the Christian tribes, Nestorianism (Nestorian tribe) was introduced to Chang’an by the Persian Alopen. The Xi’an Beilin Museum has preserved the Stone Tablet that recorded the earliest history of Christianity’s introduction to China—Nestorian Tablet: Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China. This monument was established to note the introduction of Christianity to China; the monument inscriptions are in Chinese with a total of more than 1,800 Chinese characters, presenting a detailed record of the introduction of Nestorianism to China. According to the monument records, in the ninth year of Emperor Taizong’s Zhenguan Period (635AD), the Persian missionary Alopen came to Chang’an. Emperor Taizong himself sent prime minister Fang Xuanling to lead the honor guard to greet them at the western suburbs outside the Imperial palace, and allowed Alopen to translate The Bible in the Library of the Palace and discuss the teachings with the ministers. Three years later, Emperor Taizong allowed Alopen to go out freely to preach and recruit followers and in the twelfth year of Zhenguan Period, the court approved the construction of Daqin Temple in the capital for the residence of twelve clergy. As a result, Nestorianism became popular in the country. Plenty of classics from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and literary quotations in Chinese history books were cited to illustrate the doctrine of Nestorianism and tell the fall of Man, the birth of the Messiah, the deeds of the Savior and so on. Starting from the ninth year of Zhenguan Period, Nestorianism was treated seriously and protected by the court for five generations of emperors about 140 years. Emperor Taizong ordered all states to establish a Nestorian monastery; Emperor Xuanzong and Emperor Suzong also gave preferential treatments to Nestorianism. Meanwhile, Nestorians repeatedly sent envoys to Chang’an to render tribute.

Nestorian Stele—eulogizing the propagation of the Nestorianism in China

Nestorian Tablet: Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China was originally placed in the Daqin Temple at Zhouzhi which is located at northern foot of Qinling Mountains. With the decline of Nestorianism, the Daqin Temple was occupied by Buddhists, and no one has any idea about when the monument was lost. When the monument re-appeared in the third year of Tianqi (1623) in the Ming Dynasty, the missionaries in China from Western countries competed for the rubbings and sent them to Europe after translating the content into Latin. The monument was secretly transferred to the nearby Gold Sage Monastery by the locals and handed to the monks for care since they were afraid that the monument would be stolen by missionaries. In the years of Guangxu Period, one Dane named Seoul Ritz • Fu Ho wished to buy the monument with a large amount of money, but it was refused by the Qing government. In 1907, the governor of Shaanxi Province moved the monument to Xi’an Beilin (it is now in the Xi’an Beilin Museum). The monument becomes the only historical material for studying the Daqin Nestorianism now. In addition to “The Nestorian monument in China”, the Daqin Temple in Zhouzhi County of Qinling Mountains was the first Christian church in the country, and the Shizi Mountain next to Baowo Village in Meixian County is the Eastern holy mountain recognized by the Pope. Called the “Oriental Calvary”, it is equivalent to the Holy Land in Jerusalem and attracts a large number of Catholic pilgrims every year. All the information mentioned above shows the important position of Shaanxi in the historical development of Christianity in China.

Blue colored glaze dish with strong Islamic-style unearthed in underground palace of Famen Temple

Islam emerged from Arabia in the early 7th century, and in 611AD, Muhammad began to preach it in Mecca. In 630AD, Emperor Taizong of Tang had East Turkistan overthrown, and got ready to expand to the northwest. Muhammad moved back to Mecca from Medina, achieved the position of an Arab leader, and began a holy war until the second year of Yonghui Period of Emperor Tang Gaozong (651AD). When the third khalifa of Da Shi Guo, Osman, was in power, special envoys were sent to Chang’an, to have an audience with Emperor Gaozong of Tang during which the founding of the country, domestic customs and the situation of Islam were detailed. Therefore, that year was officially recognized as the time when Islam was introduced to China. At this time, many Islamic Muslims lived in Chang’an and the southern cities such as Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, etc. These Muslims brought exotic characteristics and living style as well as religious beliefs with them from the Arabian countries. After the Anshi Rebellion in the Tang Dynasty was suppressed, a large number of officers and men from Huihe (the uyghur) and Dashi (Arabs) took up permanent residence in China. They gathered in Chang’an City and built their own temple to further promote the spread of Islam in Shaanxi and China. The Xi’an Great Mosque, which was built in the Tang Dynasty, has been listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s Islamic relics, its architectural structure is of Chinese national style while the layout within the temple was in strict accordance to Islamic systems. The decorative creeping weed pattern is actually overlapped Arabic carved inside the hall based on both Chinese and Islamic traditions and created by the exquisite workmanship.

Inscription of Lady Ma— Wife of Su Liang

Magianism refers to the religion created by Zoroaster in 6th century BC. It promoted the belief that light will prevail and because of the worship of fire, it is also known as Parseeism. According to the information in the literature, there were four temples respectively named Hu Magianism Temple, West Magianism Temple and South Magianism Temple. The organization which manages the Magians was called “sabaofu” and the Executive was called “sabao”, that is, the transliteration of the word “camel caravan captain” in Sogdian, and in most cases, served by Sogdian with the origin of Samarkand. The officer who takes charge of the foreign religious affairs was called “aozheng,” whose duty was not limited to Magianism, but also included other foreign religions. In 1955, Inscription of Lady Ma— Wife of Su Liang carved in Chinese and Persian was found near the West Tumen Village of Xi’an. This discovery attracted the attention of scholars since it is an important bilingual text for the exchange of ancient Chinese and Persian, and it provides physical evidence for Persians in China who believed in Magianism. A member of the Lady Ma and Su Liang Family, who lived in Chang’an is a survivor of Sasanian Persia, continued to believe in Magianism 200 years after Persia had perished. The tomb inscription is preserved in the Xi’an Beilin Museum. Although the Magian Temple in Chang’an was destroyed during the Huichang Suppression, the impact of Magianism is still existing in China.

Manichaeism, which was created by the Persian Moni, also known as “Zoroastrianism”, advocated mutual help and contended a competition existing between light and dark, namely, “light surpasses darkness.” It was introduced into China in 694AD. Mani Master once prayed for rain for the Tang emperor. Since many Huihe people believe in Manichaeism, and the relationship between the Tang and Huihe became close after the Anshi Rebellion in the Tang Dynasty, in which the Huihe people helped the Tang reoccupy two capitals, they were given permission to build Mani Temples in the cities of Chang’an,

Luoyang, Taiyuan, among others. Since then, Manichaeism was popular in China for a long time, and its influence remained until the Qing Dynasty.

Nestorianism, Islam, Magianism and Manichaeism, which were originally popular in Europe and West Asia, were gradually introduced to China and spread out during the Northern Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. This is not only a religious issue, but also a symbol that the entire Chinese culture was maturing and became more confident, generous, and tolerant; further more, it is also a sign of the absorption and openness of Chinese culture. History has proven that the development of human society depends on a variety of outstanding cultural exchanges, learning from each other. This is the trend and the law of the development of human societies.

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