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China’s Reforms and Opening-Up: Since 1517

It was AD 1517. In China then, it was the twelfth year of Emperor Zhengde (1491-1521, reign 1505-1521) in the Ming dynasty. According to the traditional Chinese calendar of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, it was the cyclical Year of Dingchou. And in the corresponding Chinese zodiac, it was the Year of the Ox.[i]

On October 31 of that year when Martin Luther (1483-1546) sent off his Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, the Europe this professor of the Christian theology lived in looks to be a world that had nothing to do with China.[ii] However, it was just in August and September of 1517 that a Portuguese diplomatic mission dispatched by King Manuel I (1469-1521, reign 1495-1521) arrived in the southern China’s Guangzhou estuary and then the Guangzhou city itself marking the first known official contact in the early modern history between Europe and China.[iii]

In the popular world history, this event is no doubt much less known than the legend of Luther’s nailing his theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Yet, the Portuguese official visit in 1517 led by Fernão Pires de Andrade (?-1552) and the previous landings of the Portuguese explorers on the Chinese mainland’s southern shores in 1513-16,[iv] are no less significant in the global history where they acted as a spur to the initiation of the reforms and opening-up of China in the early modern era and afterwards. They came nearly three hundred years before the much better known British diplomatic mission to China headed by George Macartney (1737-1806) in 1793. During this span of almost three centuries, China was already starting to be under pressure from the expanding Western powers to make adjustments to its place in the broader world.[v]

Reforms and Opening-up in the Long Course of Chinese History

China’s reforms and opening-up have been widely known since the late 1970s when the country’s  communist authorities largely ended the closed door policies over the earlier three decades.[vi] But this recent period of time would not be more deeply comprehended without being put in the much longer history of China where reforms and opening-up were not just limited to the latest decades or even the past couple of centuries.[vii] It may be more urgent for a deeper comprehension nowadays and in the years to come given that the Chinese government has gradually terminated the reform era since around 2010 and has been even more centralizing its rule over the recent couple of years.[viii]

Such a tightening-up comes as no shock if one takes account of the long-established tradition of the authoritarian or totalitarian rule throughout China’s history. The reforms and opening-up in the modern sense owe their existence in the Chinese history mainly to the fact that China has not been able to wholly shrug off the intrusion in one way or another of the West into the country and the broader East since the early modern time. Which means it is not that China principally initiates reforming and opening up of its own will but that reforms and opening-up are chiefly what the Chinese authorities have to face under the pressure of the West. And if that pressure wanes or backfires, the Chinese state would understandably be prone to returning to its traditional way of monopolizing the ruling power by minimizing the space for further reforms and opening-up. Of course, the reforms and opening-up may not be abolished altogether since fine-tuning its policies and opening itself up to the outside world to a certain extent would be good for the ruling power to maintain the resilience of its despotism.

In the context of a traditionally centralized China, it would never be easy for the reforms and opening-up to become mainstream or simply viable before being elbowed aside. However vulnerable they may have been, the reforms and opening-up did help create a space where people could be exposed to those alternatives to China’s prevailing world views and ways of life that have very much shaped the East Asian cultures for centuries. The years after the Portuguese official visit to China in 1517 saw the gradual intrusion of the early modern Western cultures into the Ming empire as well as the flow of the Chinese cultures into the West. That came naturally with the conflicts between China and the West that would figure prominently in the Sino-Western relations over the ensuing five hundred years.[ix]

Christianity’s Intrusion into China

Over this course of history, Christianity was arguably the most significant belief and culture that characterized the intrusion of the West and various responses it aroused among the Chinese. It was not after 1517 that Christianity began to be known in China. The earliest recorded Christian missionaries had already arrived in China in the 7th century AD.[x] But it was after 1517 that Christianity would pose an increasing challenge to China’s long-standing world views and ways of life with the expanding Western cultures in the modern world. The Portuguese exploration would help usher in the arrival of the Catholic missionaries. And it would also prove to be helpful in the entry of the followers of Luther and other Protestant leaders in the 19th century. Compared with Catholicism, the Reformation within the Western Christianity Luther and his allies helped launch in 1517 and afterwards would have an even bigger impact on China’s history of reforms and opening-up from the 19th century until today.

The emergence of Macao, a permanent Portuguese settlement near the Guangzhou estuary, and its recognition by the local Ming officials in 1557,[xi] were instrumental in the spread of Christianity and other Western cultures in the early modern China. In a sense, Macao set a historic precedent for the creation of a series of similar places in China where the Chinese residents had generally more chances than in other parts of the country of being exposed to the Western cultures. These places would include treaty ports and concessions from the 1840s to the 1940s, and special economic zones, coastal open cities, and special administrative regions after the late 1970s. Of course, these places are not the same in terms of national sovereignty, which has been a key issue of conflict between China and the West since the 16th century.

In the 1560s, Macao saw the first Catholic missionaries entering the area. Then they began building churches and hospitals. That came less than two decades after Francis Xavier (1506-1552), one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, reached an island off Guangzhou and died there in late 1552 after being refused by the Ming authorities to land on the Chinese mainland.[xii] The presence of Christianity in Macao made it possible for the Chinese to catch a glimpse of what this alien religion was about. Ye Quan (1522-1578), a scholar who originally came from the Chinese eastern prefecture of Huizhou and mainly resided in the nearby Hangzhou, made a visit to Macao in 1565. That was one of Ye’s travels across China. His travelogue was the earliest recorded Chinese account of an image of Jesus and Mary in China’s early modern history. Ye was impressed by a “divine sculpture” of the “foreign monks” he met in Macao. In the sculpture, this Chinese man of letters wrote, “a naked man carved out of sandalwood hangs in the middle measuring six or seven cun (or some twenty centimeters) long with his hands and feet being nailed.” Ye went on to explain why the man was treated like this, “it is said that his ancestors did evil so that he suffers the pain.” He reckoned that it was the man’s ancestors who wanted to change the worldly nature and check the violent spirit by subjecting the man to suffering. Ye also mentioned a wooden altarpiece below the sculpture on which one of the nine panels depicted “a beautiful lady stooping to embrace a naked man for unknown reasons.” It is understandable that a Chinese intellectual of the 1560s did not know Christianity well. As Ye himself acknowledged, the translator he relied on did not tell him enough about this religion practiced by the Portuguese. In his description, what the “foreign monks” believed in was mistakenly called Buddha, revered as the founder of Buddhism and known among the Chinese literati in the Ming and many other dynasties.[xiii]

Learning the Superior Techniques of the Barbarians”: Before Wei Yuan

Two years after Ye’s travel to Macao, the Ming government partially lifted the established “hai jin” or sea ban by allowing and taxing private maritime trade in the port of Yuegang in China’s southeastern province of Fujian. The move came as a governmental response to the increasing smuggling, piracy and related unrest in that area. Previous harsh measures against private maritime commerce only resulted in more close connections between the Chinese traders and their Portuguese as well as Japanese counterparts. That the central government fine-tuned its maritime policy was in some degree encouraged by the more peaceful condition in Guangdong thanks to the local government’s recognition of the permanent Portuguese settlement of Macao in 1557 and the larger partial relaxation of the maritime prohibition in the region during the earlier decades.[xiv]

Of course, peace in Guangdong was relative. After the death of Emperor Zhengde in 1521, the Ming authorities expelled the first Portuguese diplomatic mission that arrived from Guangzhou in Nanjing and then in Beijing a year earlier. The Ming military forces also attacked the Portuguese fleet off the coast of Guangdong in 1521 and 1522. It was the first recorded major Sino-European armed conflict in the early modern history. Unlike most of the Sino-Western clashes in the 19th century, the battles in the 1520s ended with China’s victory.

