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Faith & Belief
In the Heart of Communist China

So far(2004-06-08), there are 8 churches in Beijing: the Eastern Church (Wangfujing Catholic Church), Western Church (Xizhimen Church), Southern Church (Xuanwumen Catholic Church), Northern Church (Xishiku Catholic Church), St. Michael"s Church, Nangangzi Church, Pingfang Church and Dongguantou Church. 9 other churches are located in Beijing"s suburbs. The catholic church in Beijing is called Patriotic Catholic Church of China, not Roman Catholic Church because its loyalties are with the government (the cultural revolution), not with the Pope. Accordingly, they are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

This is the picture of St Joseph Catholic Church on Wangfujing Street (Beijing famous shopping center). Its official address is 74 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng Dictrict. You can call either way you like: Eastern Church, Wangfujing Catholic Church, or Dong Tang Cathedral. It is one of the best-preserved religious sites in the heart of Beijing.

The East Church was originally called Saint Joseph Church, built in the 12th year (1655) of Emperor Shunzhi during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was the second Catholic church built in Beijing after Italian preacher Matteo Ricci built the South Church in southern Beijing at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This Gothic structure has endured torrid history. Built on ground donated by the Shunzhi emperor in 1655, the Jesuit church was toppled by an earthquake in 1720, then gutted by fire in 1812, after which it was leveled by an increasingly anti-foreign regime. It was rebuilt after foreigners forced their way into Beijing in 1860, and was razed again during the bloody anti-Christian, anti-Western Boxer Rebellion. Chinese Christians were the first targets of the xenophobic Boxers, who disparagingly referred to them as "lesser hairy ones." Local converts were slaughtered in the hundreds before the Boxers (who also murdered women with unbound feet) worked up the courage to kill a real foreigner. Yet they are usually portrayed as a "patriotic" movement in China"s history books. The present building was rebuilt in 1904 on the ruins of the burned church.

With the Communist takeover in 1949, services were sharply curtailed and all remaining foreign missionaries forced to leave the country. The sturdy front doors were finally bolted shut during the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s when all ideas considered "foreign," "elitist," or "feudal superstition" were attacked, and many of their alleged proponents locked up or killed. Worship was not allowed again at this site for two decades.

In the economic and political reform that has come since the death of Mao in 1976, there"s no question that religion has made a comeback. Protestantism and Catholicism have rebounded, along with the three other religions officially recognized by the state: Islam, Buddhism and Taoism.

 
   
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