The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village

The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village

Henrietta Harrison
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 279
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village
    Book Description:

    The Missionary's Cursetells the story of a Chinese village that has been Catholic since the seventeenth century, drawing direct connections between its history, the globalizing church, and the nation. Harrison recounts the popular folk tales of merchants and peasants who once adopted Catholic rituals and teachings for their own purposes, only to find themselves in conflict with the orthodoxy of Franciscan missionaries arriving from Italy. The village's long religious history, combined with the similarities between Chinese folk religion and Italian Catholicism, forces us to rethink the extreme violence committed in the area during the Boxer Uprising. The author also follows nineteenth century Chinese priests who campaigned against missionary control, up through the founding of the official church by the Communist Party in the 1950s. Harrison's in-depth study provides a rare insight into villager experiences during the Socialist Education Movement and Cultural Revolution, as well as the growth of Christianity in China in recent years. She makes the compelling argument that Catholic practice in the village, rather than adopting Chinese forms in a gradual process of acculturation, has in fact become increasingly similar to those of Catholics in other parts of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95472-4
    Subjects: History
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. A Note on Terminology and Names (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    The village streets are dry and rutted, flanked by high walls stained yellow by the dust. The sky too is a grayish yellow with the pollution brought by coal mining, steel mills, and the rapid industrial development of the surrounding area. A painted notice running along one wall calls on people to observe the one-child policy. Here and there the gates of courtyards are ajar. The passerby can catch glimpses of shady trees, women preparing vegetables, old people chatting, and children playing. On a summer afternoon Cave Gully is much like any other north China village, but it is also...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Ancestors Who Founded the Village (pp. 13-40)

    There are three different stories about how Cave Gully was founded. Many people will tell you that the village began when a foreign missionary settled there, but the Duan and Wu families both claim that their ancestors were the first to arrive, some eight generations ago, and that they settled land occupied only by abandoned tombs. The ancestor of the Wu family is said to have come from a nearby village called Wu Family Cliff. Like many poor people, he made his living pushing coal down from the hills in a barrow to sell to the people of the plains...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Bishop and the Wolf (pp. 41-64)

    A Franciscan missionary who lived in Cave Gully in the early twentieth century published a story he had heard about a Chinese priest sent by Bishop Giovacchino Salvetti in the early nineteenth century to give confession and communion to Christians who had been exiled to Yili, beyond the Gobi desert. The priest set off, riding a mule, and came to the Great Wall.

    But then seeing before him an immense desert, it was unclear which way he should go, and he hardly expected to find the guide that the bishop had promised him. And then, lo and behold, a great...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Priest Who Ran Away to Rome (pp. 65-91)

    The orphanage gatekeeper in Cave Gully used to tell the story of a Chinese priest who entered the seminary late, after he had been married and widowed. He had very good grades so he did well, but he could not accept the low status of the Chinese priests. The Chinese priests were not treated with respect: at meals they sat at seats below the foreigners so when there was chicken the best bits were all gone before it reached the Chinese, and when they died they were buried at the feet of the foreign priests. So after hiding for three...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Boxer Uprising and the Souls in Purgatory (pp. 92-115)

    All the Catholic villages of central Shanxi have tales of the Boxer Uprising. Often it is the first story the villagers tell about themselves, and the focus is on how few people survived the terrible massacres. The Cave Gully people do not have a story like this because there was no massacre. When asked about the Boxers, the orphanage caretaker told instead a story that explains how the village was preserved by figures dressed in white who appeared so that the Boxers did not dare fight. The priest had given communion to all the men of the village, so that...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Missionary Who Cursed the Village (pp. 116-144)

    There was once a French priest called Fa who brought a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to the village. Some years later he was transferred to another parish and wanted to take the statue with him. He got a wooden box ready to pack it in, but the Christians prevented him: they blocked the church door with stones and refused to let him in. The priest became very angry. He called the villagers Judeans, and as he left he took off his shoe, shook off the dust, and prayed to Heaven to punish them with seven years of...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Four Fragrances and the Flying Bicycle (pp. 145-171)

    People say that during the Cultural Revolution, Catholics were forced to leave the church, so they thought that the end of the world was coming. A group of women known as the Four Fragrances went around the Catholic villages urging those who had left the church to return before the Day of Judgment. They were very brave. They even persuaded officials to hand over the letters of apostasy that Catholics had been forced to sign. One of these women was speaking when soldiers broke in and arrested everyone they found in the room, but one of the men put her...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Village Since the 1980s (pp. 172-198)

    The return of a Cave Gully priest to his family in the mid 1980s is not a folktale that belongs to the whole village, but a story told by his family. He had been in prison for many years far from home in the mountains east of Shanxi and his release took place quite unexpectedly on a winter evening; the old man had nothing but a quilt and a few personal possessions, and he was very weak. The only person he could think of to ask for help was one of the prison guards who came from a village near...

  14. Conclusion (pp. 199-210)

    In Shanxi today not only do Catholic villagers tell stories of their history, but their teenage children know many of these stories too and gather round to listen, asking questions and evidently fascinated, especially when their elders talk of the events of 1965. Church newsletters publish regular columns on local church history, mostly about the schools, clinics, and other institutions established by the missionaries in the early twentieth century. An astonishingly high proportion of priests are enthusiastic amateur historians and they have accumulated an impressive collection of publications and archives. Much of this book is the result of this collective...

  15. Notes (pp. 211-248)
  16. Glossary (pp. 249-252)
  17. Bibliography (pp. 253-270)
  18. Index (pp. 271-276)


You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.