But these early rounds of engagements, and indeed the arrival in Guangzhou of the Portuguese fleet in 1517, already provided opportunities for the Ming mandarins, especially Wang Hong (1466-1536) and Gu Yingxiang (1483-1565), then the top maritime affairs officials in Guangdong, to not just get to know but also even learn from the early modern Western cultures. What impressed them most were the Portuguese cannons or “Folangji”, which they found more effective and powerful than their own. What they immediately learned, with the help of some Chinese men working aboard the Portuguese fleet, swiftly turned out to help defeat the Portuguese.[xv] It came more than three hundred years before Wei Yuan (1794-1857), a scholar-official in the Qing dynasty, famously advocated the idea of “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians in order to control the barbarians”.[xvi] And even prior to being employed to defeat the foreigners, the introduction of the Portuguese guns already played a role in China’s domestic political affairs. In 1519, Wang Yangming (1472-1529), then the governor of Jiangxi and one of the most influential Confucian thinkers in China’s history, wrote a poem to honor Lin Jun (1452-1527), a retired high-ranking official who had his servants make and send a tin copy of the Portuguese cannon to Wang. Lin wanted it to help Wang who was leading the campaign against a prince’s revolt. The prince was said to purchase the Portuguese cannons through overseas trade and make his own in 1517. It was the earliest recorded Chinese incorporation of the Portuguese cannons or any early modern Western armaments.[xvii]

The quick adoption of “Folangji” among the Ming military forces in the early 1500s shows that the Chinese government then was quite open to incorporating superior foreign technologies when it came to defending its rule even if they were from the inferior enemy barbarians. It also indicates that the technological gap between China and the West with regard to weaponry then were not too wide for the former to close up on the latter within a short period of time.[xviii] Such a condition is unlike the 1840s-1940s and the 1970s-2010s when it took much longer time for China to catch up with the West in much of technology and economy. And yet, it has been much more difficult for China, or indeed any big country with a long history, to reform and open up in such areas more than just technology and economy as world views and ways of life. Throughout the recent five centuries, the idea of “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians in order to control the barbarians” or anything like this seems to have been an underlying strategy of China’s generations of ruling groups dealing with Western powers. Or it could be summarized as “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function,” or “Chinese learning for the fundamental principles, Western learning for practical application,” a maxim well known in modern China and such an idea could be traced back to Feng Guifen (1809-1874), a scholar-official and a friend of Wei Yuan.[xix] It is not surprising for these thoughts to be dominant in the Chinese modern history. They apparently did help China to at once regain strength and keep the traditional identity of the Celestial Empire alive in a considerable degree by inspiring the governing elite of successive modern periods to make use of the Western techniques for China’s revival. These techniques did not necessarily restrict to technology in the material sense. Communism, which became the most popular and later the ruling ideology in China’s 20th century, is such a technology in the spiritual sense that was adopted in the larger Chinese self-strengthening movement. In other words, in China’s history, it was more that Communism was chosen for China than vice versa. For the Chinese mainstream, if the reforms and opening-up go beyond the limits of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function,” the very existence of China – Zhong Guo or Central Country (or Middle Kingdom), as the Chinese themselves call it [xx] – will be under threat.

Reform Beyond Technique and Function?

Christianity, which has played a pivotal role in shaping the Western civilization since the late antiquity despite its influence has declined over the recent centuries, has been such a major threat in the eyes of many Chinese. When Ye Quan encountered that image of Jesus in Macao in 1565, Christianity was not yet a religion that differentiated from those faiths already entrenched in the Chinese society. It was not just Ye who misunderstood Christianity as a kind of Buddhism. Before China’s early modern era, Christianity had not been much recognizable either. Yet, with the Catholic missionaries’ arrival in China beyond Macao, the unique world views and ways of life they brought with would be gradually noticed by the Chinese literati even though these missionaries continued to be misapprehended as Buddhist monks for a while.

In the first major trip to China’s southeastern region by the Catholic missionaries in the early modern time, the Italian Jesuit priest Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and his Portuguese colleague António de Almeida (1557-1591) departed Guangzhou in November 1585 for Shaoxing of Zhejiang. Their visit to the city adjacent to Hangzhou can be found in the two poems written by a local man of letters, Xu Wei (1521-1593). Xu was a painter, poet, calligrapher, playwright and even a military strategist in the fight against the pirates. In history, Xu has been noted for his far-reaching influence over China’s modern artistic world. Xu wrote two poems entitled “A Monk from India.” From what he wrote in the poems, the monk apparently refers to Ruggieri. As the Christian missionaries were customarily classified as Buddhists in ancient and early modern China, Ruggieri was identified by Xu as a Buddhist monk from India. Such identification was made also due to the Catholic missionaries themselves. Ruggieri and de Almeida initially dressed like Buddhist monks in order for themselves to be acceptable in China. However, Xu’s second poem of the same title reveals something different. The 18th and 19th lines might be put in English this way: “In his sleeve he keeps a map showing the smallness of the Nine Seas; The Central Plains and the Four Seas are but the eyebrow of the Jiaoming insect.” What is striking lies in Xu’s account that in Ruggieri’s map, China and its surrounding seas – or what is called “the Nine Seas” and “the Central Plains and the Four Seas” in the poem, are only a very small part of the world. That is in stark contrast to the traditional Chinese cartography in which China occupies the central and largest part of the world.[xxi]

The map Xu mentioned probably was made by Ruggieri’s colleague, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and his Chinese collaborators in 1584 in Zhaoqing, the city where the then provincial government of Guangdong and Guangxi was located. According to Ricci himself, the Italian Jesuit missionary once studied cartography with Cristoforo Clavio (1538-1612), a leading German Jesuit astronomer and mathematician in Europe of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Ricci would like the European cartography to help the Chinese see their country and its place in the world afresh so that they might be ready to seriously get to know Christianity from the Europeans whom along with other foreigners were traditionally viewed by the Chinese as the barbarians.[xxii]

Like the Portuguese fleet, the European cartography Ricci introduced to the Ming China is a sign of an expanding Western world in the early modern era. It is believed that Ricci’s world map of 1584 was modeled on Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or Theatre of the Orb of the World, arguably the first modern world atlas. Its first edition appeared in 1570 and was made by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), a Flemish cartographer known for his extensive network of explorers, scholars, cartographers, geographers from across Europe that enabled him to build upon the Westerners’ knowledge of the world during the Age of Discovery.[xxiii]

The new development of the West makes the advent of Christianity in China in the 16th century and afterwards significantly different from the ones in the ancient time. From then on, Christian missionaries have brought to China and elsewhere much of the Western civilization that was much more grown-up than before and was much noted for the tension between the West and the non-Western world. Such difference would be highlighted in the 19th century when some Protestant missionaries reflected on why the Jesuits attained a strong foothold in the late Ming and early Qing empires while the Nestorian missions in the Tang and Yuan dynasties failed to do so. William Alexander Parsons Martin (1827-1916), an American Presbyterian missionary who was influential in advising the top Qing officials in the dynasty’s self-strengthening movement, told his fellow missionaries in 1877 that the civilization of the Nestorian at those times was apparently “of a lower type than that of China.” However, according to Martin, the combination of “the discoveries of science and the verities of the Christian faith” have helped Europe achieve “marvelous progress” since the 16th century and thus the Jesuits could gain ground among the Chinese literati. Based on this evaluation, Martin stressed the importance of religion and science, what he called “a wedded pair”, in “converting the nations,” which included China that was “so advanced in culture.” [xxiv]

