Mr. Denby to Mr. Bayard.
Peking , December 12, 1888. (Received February 1, 1889.
Sir: On the 9th instant the Catholic Cathedral of North Peking was consecrated with great pomp and ceremony. The foreign ministers and their staffs, the members of the Tsung-li Yamên, other high Chinese officials, and the foreign residents generally attended the religious services and were afterwards entertained at a dejeuner. The occasion is of sufficient political importance to warrant my offering some observations thereon.
There are four great Catholic churches at Peking. It is estimated that the number of adherents of this religion in China is 1,200,000. I have been informed that 60,000 natives went to the confessional last Christmas in this province alone.
The date of the arrival at Peking of the first Catholic missionary is fixed by Williams as the year 1292. Corvino went in that year to [Page 86] Peking. He was kindly received by Kublai Khan, and built a church at Cambaluc (Peking). He was appointed archbishop by Clement V in 1307, and seven suffragan bishops were sent to him as assistants.
Matteo Ricci was one of the most distinguished of the early missionaries. He reached Peking January 4, 1601. He acquired great influence and made many converts.
A German Jesuit, named Schaal, during the years 1630 to 1660, resided in Peking and was high in the favor of the Emperor.
He was appointed president of the astronomical board and built and furnished the observatory.
The careers of the missionaries were checkered with success and persecution until in 1723 all efforts to propagate “the religion of the Lord of Heaven” were prohibited by imperial decree. Since that time and up to 1858 Catholics on the whole decreased in number and influence.
They have flourished under the treaties.
In 1881 we learn from official reports that there were in China 41 bishops, 664 European priests, 1,092,818 converts, 34 colleges, 34 convents. These figures have somewhat increased, but the latest reports are not accessible to me.
Missionary work in China is distributed among the Lazarists, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Gallic Church, the Italians, and the Belgians. In these orders there are men of all European nationalities, but I have not seen among them a single American man and but one American woman.
This province of Chihli is occupied by the Lazarists, who occupy also the provinces Kiangsi and Chihkiang.
The exclusive labors of the missionaries in Peking cover a period of two hundred and fifty years. The works prepared by them comprise essays, translations, histories, travels, scientific and educational treatises, and cover every branch of learning.
The consecration of the new cathedral puts a final and happy end to a vexed and troublesome question. When the allied forces took Peking in 1860, the French insisted on a restitution to the Catholic Church of all the sites for buildings which it had formerly occupied. Among these was the old Pei T’ang, which had stood on an eminence overlooking the imperial palace grounds for a hundred years. The Chinese are peculiarly jealous of lofty buildings, because they believe that their height injuriously affects the Fung-Shui, or geomantic influence. Last year, after considerable negotiations between Rome, France, and China, it was agreed that the old site should be surrendered to the Emperor, who, in lieu thereof, gave 400,000 taels and a fine tract of ground inside of the imperial city but on the plain.
In this favored location the Lazarists have now erected the splendid cathedral which has just been consecrated, together with many buildings for residence, hospitals, schools, a college, and a convent.
The settlement of the vexed question of the occupation of the Pei T’ang is eminently favorable to all religious associations. It establishes friendly relations between the Imperial Government and the leading Christian society in China, and under the favored nation clause in all the treaties the rights accorded to the Catholics in so marked a manner, of building and sustaining a church and a mission, will indirectly inure to the benefit of the professors of all cults.
I have, etc.,