Tonight marks the debut of a 13-part EWTN series, "Saints of China: Martyrs of the Middle Kingdom", hosted by Dr. Anthony (Tony) E. Clark and based on Clark's book, China's Saints: Catholic Martyrdom during the Qing (1644-1911) (Lehigh University Press, 2011). Clark, assistant professor of East Asian history at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, "examines the history of the Catholic Church in China, from the Jesuit missions to the massive growth of Catholic missions before the Communist government came to power in 1949."
The series airs at 11 p.m. ET, Sundays; and 2:30 a.m. ET, Fridays.
Tony (who, with his lovely wife, Amanda, is godparent of our youngest son) is currently in China for four months, teaching courses to Whitworth students and researching for future book projects. I interviewed him recently by e-mail about his interest in China and Chinese saints, his book, and the EWTN series:
How and when did you first begin studying the saints and martyrs of China? What attracted you to their stories?
Dr. Clark: After living in China for many years it became increasingly clear to me that, despite some contrary opinions, Chinese are growing increasingly hungry for spiritual answers that Communism can't answer. Marx and materialism have left a spiritual and emotional vacuum in China, and Chinese Christianity has grown rather than declined since China's transition into a Communist country in 1949. I first began studying the Church in China after discovering some rare Chinese accounts of Catholic martyrs while doing research in Taiwan for my first book on ancient Chinese history. The number of Christians in China has grown from 4 million in 1949 to around 70 million today, and Chinese Catholics attribute this growth to the Church's suffering there. As Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity."
What sort of research and travel went into your book, China's Saints? How much of the information in the your book is previously unpublished and unknown to the larger public?
Dr. Clark: In all, I visited archives and locations in Germany, France, China, Taiwan, Italy, and the U.S, but the most informative and helpful place I conducted research for this book was the Pope's private library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) and the Vatican Secret Archives (Archivio Segreto Vaticano), where documents are held related to those who will be, or have been, canonized saints. Among the more personally stirring experiences I had while preparing to write this book was a visit I made with a kindly Chinese priest to the tomb of several martyrs who died in Guizhou, China. The priest and I travelled with peasants into a remote agricultural area, hiked through cornfields, and on the way I was informed that the faithful had been prohibited from visiting the tomb since 2000, when Blessed John Paul II canonized the saints of China - he was taking a serious risk taking me there. We both stood there in front of the Latin-inscribed tomb of Chinese saints who were brutally tortured and killed because they refused to deny Christ. Fr. X held out his umbrella for me to shield me from the rain as I read the inscription. Tears joined the raindrops on my face. Thinking back, that was the most helpful research I did. At least 70 percent of the material in my book was unpublished before it appeared in print.
What can viewers expect to learn from watching your EWTN series, "Saints of China"?
Dr. Clark: The EWTN series, "Saints of China: Martyrs of the Middle Kingdom," offers a much more personal view of the history of the Catholic faith and saints of China. I wrote the book as a more scholarly work, but I felt that the series should speak more directly to Christian believers. The series also contains a significant number of images related to the Church and saints of China, most of which have never been seen outside of obscure archives around the world. The series, like the book, is divided generally by orders - Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans - but it ends with more focused accounts of the native Chinese martyrs who sacrificed their lives for God.
What are some of the major events and who are some of the key saints featured in the series?
Dr. Clark: The series features little-known accounts of Catholic martyrdom in China. In the Catholic village of Zhujiahe, for instance, around 3,000 Catholics were massacred by Chinese troops and local "Boxer" militia in 1900. This account is discussed in detail in one episode of the series. The Franciscan martyrs of Taiyuan are discussed in another episode, and important saints, such as St. Zhao Rong and other Chinese martyrs, are considered. One of my principal goals in my book and television series was to bring to light saints that few Westerners are aware of - St. Chi Zhuzi is one such saint. St. Chi was flayed alive for refusing to deny his faith, and while dying he exclaimed, "Every drop of my blood calls out, 'I am a Christian'."
[Photo, right: Dr. Clark relaxing in China at an undisclosed location.]
What aspects of Catholicism in China have yet to be really researched and presented to the world?
Dr. Clark: This is an important question. While Western Catholicism has remained an active venue for scholarship, Chinese Catholicism is still rarely studied outside of works on the famous Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci. The word martyr means "witness," and their witness is better fulfilled as their stories become better known. China has 121 Catholic saints, and each one deserves an entire book. Other areas that need attention are the Chinese Church's forms of worship, special devotions, claims of Marian apparitions, church architecture, and I am convinced that more martyrs await investigation for possible canonization.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Catholicism in China today? Historically?
Dr. Clark: One of the most common misconceptions today is that the so-called "patriotic Church" is not part of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI's recent letter to China's Catholics has forcefully dispelled this error - the above and below ground Catholic communities are both members of the One, Holy, and Apostolic, Catholic Church, and both are suffering. Increasingly, we learn that the clergy and faithful of both communities operate in collaboration with each other. Also, some have assumed that the leaders of China have always oppressed Christianity; this is untrue. Several, if not most, emperors of China's imperial era, tolerated, and sometimes contributed to, China's Catholic community. Emperor Kangxi, for example, invited Catholic priests to tutor him in the Forbidden City, and other emperors sometimes wrote special calligraphy to be displayed in Catholic churches. While it can be said that the Church in China has experienced an unusual amount of persecution, it has also enjoyed periods of imperial and local support.
Are you currently working on another book on Catholicism and China?
Dr. Clark: Yes, I'm presently in China gathering information for my next book, which will focus on the Franciscan mission in Shanxi, China. This book will recount the lives and struggles of seven Franciscan nuns, several Franciscan friars, and a large number of Chinese faithful. After several months here I will work in the Franciscan Archives in Rome, where I look forward to reading the private letters from these holy men and women who endured trials during the Boxer Uprising of 1900. I hope to include a number of unpublished images in this book - I believe it is important to actually see the faces of people whose lives provide examples of personal renunciation on behalf of others. I also hope to highlight how complicated things become when two very different cultures collide for the first time.
As I approach my next book I imagine Meister Eckart's wonderful statement that, "We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.” The saints I describe were real people, who made mistakes like the rest of us. But what they were in the end, at least to me, is what makes them special. In my next book I want to illustrate the lives of real people, who at the end of their lives exhibited an individual kind of holiness few of us encounter.
Related Ignatius Insight Articles:
• July 9, 1900: Remembering China's Franciscan Saints | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | Ignatius Insight | July 8, 2011
• No Easy Answers: An Interview with Shanghai's Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, S.J. | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | July 23, 2010
• A Visit to China's Largest Catholic Village | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | July 12, 2010
• "Oh, that I might be found worthy of martyrdom!" | From the Introduction to The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs | Gerolamo Fazzini
• On Writing A History of Christianity in China | Preface to Christians In China: A.D. 600 to 2000 | Fr. Jean-Pierre Charbonnier
• "Weaving a Profound Dialogue between West and East": On Matteo Ricci, S.J. | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
• China, Catholicism, and Buddhism | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. and Carl E. Olson | Dec. 29, 2008
• The Church in China: Complexity and Community | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | December 22, 2008
• China's Catholics of Guizhou: Three Days with Three Bishops | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | October 3, 2008
• China's Struggling Catholics: A Second Report on the Church in Beijing | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | September 13, 2008
• China's Thriving Catholics: A Report From Beijing's South Cathedral | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | August 20, 2008
• Two Chinese Churches? Or One? | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
• Two Weeks in the Eternal City: From the Vatican Secret Archives to the Basilica of St. Charles Borromeo | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
• Catholicism and Buddhism | Anthony E. Clark and Carl E. Olson