For a country whose modern history has been characterized by the strategy of “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians in order to control the barbarians” and the principle of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function,” the “wedded pair” of religion and science are what have been mostly put asunder. But the exceptions are remarkable, although they were not enough to tip the scales of China’s modernity. Among them, Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) is probably the best known and yet his thoughts remain largely unknown to the general public. Xu was one of the few high-ranking scholar-officials in the entire Chinese history so far who have been prominent for promoting both Western science and Christianity as a scientist and a Christian. It was not usual for a Chinese mandarin to devote oneself to scientific endeavors in as different fields as agriculture, astronomy, mathematics, military science. It was even rarer that such a member of the Chinese elite closely linked his main scientific endeavors with his conversion to Christianity. For Xu, what the ancient Chinese sages essentially valued was “cultivating oneself to serve heaven” and yet the Chinese tradition that included the influential Buddhism originating in ancient India lacked “the learning of serving heaven” the Jesuits transmitted from the West. What Xu learned from those Jesuits made him see a whole set of ideas grounded in the Lord of Heaven as the substance of all that ranged from Christian theology and philosophy to natural sciences. This means what interested Xu was not just some application of the Western scientific knowledge and its introduction into China but everything “the learning of serving heaven” could involve according to Ricci and his colleagues. One would say that this embrace of the Jesuit Catholicism that include both religion and science could still be categorized as a method for resuscitating China or the Ming dynasty itself. It was indeed reflected in Xu’s memorial submitted to Emperor Wanli (1563-1620, reign 1572-1620) in 1616 when he defended the Jesuit missionaries in response to the governmental persecution against them. However, what Xu did in respect of religion and science went beyond the confines of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function.” He was more of a Renaissance Man in the early modern Europe than of a traditional Chinese literatus or a modern technocrat. That was despite what Xu knew about Europe was quite limited or even somewhat naive if measured from an insider’s perspective.[xxv]

With the passing of Xu and his fellow scholar-official converts like Yang Tingyun (1562-1627) and Li Zhizao (1571-1630) in the late Ming, China would never produce such high-ranking literati until today who were influential in advancing “the learning of serving heaven” in diverse fields as both a scholar and a Christian.[xxvi] Numerous factors may have contributed to this phenomenon. One of them is probably related to the passing of an era when the natural sciences in the West remained close to Christian theology and philosophy. As China was forced to considerably import the Western science and technology in the late 19th century and afterwards, not just the natural sciences but also many of the humanities in the West were separated from the traditional Western Christendom that remarkably declined after the Scientific Revolution in the 16th-17th centuries and the Enlightenment in the 17th-19th centuries. The independence of the natural sciences and humanities has proved beneficial for these disciplines to grow more fully than before. And yet this would not automatically mean their growth took place without their connections with their earlier histories or other fields. Many reflections on the histories of the natural sciences and humanities in the West have revealed that their relations with Christianity could not be arbitrarily reduced to such a formula as simply scientific versus superstitious or reasonable versus ridiculous.[xxvii] But even among those Chinese publishers in the Qing dynasty who helped republish the translation works of Ricci and Xu, Europe’s Christianity was held in total contempt while its mathematics was much esteemed.[xxviii] Of course, for those who are familiar with Christianity, this is quite comprehensible. The Bible itself makes it clear that the Christian gospel is folly to those who do not believe in Christ.[xxix] Without the Christian belief and enough knowledge of the Bible and the church history, it is indeed hard for anyone to appreciate Christianity’s intricate relations with the natural sciences and humanities. It could be even harder during the recent couple of centuries when the rise of modern science or rather scientism in the West[xxx] was ever noticeable and China was compelled to undertake the self-strengthening movement by “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians in order to control the barbarians.”

Chinese Learning as Substance, Western Learning as Function”: Two Versions

Yet, even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were still opportunities for the Chinese literati to get acquainted with Western science and technology in the Christian and larger Western civilizational context. William Alexander Parsons Martin was not the only eminent Protestant missionary in China then who favored the “wedded pair” of religion and science and spoke highly of the Jesuits in this regard. Martin belonged to a group of missionaries who established in 1887 the Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge Among the Chinese, an organization known for its leading role of publishing and circulating various kinds of “literature based on Christian principles throughout China” and the rest of the Chinese-speaking world in the late Qing and early Republican times.[xxxi] Its founding secretary, Alexander Williamson (1829-1890), warned just a few month before passing away, that the Chinese government’s approach of promoting science to the exclusion of the divine truth would be “simply suicidal” and “the ruin of their country.” For this Scottish Presbyterian missionary, it was “like taking every means to instruct their sailors in navigation, gunnery, etc., but neglecting the motive power beneath – the engine, which is the heart, and the officer in command of the helm, viz., the conscience.” Williamson called “it sham science, a mere namby-pamby superficial knowledge of laws and phenomena, ignoring the root of science, the highest lessons of science and the end of science, which is God.” In this sense, Williamson concluded, “The steam-ship, the railway, the telegraph and numerous appliances which the Chinese have already adopted, are merely the outcome – the trappings – of our civilization, not our civilization proper.”[xxxii]

With Williamson, his successor Timothy Richard (1845-1919), and other missionaries like Young John Allen (1836-1907) who was the founding editor of the renowned Chinese periodical The Globe Magazine (later called A Review of the Times), the Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge Among the Chinese proved successful in imparting much of Christianity and the Western civilization to the Chinese audience. It especially helped pave the way for China’s reform movement in the 1890s. One of its celebrated readers, Kang Youwei (1858-1927) attributed his “conversion to reform” and his “knowledge of reform chiefly to the writings of” Richard and Allen. And Kang’s main disciple, Liang Qichao (1873-1929), once was Richard’s Chinese secretary. The first newspaper Kang and Liang launched for their reform movement was Wan Guo Gong Bao or Wan Kwoh Kung Pao, the same title as the Chinese name of The Globe Magazine, which Allen launched in 1868 as Church News and became the society’s organ in 1889.[xxxiii] Allen’s paper also helped Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the future first provisional president of the Republic of China, to embark on his revolutionary career by publishing his petition to Li Hongzhang (1823-1901), a high-ranking Qing official and a self-strengthening movement leader, in 1894.[xxxiv]

However, what Williamson and his fellow missionaries like Martin, Allen and Richard did ended up with no fundamental changes in China they would like to see. No major Chinese reformer or revolutionary in the late Qing and early Republican era emerged who was acclaimed for helping promote the Western learning that included not just science and technology but also Christianity and the wider Western civilization.[xxxv] Only some Chinese collaborators of these missionaries lived up to their expectations. Among them, the life of Shen Yugui or Sun(g) Yueh-kuei (1807-1907), the most important Chinese editor of Wan Guo Gong Bao, illustrates how an originally traditional Chinese man of letters who failed the imperial examinations got acquainted with the Western missionaries in Shanghai and ventured into advancing the Western learning as a journalist, educator and a Christian.[xxxvi] Shen coined and published in 1895 the exact word of “zhong xue wei ti, xi xue wei yong,” the original Chinese expression of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function,” which immediately became popular in China. Yet, what Shen meant by this articulation was not completely identical to that of Zhang Zhidong (1837-1909) who was a Qing governmental self-strengthening movement leader and has been wrongly accredited to invent this adage.[xxxvii] Shen did advocate “cultivating one’s substance by studying the Chinese learning and realizing different function by penetrating the Western learning.”[xxxviii] It shows the fundamental role of the Chinese learning and the secondary role of the Western learning in Shen’s idea of education. This is redolent of what Zhang penned in his Exhortation to Study published in 1898, “Old learning as substance, New learning as function,” which is what Zhang actually wrote, and “Chinese learning concerns itself with morality, Western learning with the affairs of the world.” But their contexts shed light on their subtle and yet significant difference. While Zhang as a top scholar-official of the Qing dynasty was conspicuously more of utilizing the Western learning in order to “preserve the Chinese learning” and thus “protect the state,” Shen as a co-founder of a Christian college in Shanghai as well as a chief Chinese editor of a Western Christian magazine was more of “exploring the fountainhead of the Western learning on the grounds of the Chinese learning” that could thereby enrich the Chinese learning.[xxxix] What makes their divergence even more distinct lies in the larger contexts. In both Shen and Zhang, the idea of the Chinese and Western learning was not self-standing but dependent upon a more foundational principle, which could be summarized as “the way of heaven.” For Shen, it was the Christian way of heaven, and for Zhang, the traditional Chinese. For Shen, it was the Christian way of heaven revealed through Christ as the world’s creator and redeemer that mattered most to the Chinese revitalization. For Zhang, the traditional Chinese way of heaven was predominantly manifested in the orthodox Three Cardinal Guides, which required the subordination of subject to monarch, son to father and wife to husband.[xl]

It is Zhang’s conventional Chinese conception of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function” or its variant that has been in the dominant position in China’s modern history. In contrast, Shen’s alien edition has been obscured. Even among those rare historical reflections that recovered Shen’s attribution, his Christian perspective that made his view unconventional to the conformist Chinese history was left out.[xli] It is similar to Xu Guangqi’s works in China’s intellectual as well as general history where Xu’s Christian outlook that makes him unique among the Chinese mandarins has been basically passed over. [xlii] But unlike Xu who was a top scholar-official and whose works of science and technology have been widely mentioned, Shen has been little known, let alone his Christianity. Shen’s close connections with the Western missionaries when China was facing the intervention and subjugation by Western powers likely account for his obscurity in the subsequent century characterized by China’s continued anti-Western nationalist sentiment. In Xu’s time, China still retained its independence or rather hegemony in East Asia as the West has not yet held sway over there despite the Portuguese permanent settlement of Macao was in place for decades.

