The history is China stretches over 4,000 years. It gave the world the inventions of paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass. China became a republic in 1911, and a People's Republic in 1949. Today it is well on its way to become a market economy. What about its Marian history?

Mary and the traditional Chinese culture

Some aspects of the Chinese culture paved the way for the Christian tradition of honoring Mary.

Confucianism entrusts to the mother the moral education of sons, and sons therefore honor their mother.

Taoism promotes love for the mother through its metaphysics: the Tao is the mother of all beings, the generous dispenser of all physical and spiritual goods.

In Buddhism, the Virgin "Kuan-Yin," goddess of mercy and protector of fertility, occupies a prominent position in mythology. This goddess gives grace to those who trust in her. Sometimes the artists depict her as a figure who helps to cross the ocean of Pain to the shores of Paradise.

The first mission, led by Nestorian monks

The name of Mary appears for the first time in China on the famous Nestorian Monument, erected in 781 A.D., and written by a Nestorian priest. This tablet shows that the first missionaries in China were Nestorian monks, who brought with them some doctrinal inaccuracies. Nestorius refused to acknowledge Mary as "Mother of God" and rejected the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon.

The inscription on the stele reads (excerpt):

"Our Trinity has multiplied. The illustrious and venerable Messiah, veiling and hiding his majesty, has come into this world by making himself like men. The angelic powers spread joyful tidings: a virgin woman gave birth to the Holy One, in the great Ch'in (Judea)."

Catholic Missions and persecutions

It took the courage of the Franciscan Giovanni de Montecorvino (1247-1328) to reestablish the orthodoxy of Marian devotion. The action of this missionary was so effective that the faithful placed their lives and their deaths under the maternal protection of Mary.

However, the Franciscan mission did not last long: it came to an end after the fall of the Mongol emperors in 1368.

The mission resumed in the 16th century, with many Marian congregations.

In the 18th century the missionaries had to leave and Christians were persecuted. For some mysterious reason, the Mandarins did not dare demolish the chapels dedicated to Mary.

Marian churches

The Chinese Marian shrines are not due to resounding apparitions or miracles, but were planted like flowers in different places by devout Chinese, who chose a hill, a mountain, a picturesque site, to sing the praises and glories of the Mother of God and men.

Zo-sé (Shanghai): National Shrine and Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan, Mary Help of Christians.

Pope Saint John Paul II evoked Our Lady of Sheshan by bringing to the whole world Chinese attention to the harmony of nature, to the beauty of the setting, and to art.

Peking: Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (1867).

Tien-Tsin: Our Lady of Victory (1869).

On the hills of Hung-Kow-tze: Mary of the Portioncula.

Dong-lu: Our Lady of China.

Kwei-Yan: Our Lady of Rejoicing and Mother of Tsao-Shan.

Our Lady of the Rosary in front of P'u-t'u, the sacred island of the Buddhist monks and the place of worship of the goddess Kuan-Yin.

T'sing Tang (Ousi) and Dong Lu (Peking), places of Marian apparitions around 1900.


Attilio GALLI, Madre della Chiesa dei Cinque Continenti, Ed. Segno, Udine, 1997