Sunday, August 9, 2009
Early History of Christianity in China & Far East
The video was discovered by accident, I found that the song is really beautiful, and I love it. Later I realized that this video is about history of Christianity in China, which is a rare subject of interest in academic world. However, historical fact in the video may be doubtful.
It is the historical facts many people do not know, of how Assyrian Christian from Assyrian Church of the East(东方亚述教会),formally called Nestorians(聂里脱里派) by the west. They spread their good news to China, using silk route at that time. The followers of Saint Thomas...they even go to Tibet, Japan and India.
They called the religion Chin Chio(景教), literally mean "Luminous Religion". It was in Tang Dynasty; where there are religion freedom, trade freedom, where the West met East, the era of glory in China. There are cultural integration, religion studies.....The religion also spread to Japan from China.
But the powerful horsemen of Mongol attacked China, and destroyed the glorious era of China, overthrown the Tang Dynasty. They form the Yuan Dynasty. China began the new era of Mongolian rule.
The video reported that the church established in Tang Dynasty were destroyed by the Mongols.But in wikipedia, it was reported that "The Christian community later faced persecution from Emperor Wuzong(唐武宗) of Tang (reigned 840–846). He suppressed all foreign religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, which then declined sharply in China. A Syrian monk visiting China a few decades later described many churches in rubble". A zealous Taoist, Wuzong considered Buddhism a foreign religion that was harmful to Chinese society. He went after other foreign religions as well. His persecution of the growing Nestorian Christian churches sent Chinese Christianity into a decline from which it never recovered(source: wikipedia). Christianity flourished again in China during the Yuan or Mongol dynasty (1271-1368), when Franciscan missionaries, commissioned by the Roman Pope, arrived in 1294. The Assyrian Church also substantially reappeared at this time with the Mongols. During this period the Chinese language employed the same name for both branches of the Christian faith. Organized Christianity failed to survive the end of the Yuan dynasty in China,it only re-enter China during Qing Dynasty after the Opium Wars.
“Nestorian” Christianity reached China by 635 AD during the early Tang Dynasty under Emperor Taizong(唐太宗, 2nd emperor of Tang Dynasty, personal name Li Shimin 李世民), and its relics can still be seen in Chinese cities such as Xi'an. (note: The rule by Emperor Taizong(唐太宗) was one of the greatest in the history of China). The Nestorian Stele, set up on 7 January 781 at the then-capital of Chang'an (modern Xi'an), describes the introduction of Christianity into China from Persia in the reign of Taizong of Tang, and documents found at the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang further elucidate the religion. About the same time Nestorian Christianity penetrated into Mongolia, eventually reaching as far as Korea. Some historians even suggest that they made it to the shores of Japan. In AD 797, a Japanese history, Shoku Nihongi was published. It states that in AD 736 an envoy returned to Japan from China. He brought with him a Persian physician by the name of Limitsi (or Rimitsui, 李密医), and Kohfu (皇甫), a “dignitary of the church of the Luminous Religion”. The “Luminous religion” is (Nestorian) Christianity - because Christ is “the Light of the World”. The Syrian Christians of Kerala, India may have been converted by Nestorian missionaries in the 7th century AD according to one of the two dominant theories about their origin (the other, more traditional theory is that they were converted in 52AD by St Thomas or his delegates)(source:wikipedia)
The church in India, however remained strong. I have the opportunity to attend service conducted by The Mar Thoma Church((Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church) from India in Kuantan previously. Mar Thomas is Aramaic words, means St Thomas. Malankara or Maliankara is the place St Thomas landed in Kerala, India. It was the headquarter of the church from 1st century. Syrian does not means it is from Syria, but it means the language used, Syraic( the middle Aramaic language). They are very traditional and ancient, which revealed that they have preserved their religion since ancient time. What is China loss, is Indian's gain.
A copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew in old Chinese script, dating back to the ninth century, found inside the Koryuji Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, near Nara, Japan. This temple is cited by at least one historian as having been built about 818 atop a Christian building erected in 603 that was destroyed by fire. Researcher M.L. Young says that one of the most sacred objects of the Nishi Honganji Buddhist Temple, founded by Kobo Daishi in 806 after his contact with a Nestorian Christian monastery in Beijing, is "the Lord of the Universe's Discourse on Almsgiving," a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and other Matthean passages. (source: http://www.nestorian.org/christianity_arrived_in_japan_.html)
The church in Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus is The Church of Nativity, it is amongst the most important holy places for Christian. It is within the Palestinian Territories. The Church conducted their service or mass in traditional and ancient way like the Indian Assyrian Church.
The song was a Assyrian church hymn, it may be in Aramaic language; the language of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. It sound like Arabic song. Beautiful.....
An interesting history if you are interested in Religion History in China.
Books related to Nestorian :
1. "Nestorians"(1841), by Asahel Grant, published by Haper
2. The Nestorians: or, The lost tribes(2002), Asahel Grant, H. L. Murre-Van Den Berg, published by Gorgias Press LLC. It contained evidence of Nestorian identity ; an account of their manners, customs, and ceremonies ; together with sketches of travels in ancient Assyria, Armenia, Media, and Mesopotamia ; and illustrations of Scripture prophecy
3. Mesopotamia and Assyria: from the earliest ages to the present time; with illustrations of their natural history, by James Baillie Fraser,published by Oliver & Boyd.
4. The Unofficial Website of Nestorian Church , http://www.nestorian.org/christianity_arrived_in_japan_.html