From Xu Guangqi to Shen Yugui, it is unsurprising that any Chinese intellectual who endorsed the Christian way of heaven and its relevant learning in various fields would be marginalized or deprived of one’s outlandish religiosity in China’s modern history. For the conventional Chinese literati facing the Western challenge, the conversion to Christianity would be giving up on the Chinese identity and giving in to the Western intrusion. For them, in other words, it would be a matter of life and death to believe in China or Christianity. However for Xu, Shen and their like, Christianity helped the Chinese to resuscitate themselves by providing “the learning of serving heaven.” Like Xu, Shen reminded his readers that such ancient Chinese sages as Yao, Shun, Yu, King Tang of Shang and King Wen of Zhou “diligently served God” according to the Four Books and Five Classics, the canon of Confucianism. But in Shen’s eyes, their relations with God were not  held dear among the later generations of the Chinese history and “the way of heaven,” which was “the way of truth God bestowed” on “all under heaven,” has not flourished in China. Shen hoped that with the spread of Christianity among the Chinese, “revering the way of heaven” would gradually become prominent in China as it did in the West. As a result, Shen reasoned, it would not be hard for China to be on the same track of the West.[xliii]

Shen put forward this proposal of “revering the way of heaven” and “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function” in April 1895, just after the Qing military forces were defeated by their Japanese imperial counterparts in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), or the War of Jiawu, commonly known in China named under the traditional Chinese cyclical calendar of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. The loss was an even bigger setback for China’s established self-appraisal in the world than the previous Western intrusions since this time the Central Country was beaten by none other than an Eastern Asian neighbor whom China originally called Wo or Dwarfs and had long been in the shadow of the Chinese civilization.[xliv] In Shen’s analysis, China’s defeat was due to the persistent lack of the reform in “heart” over the preceding five decades when the Qing authorities concentrated on learning just the Western techniques in industrial and military areas. That is why he called for “revering the way of heaven” and “exploring the fountainhead of the Western learning on the grounds of the Chinese learning.” He diagnosed that China’s illness lay in, first of all, its arrogance, and thus its being unwilling to reform.[xlv] Shen’s assessment echoed what Alexander Williamson warned in 1890 about the Chinese government’s policy towards learning from the West, which was quoted earlier in this article. Less than five years later, the Qing’s Beiyang Fleet in the War of Jiawu seemed to become a microcosm of China, in Williamson’s simile, which neglected “the motive power beneath – the engine, which is the heart, and the officer in command of the helm, viz., the conscience.”[xlvi]

A Tale of Two Countries

A military defeat may not surely mean China’s reforms and opening-up from the 1840s to the early 1890s were a total failure. In military technology alone, China was not much inferior to Japan up to the 1894-1895 warfare.[xlvii] In fact, the Chinese navy in the War of Jiawu were superior to the Japanese as regards the heaviest guns as well as the tonnage of the flagship or largest ships. But the Japanese fleet excelled in speed, ammunition, tactics and discipline.[xlviii] The difference reflects a contrast between the two schools of military strategy, according to an anonymous naval officer who published his meticulous comments in The Times shortly after the Battle of the Yalu River or Naval Battle of the Yellow Sea in September 1894, the largest naval engagement in the War of Jiawu. For the officer who showed familiarity with both sides of the conflict, the Chinese represented a school that “puts material above personnel” while the Japanese typified the one that “maintains that the human factor is both the most important and the unchanging factor in war.”[xlix] The officer was tentatively identified as Philo Norton McGiffin (1860-1897), a US Naval Academy graduate and an executive officer aboard the Chinese battleship Zhen Yuan or Chen Yuen during the Battle of the Yalu. [l] In his identified article and interview in 1895, McGiffin’s views were not much different from that anonymous officer’s with similar diagrams.[li] The human factor or anything beyond mere military technology was also emphasized by some other Western advisors to the Beiyang Fleet like William Ferdinand Tyler (1865-1952) and Constantin von Hanneken (1854-1925).[lii] And John Ingles (1842-1919), a key English advisor in the formation of modern Japanese navy, told the press in 1894 that the Japanese fleet was “quite European” when it came to all the main aspects of the naval operation including ships and personnel.[liii]

Ingles’ remarks may be reminiscent of “Datsu-A” or “Leave Asia,” a slogan generally ascribed to Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), a leading intellectual in the modernization of Japan. Fukuzawa has been believed to pen “Datsu-A Ron” or “On Leaving Asia,” an anonymous editorial published on March 16, 1885 by his own newspaper Jiji Shimpo or Current Events. For the author, the spread of the Western civilization in the East was inevitable and Japan in spirit has rightly adopted this new civilization. But he pointed out, given Japan’s two neighbors, China and Korea, have not done likewise and would not do so in the near future, it was time for Japan to dissociate oneself from these Asian countries spiritually and join up with Western powers.[liv]

But Fukuzawa was not the first Japanese to propose the idea of “Leave Asia.” In November 1884, Hinohara Shōzō (1853-1904), a close friend of Fukuzawa and a Japanese bank’s representative in London, asked his country to “Leave Asia” in an article titled “Japan Should Not Remain an Oriental country” appeared in Jiji Shimpo.[lv] Even before the Meiji era (1868-1912) that saw Japan becoming a major power along with the West within a few decades, some Japanese samurai scholars like Sakuma Shōzan (1811-1864) had already called for Japan’s dissociation from the Oriental culture.[lvi] That came despite Sakuma’s slogan of “Oriental ethos, Western techniques”[lvii] was akin to “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning as function.”[lviii] Such difference in similarity was also demonstrated in Sakuma’s response to Wei Yuan’s idea of “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians in order to control the barbarians.” Sakuma called Wei his “comrade overseas” with regard to both lamenting Qing’s defeat in the First Opium War (1840-1842) and appealing to their respective country for promoting clear understanding of the barbarians before mastering them. However, Sakuma went on to distinguish his opinion from Wei’s over coastal defense. According to Sakuma who was a military specialist and studied Western military methods by learning the Dutch, while Wei focused on “strengthening fortified towns and clear fields,” he attached importance to “using armored warships” and “forming a plan of attack.”[lix] This differentiation seems to have foreshadowed not only the outcome of the First Sino-Japanese War but also the two different courses of history China and Japan were to take in more than a century after the conflict. In comparison with China, Japan has been much more proactive in tackling the expanding West by managing to join the West since the mid-19th century. Unlike China, Japan as a country that had long been under the influence of a powerful foreign culture seemed more inclined to accept an even more powerful culture. For Japan, the West’s intrusion turned out to be a golden opportunity rather than a humiliation to not only replace China as the preeminent country in East Asia but also join the ranks of Western powers.

Return of the Central Country in All under Heaven?

