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Dongjiadu Cathedral, Shanghai. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Shanghai Noir

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle: publication date 01.04.2017

In Chinese, Easter is called fu huo jie (复活节). You could translate the term literally as the "return to life festival". Christianity has a long history in China. The first traces date back to the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, but it wasn't until the Jesuits came to town in the 16th century that Christianity took root.

Matteo Ricci was the first Jesuit to enter China in 1583. He didn't make it to the imperial capital of Beijing until 1601 but when he did, he apparently wowed them. From then on, Jesuits held a special place within the imperial court. They shared and gained knowledge in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, geography and physics, to name only a few. Ricci became fluent in Chinese and created his own method of transcribing Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. His method ultimately formed the basis for pinyin.

As the influence of the Jesuits grew, so did their churches and schools. The photo above was taken at Dongjiadu Cathedral. When it was the seat of the Bishop of Shanghai, this house of worship was called St. Francis Xavier Church. Like most Western institutions that stayed in the East, the name eventually became sinified as did the religious icons that now decorate the church.

When I was there in 2013, I was sure we were inside the old walled city. Aside from this Gothic style church, there was no other architecture in the area that seemed even vaguely Western. But now that I look at the map, I can see that we were just outside the Chinese City and therefore beyond the protection of the Jacquinot Safe Zone.

That zone was created in 1937 by the Jesuit Father Robert Jacquinot de Besange to shield civilians during the war between China and Japan. He is the focus of this week's blog post: Father Jacquinot. Seemed like an appropriate subject for this time of year.

Happy Easter.

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