China’s Old Churches, by Alan Sweeten, surveys the history of Catholicism in China (1600 to the present) as reflected by the location, style, and details of sacred structures in three crucial areas of north China. Closely examined are the most famous and important churches in the urban settings of Beijing and Tianjin, as well as lesser-known ones in rural Hebei Province.
Missionaries built Western-looking churches to make a broad religious statement important to themselves and Chinese worshippers. Non-Catholics, however, tended to see churches as sociopolitically foreign and culturally invasive. The physical-visual impact of church buildings is significant. Today, restored old churches and new sacred structures are still mostly of Western style, but often include a sacred grotto dedicated to Our Lady of China--a growing number of Catholics supporting Marian-centered activities.
Michael Loewe calls on literary and material evidence to examine three problems that arose in administering China’s early empires. Religious rites due to an emperor’s predecessors must both pay the correct services to his ancestors and demonstrate his right to succeed to the throne. In practical terms, tax collectors, merchants, farmers and townsmen required the establishment of a standard set of weights and measures that was universally operative and which they could trust. Those who saw reason to criticise the decisions taken by the emperor and his immediate advisors, whether on grounds of moral principles or political expediency, needed opportunities and the means of expressing their views, whether as remonstrants to the throne, by withdrawal from public life or as authors of private writings.