In terms of exploring Western civilization beyond just military technology, what was happening in Japan appears to be what Chinese intellectuals like Xu Guangqi and Shen Yugui as well as such Western missionaries as Matteo Ricci, William Martin, Alexander Williamson and Young Allen would like to see in China. Indeed after the War of Jiawu, Japan became the top destination for the Chinese to study abroad.[lx] That dramatically reversed a trend of Japanese studying in ancient China, especially in the Tang Dynasty before the An-Shi Rebellion (755-763).[lxi] The Meiji Japan seems to provide China with a more ready-made model than any Western country itself in the speedy transformation of an oriental country into a modern power.[lxii]

Yet China did not become part of the Western world by learning from Japan. The successive governments in the Republican era of 1912-1949 that were backed by the West in one way or another were eventually replaced by the communists who were most critical of the West. It is true that the Sino-Western relations were generally friendly in the reform era that ran between the late 1970s and late 2000s. However, even this period of time was no shortage of disputes. China’s thorny relations with the West, America in particular, gradually grew to be the most serious problem among the major powers after 2010 when China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.[lxiii] The size of economy plays an indecisive and yet important role in determining a country’s place in the world. China was estimated to still be the largest economy during the early 19th century. [lxiv] But Western Europe was believed to already surpass China in GDP per capita around the 14th century.[lxv] In GDP per capita alone, China was not yet a developed country in 2019 and will probably not be in the near future.[lxvi] However, even if China with regard to economic output and income for each person was one of the top in the world, China would not necessarily be a Western power. Compared to economy, world views and ways of life are more crucial in differentiating China from the West. For the Chinese mainstream at present as well as in the past, China need not join the ranks of Western powers since China is forever the Central Country in the world. The economic rise of China in the early 21st century helped strengthen that perennial self-appraisal following numerous setbacks in the 19th and 20th century. So the conflict between China and the West did not melt away because of China’s re-opening itself up to the West. And once it was able to challenge the West’s superiority after basically “learning the superior techniques of the barbarians,” China would unsurprisingly end its reform era and strive to reclaim its mandated place of the Central Country in all under heaven.

Obviously, China’s communist authorities would not officially declare that their place and their country’s in the world are mandated by heaven given their Marxist ideology. But “the choice of history and the people”[lxvii] they have claimed could be viewed as a secularized version of the political theology of the heavenly mandate. With the expansion of China’s economy across the globe and return of traditional Chinese thoughts, this mandate would be meant not just for a country but for the whole world, which is, all under heaven. More than four hundred years after Matteo Ricci helped introduce an early version of modern world map to China, the traditional Chinese cartography is no longer in common use in this country. Yet, the traditional Chinese map in political and spiritual sense where China is the world’s Central Country looks to be much more alive among the mainstream Chinese nowadays than in the recent centuries.[lxviii]

Successors to Xu and Shen

Nevertheless, this does not mean those alternative world views and ways of life about China and the wider world have been wiped out with the termination of the reform era. Even the increasingly ubiquitous censorship on all kinds of media and the incessant crackdowns on various dissidents have not completely silenced those voices that depart from or protest against the ever more monopolizing ideology. If history is any guide, these opinions and actions will likely not alter the course of China’s history. But they at least signify the existence of nonconformist minds even in the centralizing Central Country. Among them, there are successors to Xu Guangqi, Shen Yugui and their like in respect of advocating “the learning of serving heaven” in diverse fields as both a scholar and a Christian. They are mostly independent scholars or academics at China’s state-run institutions of higher education. Some of them are members or leaders of non-state-run Christian churches, which have been noted for their refusal to be incorporated into the state church over the recent decade. As in the times of Xu and Shen, Christianity in the early 21st century is also facing hostility from the Chinese authorities mainly because of its historical ties with the West as well as its belief and culture that have long been considered a threat to the conventional Chinese world views and ways of life. It comes despite most of these independent churches were established not by foreign missionaries but by Chinese Christians. The spread of these churches among well-educated young urban dwellers from the 1990s to the 2000s was one of the most significant phenomena in recent Chinese history. It benefited from the relatively open society in terms of economic freedom at the turn of the 21st century as well as the spiritual vacuum left by the Tiananmen Square democracy movement crackdown in 1989 and a series of communist movements in 1949-1976. But the gradual return to the despotism of the era of Mao Zedong (1893-1976, reign 1949-1976) centered around a paramount leader since 2012 when Xi Jinping came to power has brought much more persecution against the non-state-run churches than during the earlier years.[lxix]

It remains unknown to what extent the successors to Xu, Shen, and their like will advance “the learning of serving heaven” in China. Given the persistent conflict between the two ways of heaven as demonstrated in Shen Yugui and Zhang Zhidong, the Christianity that is independent of China’s established state ideology looks never to be easy with the Central Country. In fact, it is similar in Japan’s history in which Western missionaries and Japanese Christians helped reform the country but Christianity has been a major belief and culture the mainstream Japanese did not accept from the West. What makes Japan different from China is that Japan’s political and economic alliance with the West since the Meiji era has considerably spared Christianity from oppression seen in China’s modern history.[lxx]

Cycles of Cathay?[lxxi]

Young John Allen, the American Methodist missionary with whom Shen Yugui worked closely at The Globe Magazine, wrote in 1882 that there were three essential relations of civilized human beings, i.e., one’s relation to God; one’s relation to fellow humans; and one’s relation to nature or things. He added that what corresponded to these relations were religion, morality and science. For Allen, the mainstream Chinese civilization valued morality but abandoned religion and science. This deficiency, Allen sighed, has been “gyrating perpetually in a vicious circle, trying to live conformably to our nature.”[lxxii]

No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with Allen, his comments could be evocative of the presumed cyclical nature of the Chinese history that has long been discussed.[lxxiii] If the presumption  makes sense, China since 1517 appears to be the continuation of the previous cycles of centralization and decentralization. And there seems to have been other cycles like those of engagement and conflict when it comes to the Sino-Western relations. The cyclical pattern of history has not been unique to China.[lxxiv] But China is exceptional in terms of the cycles being noted for centralization as the norm and decentralization as the deviation in such a vast territory for such a long time. Five centuries after the coming of the Western expansion, China remains an immense centralized country with a new round of centralization going on following three decades of decentralization in the reform era. Before that decentralization, there were three decades of centralization in the Mao era after the communist revolution put an end to not just less than four decades of the Republican era but more than a century of the Western intrusion. During that period of over a hundred years, decentralization and some form of division of powers were conspicuous because of internal conflicts as well as the presence of Western powers. Nonetheless, the disintegration of the centralized country did not come to an abrupt end in 1949 but started winding up in 1928 when the Nationalist government nominally reunited China. These cycles of decentralization and centralization in some sense resemble the one in the late Ming era when the initial Western intrusion helped stimulate China’s reforms and opening-up that gradually died out in the early Qing. The expulsion of all Catholic missionaries in 1724 except those in Beijing who were mainly scientific and artistic experts officially ended the era of China’s relatively open policy toward Christianity in the early modern time.[lxxv]

What is written above about the cycles of the Chinese history is no more than a very sweeping generalization of China’s recent five centuries. This piece of writing itself is but a very preliminary reflection on China’s reforms and opening-up in the period of time longer than the recent decades. However, if these cycles do reflect some aspect of the Chinese historical reality, then the ongoing centralization will probably not keep on forever. That means decentralization will presumably return sooner or later. For those who are still willing to expect the reforms and opening-up to continue and deepen in China, it might be worthwhile to excavate more fragments of history that remain buried beneath the centralized country but could help grow those alternative world views and ways of life in the run-up to the next decentralization. Their value would not inevitably be confined to the Chinese cycles of history nor any country itself, be it a Central, Eastern or Western.



[i] For the exploration of the origins and early history of the traditional Chinese calendar of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, see Adam Smith, “The Chinese Sexagenary Cycle and the Ritual Foundations of the Calendar,” in Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, edited by John M. Steele (Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books, 2011), 1-37.

[ii] Martin Luther has been generally believed to post his well-known Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church or All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. But no extant evidence so far has shown Luther did nail it to the church’s door. For a recent detailed study, see Peter Marshall, 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[iii] For more on the Portuguese diplomatic mission to China in 1517, see: 顾应祥,《静虚斋惜阴录》卷十二,。胡宗宪,《筹海图编》巻十三,。金国平、吴志良,“一个以华人充任大使的葡萄牙使团——皮来资和火者亚三新考”,《行政》第16卷,总第60期,2003年第2期,456-483页。R. H. Major, “Introduction,” in Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China and the Situation Thereof, Volume 1, translated by R. Parke, edited by George T. Staunton (London, UK: The Hakluyt Society, 1853), xxxi-xxxii. R. S. Whiteway, The Rise of Portuguese Power in India, 1497-1550 (Westminster, UK: Archibald Constable, 1899), 338. Urs Bitterli, Cultures in Conflict: Encounters Between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800, translated by Ritchie Robertson (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989), 135. John E. Wills, Jr., “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” in China and Maritime Europe, 1500-1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, edited by John E. Wills, Jr. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 26.

[iv] For the details on the Portuguese China exploration in 1513-16, see: J. M. Braga, China Landfall, 1513: Jorge Alvares’ Voyage to China, A Compilation of Some Relevant Material (Macau: Imprensa Nacional, 1955), T’ien-tsê Chang, Sino-Portuguese Trade from 1514 to 1644: A Synthesis of Portuguese and Chinese Sources (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1933), 35-46.

[v] F. W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 950-951.

[vi] For a study on the debate and conflict in the years between the emergence of China’s reforms and opening-up in around 1978 and their collapse in 1989, see Joseph Fewsmith, Dilemmas of Reform in China: Political Conflict and Economic Debate (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1994).

[vii] Some of the recent works on China’s opening-up in the different era before 1949: Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1800, Second Edition (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2015). Jessie Gregory Lutz, Opening China: Karl F. A. Gützlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008). Frank Dikötter, The Age of Openness: China Before Mao (Hong Kong, China: Hong Kong University Press, 2008).

[viii] There have been different opinions about when China’s reform era ended ranging from the late 1980s to 2010s. For some, see: Youwei, “The End of Reform in China,” in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2015, Volume 94, Number 3, Carl Minzner, “China After the Reform Era,” in Journal of Democracy, Volume 26, Issue 3, July 2015, 129-143, Ian Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2017), 396-400. Carl Minzner, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[ix] For the works on the conflict as well as engagement in the history of Sino-Western relations, see: Ssu-yü Teng, John K. Fairbank, China’s Response to the West: A Documentary Survey, 1839-1923 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954). Jerome Ch’en, China and the West: Society and Culture, 1815-1937 (London, UK: Hutchinson, 1979). Urs Bitterli, Cultures in Conflict: Encounters Between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800, translated by Ritchie Robertson (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989). Immanuel C. Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China, Sixth Edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000). China and Maritime Europe, 1500-1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, edited by John E. Wills, Jr. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, Third Edition (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2012). Odd Arne Westad, Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2012). D. E. Mungello, The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800, Fourth Edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). Tonio Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[x] Samuel Hugh Moffett, “Alopen,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H. Anderson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 14-15.

[xi] John E. Wills, Jr., “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” in China and Maritime Europe, 1500-1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, edited by John E. Wills, Jr. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 35-38. 李金明,“葡萄牙人留居澳門年代考”,《文化杂志》中文版第40-41期,2000年夏季,15-20页。

[xii] Tang Kaijian, Setting Off from Macau: Essays on Jesuit History during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016), 5-14.

[xiii] For more on Ye Quan’s account of Macao and the broader southern China, see: 叶权,《贤博编》附录《游岭南记》,《贤博编、粤剑编、原李耳载》(北京:中华书局,1987年),41-46页。汤开建,“叶权与澳门——1565年一位中国知识分子关于澳门的真实报道”,《岭南文史》1998年第3期,59-63页。孟顺方、周宝银,“叶权《贤博编》的史料价值”,《晋中学院学报》2008年第6期,74-76页,96页。王平,“明代文人叶权三考”,《安徽师范大学学报》(人文社会科学版)2012年第3期,345-347页。吴宏岐、李贤强,“从《贤博编》看明代文人叶权的海防思想”,《安徽史学》2016年第2期,15-23页。

[xiv] Pin-tsun Chang, “The Sea as Arable Fields: A Mercantile Outlook on the Maritime Frontier of Late Ming China,” in The Perception of Maritime Space in Traditional Chinese Sources, edited by Angela Schottenhammer and Roderich Ptak (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006), 17-26. Li Kangying, The Ming Maritime Policy in Transition, 1368 to 1567 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 177. Ivy Maria Lim, “From Haijin to Kaihai: The Jiajing Court’s Search for a Modus Operandi along the South-eastern Coast (1522-1567),” in Journal of the British Association for Chinese Studies (Vol. 2, July 2013), 1-26.

[xv] John E. Wills, Jr., “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” in China and Maritime Europe, 1500–1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, edited by John E. Wills, Jr. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 29-31. James Fujitani, “The Ming Rejection of the Portuguese Embassy of 1517: A Reassessment,” in Journal of World History, 27, no. 1 (2016): 87-102. Michael Schuman, “China Has Dominated the West Before,” in The Atlantic, June 6, 2020,

[xvi] 魏源,《海国图志》原序,光绪二年(1876年)平庆泾固道署重刊。Yen-p’ing Hao and Erh-min Wang, “Changing Chinese Views of Western relations, 1840-95,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 11, Late Ch’ing, 1800-1911, Part 2, edited by John K. Fairbank and Kwang-Ching Liu (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 150.

[xvii] 王阳明,“书佛郎机遗事”,《王阳明全集》(上海:上海古籍出版社,2013),1014-1015页。刘旭,《中国古代火炮史》(上海:上海人民出版社,1989年),232页。谷应泰,《明史纪事本末》卷四十七,“宸濠之叛”,。

[xviii] Tonio Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 124-143.

[xix] 冯桂芬,《校邠庐抗议》下卷,“采西学议 ”,39页上,。

[xx] The idea of Zhong Guo has been crucial to the Chinese self-identity throughout history. It can be traced back to such early Chinese literature as Shangshu or Book of Documents and Shi Jing or Classic of Poetry as well as an inscription on the He zun, a Western Zhou (c. 1045-771 BC) bronze ritual wine vessel found in 1963. One of the most representative ancient comments on the conception of Zhong Guo is “Zhong Guo Lun” or “On Central Country,” an essay written by Shi Jie (1005-1045), a scholar-official in the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). For details, see 石介著,“中国论”,陈植锷点校,《徂徕石先生文集》(北京:中华书局,1984年),116-117页。For some recent examinations of Zhong Guo in the earliest Chinese history based on archaeological discoveries, see: 许宏,“二里头的’中国之最’”,《中国文化遗产》,2009年第1期,50-67页。何驽,“陶寺圭尺’中’与‘中国’概念由来新探”,《三代考古》(四)(北京:科学出版社, 2011年),85-119页。孙庆伟,“‘最早的中国’新解”,《中原文物》,2019年第5期,44-50页。

[xxi] 徐渭,《徐渭集》(北京:中华书局,1999年),102-103页,144页。Albert Chan, “Two Chinese Poems Written by Hsü Wei 徐渭 (1521-1593) on Michele Ruggieri, S.J. (1543-1607)”, in Monumenta Serica, Vol. 44 (1996), 317-337. 陈瑞林,“徐渭与欧洲传教士:中国画家与西方的早期接触”,。宋黎明,“罗明坚绍兴之行始末”,《澳门理工学报》(人文社会科学版)2016年第4期,71-80页。

[xxii]  利玛窦著,文铮译、梅欧金校,《耶稣会与天主教进入中国史》(北京:商务印书馆,2014年),109页。Benjamin A. Elman, On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 127-130. Michela Fontana, Matteo Ricci: A Jesuit in the Ming Court (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 55-57. Helen Wallis, “The Influence of Father Ricci on Far Eastern Cartography,” in Imago Mundi, Vol. 19 (1965), 38-45.

[xxiii] Norman J. W. Thrower, Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society, Third Edition (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2008), 81-85. Tine Luk Meganck, Friendship, Art and Erudition in the Network of Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017), 2-3.

[xxiv] Rev. W. A. P. Martin, “Secular Literature,” in Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, held at Shanghai, May 10-24, 1877 (Shanghai, China: Presbyterian Mission Press, 1878), 227-35. For how some other missionaries like James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) and Calvin Wilson Mateer (1836-1908) responded to Martin’s idea of religion and science, see Ibid, 235-41.

[xxv] For more of Xu Guangqi’s thoughts on “the learning of serving heaven,” see: 徐光启著,“刻几何原本序”,朱维铮、李天纲主编,《徐光启全集》第四册(上海:上海古籍出版社,2010年),4-5页。徐光启著,“简平仪说序”,“泰西水法序”,朱维铮、李天纲主编,《徐光启全集》第五册(上海:上海古籍出版社,2010年),189-190页,290-292页。徐光启著,“辨学章疏”,“跋二十五言”,“造物主垂像略说”,朱维铮、李天纲主编,《徐光启全集》第九册(上海:上海古籍出版社,2010年),249-254页,285-287页,380-385页。李天纲,“ ‘补儒易佛’:徐光启的比较宗教观”,《上海社会科学院学术季刊》1990年第3期,128-133页。裴德生、朱鸿林,“徐光启、李之藻、杨廷筠成为天主教徒试释”,《明史研究论丛》第五辑,中国社会科学院历史研究所明史研究室编(南京:江苏古籍出版社,1991年),477-497页。董少新,“论徐光启的信仰与政治理想——以南京教案为中心”,《史林》2012年第1期,60-70页。“Introduction,” in Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), edited by Catherine Jami, Peter Engelfriet, Gregory Blue (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 1-15. Erik Zürcher, “Xu Guangqi and Buddhism,” in Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), edited by Catherine Jami, Peter Engelfriet, Gregory Blue (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 155-169.

[xxvi] N. Standaert, Yang Tingyun, Confucian and Christian in Late Ming China (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1988), 210-226. 龚缨晏、马琼,“关于李之藻生平事迹的新史料”,《浙江大学学报》(人文社会科学版)第38卷第3期,2008年5月,89-97页。

[xxvii] For the works on the complex historical relationship between science and Christianity, see: God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, edited by David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1986). Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998). David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, Second Edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[xxviii] 杨贞吉,《几何原本》“甘泉山人序”,朱维铮、李天纲主编,《徐光启全集》第四册(上海:上海古籍出版社,2010年),1-3页。

[xxix] 1 Corinthians: 1:17-31.

[xxx] For the origins of scientism in modern Europe, see Richard G. Olson, Science and Scientism in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2008).

[xxxi] First Annual Report of the Society for the Diffusion of Christian & General Knowledge among the Chinese For Year ending October 31, 1898 (Shanghai, China: The Society’s Office, 1888), 3. Constitution, List of Office-Bearers, Prospectus, and Treasurer’s Report of the Society for the Diffusion of Christian & General Knowledge among the Chinese, Late Chinese Book and Tract Society (Shanghai, China: 同文书会、墨海书局, 1887), 3-7.

[xxxii] Rev. Alexander Williamson, “What books are still needed?”, in Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, held at Shanghai, May 7-20, 1890 (Shanghai, China: Presbyterian Mission Press, 1890), 519-531.

[xxxiii] Timothy Richard, Forty-five Years in China: Reminiscences (New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes, 1916), 33, 123-124, 158-163, 199, 217-224, 230-232, 254-255. Rev. C. F. Reid, “The Untabulated Results of Missions,” in The Missionary Review of the World, Vol. XV, New Series, Vol. XXV, Old Series, January to December, 1902 (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1902), 897-901. In the eyes of Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei was “Martin Luther of Confucianism.” For the impact of Luther and the Protestant Reformation on Kang and some of other reformers in the late Qing, see: 梁启超,“南海康先生传”,康有为撰,姜义华、张荣华编校,《康有为全集》第十二集(北京:中国人民大学出版社,2007年),427-429页。康有为撰,姜义华、张荣华编校,《康有为全集》第七集(北京:中国人民大学出版社,2007年),409-411页;第八集,336页。 宋恕撰,胡珠生编,《宋恕集》(北京:中华书局,1993年),528页,1078页。黄进兴,《儒教的圣域》(香港:香港三联书店,2015年),236-239页。

[xxxiv] 广东香山来稿(孙中山),“上李傅相书”(未完),《万国公报》(上海美华书馆,光绪二十年九月,1894年10月)。广东香山来稿(孙中山),“上李傅相书”(续完),《万国公报》(上海美华书馆,光绪二十年十月,1894年11月)。Marie-Claire Bergère, Sun Yat-sen, translated by Janet Lloyd (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 39-41, 213-214.

[xxxv] There were a few scholar-officials in the late Qing and early Republican era who appreciated the role of Christianity in the Western civilization. One of them was Xu Jingcheng (1845-1900), a high-ranking diplomat who was executed by the Qing court for opposing its policy over the Boxer Rebellion. Xu’s views on the West and Christianity greatly influenced his protégé, Lu Zhengxiang (1871-1949), also a Qing diplomat. Lu then served as the Republican foreign minister and prime minister before becoming a Catholic priest in Europe. For the details, see Dom Pierre-Célestin Lou Tseng-Tsiang, Ways of Confucius and of Christ, translated by Michael Derrick (London, UK: Burns & Oates, 1948), 15-20.

[xxxvi] The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 9 (Shanghai, China: American Presbyterian Mission Press, Sept., 1907), frontispiece, 517. Records of China Centenary Missionary Conference held at Shanghai, April 25 to May 8, 1907 (Shanghai, China: Centenary Conference Committee and Methodist Publishing House, 1907), xxvi, xxvii, xxix. 易惠莉,“沈毓桂与《万国公报》”,《中国文化研究所学报》第32期(香港:香港中文大学中国文化研究所,1992年),69-84页。

[xxxvii] 南溪赘叟(沈毓桂),“救时策”,《万国公报》第75卷 (上海美华书馆,光绪二十一年三月,1895年4月),8页上-9页下。

[xxxviii] 沈毓桂,“论西学为当务之急”,《匏隠庐文稿》 (上海,光绪丙申,1896年),39页上-41页下。

[xxxix] 张之洞,《劝学篇》(京师同文馆,光绪二十四年,1898年)。沈毓桂,“西学必以中学为本说”,《匏隠庐文稿》 (上海,光绪丙申,1896年),16页上-18页上。For an early English version of Zhang Zhidong’s Exhortation to Study, see Chang Chih-tung, China’s Only Hope: An Appeal, translated by Samuel I. Woodbridge with introduction by Griffith John (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1900).

[xl] 南溪赘叟(沈毓桂),“救时策”,《万国公报》第75卷 (上海美华书馆,光绪二十一年三月,1895年4月),8页上-9页下。张之洞,《劝学篇》(京师同文馆,光绪二十四年,1898年)。

[xli] 易惠莉,“‘中学为体, 西学为用’的本意及其演变”,《河北学刊》1993年第1期,84-89页。李天纲,“向‘中体西用’的本义回归”,《学术月刊》 2015年第3期,5-8页。汤奇学,“‘中学为体, 西学为用’思想的演变”,《复旦学报》(社会科学版)1982年第1期,67-74页。陈旭麓,“论’中体西用’”,《历史研究》1982年第5期,39-55页。益之,“孙家鼐非‘中学为体,西学为用’的首倡者”,《社会科学战线》 1984年第3期,245页。

[xlii] 李天纲,“编校说明”,朱维铮、李天纲主编,《徐光启全集》第九册(上海:上海古籍出版社,2010年),1-7页。

[xliii] 南溪赘叟(沈毓桂),“救时策”,《万国公报》第75卷 (上海美华书馆,光绪二十一年三月,1895年4月),8页上-9页下。 “diligently served God,” (zhao shi shang di, 昭事上帝) which refers to what King Wen of the Zhou dynasty did, originates from “Da Ya” in Shi Jing or Classic of Poetry (《诗经·大雅》). For more details, see《诗经读本》(五云楼藏版,道光己丑,1829年),大雅四,2页上。

[xliv] S. C. M. Paine, The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 3-20.《山海经》“海内北经第十二”,《四部丛刊子部》(上海涵芬楼借江安傅氏双鉴楼藏明成化戊子刊本景印)。Masako Nakagawa, “The Shan-hai ching and Wo: A Japanese Connection,” in Sino-Japanese Studies, Vol. 15, April 2003, 45-53. The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. I, edited by Delmer M. Brown (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 48-49, 80, 97-98.

[xlv] 南溪赘叟(沈毓桂),“救时策”,《万国公报》第75卷 (上海美华书馆,光绪二十一年三月,1895年4月),8页上-9页下。

[xlvi] Rev. Alexander Williamson, “What books are still needed?”, in Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, held at Shanghai, May 7-20, 1890 (Shanghai, China: Presbyterian Mission Press, 1890), 519-531.

[xlvii] Tonio Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 11, 282-296.

[xlviii] K. Asakawa, The History of Nations: Japan, Vol. VII (New York, NY: P. F. Collier & Son, 1913), 266. S. C. M. Paine, The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 179-185.

[xlix] A Naval Officer, “The Lessons of the Engagement off the Yalu,” in The Times, October 3, 1894, page 4; republished in The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, Vol. XX, No. 4, Whole No. 72, edited by J. H. Glennon (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute, 1894), 803-807.

[l] John T. Kuehn, “Grudging Respect? Kaigun Through the Lens of the US Navy at the Time of the Sino-Japanese War,” in The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, July 2016, 259-274.

[li] Philo N. McGiffin, “The Battle of the Yalu,” in The Century Magazine, Vol. L, No. 4, August 1895, 585-604. Alfred T. Story, “Illustrated Interviews. No. XLV. – Captain M’Giffin – Commander of the ‘Chen Yuen’ at the Battle of Yalu River,” in The Strand Magazine, Vol. X, July to December (London, UK: George Newnes, 1895), 616-624.

[lii] William Ferdinand Tyler, Pulling Strings In China (London, UK: Constable & Co., 1929), 50-62, 94-98. Ricardo K. S. Mak, “Western Advisers and Late Qing Chinese Military Modernization: A Case Study of Constantin von Hanneken (1854-1925),” in The Journal of Northeast Asian History, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Winter 2013), 47-70.

[liii] “The Chino-Japanese War,” in The Japan Weekly Mail (Yokohama, Japan, October 6, 1894), 403-404. David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 12-15, 36-37, 48-49.

[liv] 「脱亜論」,『時事新報』1885年(明治18年)3月16日,。

[lv] 豊浦生(日原昌造),「日本ハ東洋國タルベカラズ」,『時事新報』1884年(明治17年)11月11、13、14日,,,。Sushila Narsimhan, Japanese Perceptions of China in the Nineteenth Century: Influence of Fukuzawa Yukichi (New Delhi, India: Phoenix, 1999), 120-121.

[lvi] H. D. Harootunian, Toward Restoration: The Growth of Political Consciousness in Tokugawa Japan (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1970), 129-183. Harry D. Harootunian, “The Functions of China in Tokuguawa Thought,” in The Chinese and the Japanese Essays in Political and Cultural Interactions, edited by Akira Iriye (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 9-36.

[lvii] 佐久間象山著,勝义邦海舟校,『省諐録』 (东京:文光堂,明治二十五年,1892年),5页上。

[lviii] 武安隆,“从’和魂汉才’到‘和魂洋才’ ——兼说‘和魂洋才’ 和‘中体西用’的异同”,《日本研究》1995年第1期,61-66页。

[lix] 佐久間象山著,勝义邦海舟校,『省諐録』 (东京:文光堂,明治二十五年,1892年),10页下-12页上。Sources of Japanese Tradition, Vol. 2, 1600-2000, Second Edition, compiled by William Theodore De Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), 628-638.

[lx] Paula Harrell, Sowing the Seeds of Change: Chinese Students, Japanese Teachers, 1895-1905 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 1-10.

[lxi] Ezra F. Vogel, China and Japan: Facing History (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019), 1-64, 132-174.

[lxii] For the details of Japan’s role in China’s modernization in the late Qing and early Republican era, see Douglas R. Reynolds, China, 1898-1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan (Cambridge, MA: The Council on East Asian Studies at Harvard University, 1993).

[lxiii] David Barboza, “China Passes Japan as Second-Largest Economy,” in The New York Times, Aug. 15, 2010.

[lxiv] Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run: 960-2030 AD, Second Edition, Revised and Updated (Paris, France: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic

Co-operation and Development, 2007), 43-44.

[lxv] Angus Maddison, The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective (Paris, France: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2006), 44-46.

[lxvi] GDP per capita, World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files,

[lxvii] The idea of “the choice of history and the people” has appeared numerous times in various publications of the Chinese communist authorities. For one of their own English versions, see Ouyang Song, “The Leadership of the Communist Party of China Is the Choice of History and the People,” in Qiushi Journal, English Edition, Vol. 2, No.1, January 1, 2010.

[lxviii] For a Western journalist’s perspective on how the idea of the Central Country in all under heaven impacted China’s recent assertive diplomacy, see Howard W. French, Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017).

[lxix] For more on the rise of non-state-run urban Christian churches in China at the turn of the 21st century, see:  Brent Fulton, Chinas Urban Christians: A Light That Cannot Be Hidden (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015). Ian Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2017). Carsten T. Vala, The Politics of Protestant Churches and the Party-State in China, God Above Party? (London, UK: Routledge, 2017). Li Ma and Jin Li, Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017). Marie-Eve Reny, Authoritarian Containment: Public Security Bureaus and Protestant House Churches in Urban China (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018). Promise Hsu, China’s Quest for Liberty: A Personal History of Freedom (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2019). Promise Hsu, “Whither the Growth of Freedom in China? A Postscript to Chinas Quest for Liberty,” in VoegelinView, Dec. 20, 2019,

[lxx] The Iwakura Mission in America and Europe: A New Assessment, edited by Ian Nish (Richmond, UK: Japan Library, Curzon Press, 1998), 10-11, 25-26, 51-54, 65-67, 77, 131. Handbook of Christianity in Japan, edited by Mark R. Mullins (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 69-100.

[lxxi] For the origin of the expression, “Cycles of Cathay,” see Alfred Tennyson, “Locksley Hall,” Poems, Vol. II  (London, UK: Edward Moxon, 1842), 110: “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” See also William A. P. Martin, A Cycle of Cathay or China, South and North with Personal Reminiscences (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1896), 5.

[lxxii] Young J. Allen, “Our China Mission,” in The Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Vol. IV, No. 1 (Nashville, TN: The Southern Methodist Publishing House, January, 1882), 34-50.

[lxxiii] Early Chinese literature like Mengzi or Mencius, Liu Tao or Six Secret Teachings, and Han Feizi already discussed such an idea of the cyclical pattern of history as “yi zhi yi luan” or “an era of order and an era of chaos” or “one prosperous era followed by one chaotic era.” Of course, there are other understandings of historical cycles, e.g., the cycles of centralization and decentralization and those of engagement and conflict in the Sino-Western relations considered in this article.

[lxxiv] The cyclical view of history or time can be found worldwide with various interpretations. There are too many works on it and hence no detailed references here.

[lxxv] “耶稣会传教士冯秉正神父致本会某神父的信(1724年10月16日于北京)”,《耶稣会士中国书简集:中国回忆录》第二卷,杜赫德编,郑德弟译(郑州:大象出版社,2005年),314-342页。《圣谕广训》(滋本堂藏版,光绪己卯重校,1879年),20页上下。The Sacred Edict, Containing Sixteen Maxims of the Emperor Kang-Hi, Amplified by His Son, the Emperor Yoong-Ching; Together with a Paraphrase on the Whole, by a Mandarin, translated from the Chinese original, and illustrated with notes, by the Rev. William Milne, Protestant Missionary at Malacca, Second Edition (Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1870), 72.

Promise HsuPromise Hsu

Promise Hsu

Promise Hsu is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a Beijing-based independent journalist and scholar. In 2017, he became the founding editor-in-chief of The Kosmos (, an independent Chinese quarterly of history and ideas. He was a world affairs journalist at China Central Television’s English News Channel, a member of American Political Science Association, and a visiting scholar at Calvin Theological Seminary. He is author of China’s Quest for Liberty: A Personal History of Freedom (St. Augustine's Press, 2019).

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