Archdiocese of Beijing
Archdiocese of Beijing

The Archdiocese of Beijing covers a territory of 30,000 sq. kilometers.


Beijing dialect is spoken by the natives of Beijing, and it falls under the Mandarin division of spoken Chinese. Standard Mandarin, the language that is in use in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore, has Beijing dialect as its base. Rural areas of Beijing Municipality, and the Hebei Province that surrounds it, have similar dialects.


In 1294 the Franciscan missionary John Montecorvino reached the Mongol capital of Kambalik (Khanbalik), on the site of today's Beijing. Pope Clemens V. appointed him Archbishop of Kambalik and Patriarch of the Far East in 1307. When John Montecorvino died in 1328, missionary work came to a standstill. At the time of his death, the number of Catholics in the realm of the Mongols had reached 30,000 faithful. Between the end of the Yuan dynasty (1368) and for most of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), under which the Christians were suppressed, Christianity disappeared, leaving nearly no trace.

Another phase of missionary activities began with the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci in China in 1583. Besides the Jesuits, missionaries of the Dominican (1631), Franciscan (1633), and Augustinian (1638) orders started missionary activities in China. This mission period was overshadowed by the controversies about the appropriate missionary method to be applied in dealing with ancestor veneration, the correct attitude to be taken by the newly won Christians regarding the custom of honoring Confucius, and finally the correct form of translating the name of God into Chinese.

On April 10, 1690, the Church in the area what is now Beijing was restored as Diocese of Beijing from the Apostolic Vicariate of Nanjing.

On May 30, 1856, the Diocese of Beijing was demoted to being an Apostolic Vicariate of Northern China.

On Dec 3, 1924, the Church territory was renamed as Apostolic Vicariate of Beijing.

The vicariate was finally established as the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Beijing on April 11, 1946.

In the same year, Pope Pius XII formally erected the Chinese hierarchy, at a moment in time when the civil war between the soldiers of the Guomindang and the Communists had already started. The erection of the Chinese hierarchy was a long overdue measure, taken much too late to build up sufficiently strong institutional structures to deal with the upcoming challenges for the Church in China.

In their campaigns against the Catholic missions in China, the Chinese Communists again and again belabored the point that the Catholic Church in China had been led und been directed nearly exclusively by foreign bishops and religious superiors, while Chinese clergy and religious had been restricted to take only subordinate roles.

The Catholic Church in China was divided into 20 Church Provinces each led by archbishop. In the Consistory of Feb. 18, 1946, Archbishop Thomas Tien Kensin SVD of Beijing was the first Chinese to be appointed as a cardinal.

According to the statistical data of 1946, there were 146 bishops in China of whom only 35 were Chinese, while the great majority of (111) bishops were still foreigners. At the same time, the number of indigenous Chinese priests had reached 2,542, which seems to be a large number. But when compared with the number of 3,046 foreign priests active in the Church, the indigenous clergy were still the minority. Even two years after the Communists had come to power and many foreign missionaries had left the country, four fifths of the Catholic bishops and two thirds of the priests were still foreigners.

In 1948, one year before the Communists won the civil war against the Guomindang, the last official statistics of the Catholic Church in China were as follows:

  • In continental China, the number of Catholics was 3,274,740
  • who were living in 20 archdioceses
  • 85 dioceses
  • and 34 Apostolic Prefectures.

There were

  • 139 bishops, among them 40 Chinese;
  • the total number of priests was 5,788 of which 2,698 were Chinese;
  • there were 7,667 religious sisters of whom 5,112 were Chinese sisters;
  • the total number of religious brothers was 1,107 and that of Chinese brothers 632.
  • The Catholic Church was running 216 hospitals,
  • 254 orphanages and
  • 4,446 schools of all types.

During the civil war in China nearly all Catholics, as well as the majority among the Protestant Christians, had sided with the Guomindang of Jiang Kaishek and thus opted for the political power which in the end lost the war against the Communists. In the eyes of the victorious Communists, the Christian Churches, therefore, were seen as natural enemies who in the new socialist order posed a potential threat as anti-revolutionary forces.

Wang Liangzuo, a Catholic priest of the diocese of Chengdu, started the "Three-Self-Reform-Movement" in the Catholic Church in Chengdu in 1951. He published a manifesto in which he explained the need to establish a Patriotic Catholic Association and started to collect signaturers in favour of founding such a movement. The core message of this movement within the Catholic Church in China was a strong affirmation of patriotism and a call to fight imperialism.

In February 1951 the Chinese bishops reacted to these developments and published a critical evaluation of the "Movement of the Three Autonomies". The bishops made it clear that they considered "the movement for self-government, self-financing and self-propagation" as an organization which had been introduced into the Catholic Church from outside itself. Therefore it could not be called a voluntary movement of Chinese Catholics.

In several places Catholic faithful who had joined the patriotic "Three-Self-Reform-Movement" were excommunicated, and priests who had become active in it, were suspended.

It was around the same period that most foreign missionaries were expulsed from China. The Communist authorities then began persecuting Chinese bishops, priests and religious as well as lay people working for the Church.

After the expulsion of the Papal Internuncio Archbishop Antonio Riberi, who had been appointed to that post at the Guomindang government of Nanjing in 1946, Ignatius Gong Pinmei became the leading figure in the Catholic Church in China. Besides the being Bishop of Shanghai he was also the acting Bishop of Suzhou and Apostolic Administrator of the diocese Nanjing.

In September 1955, he was imprisoned together with many priests and lay people from Shanghai. Bishop Gong was accused of having organized the opposition against the mass movements and of prohibiting the faithful from joining these organizations. The Communist authorities were angry that Catholics who had joined the patriotic movement were refused the sacraments, and priests, who wanted to take part in study and re-education courses organized by the government or the Communist party, could not do so, because Bishop Gong had ordered them top stay in their churches. For these "crimes" Bishop Gong Pinmei was condemned to life imprisonment, a punishment which only in 1985 was changed to house arrest. In 1987, Bishop Gong Pinmei whose health had deteriorated after years of imprisonment, was given permission to travel to the United States to undergo medical treatment.

In 1957, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) was founded. In the following year the first bishops were consecrated without papal permission. These developments led to great tensions and disagreements among Catholics in China. The Chinese Communist Party and the governments' Religious Affairs Bureaus worked very hard to ensure that all parishes and all Catholics joined the CCPA under the United Front, the body in which all socially and religiously relevant groups of the country were organized to work together for building up a socialist society in China.

The religious policy of the People's Republic of China followed the principles of Marxist criticism of religions. According to Karl Marx, religion was to be seen as "opium of the people", that is, a placebo which people use in order to render more bearable the vicissitudes of their existence.

The exercise of the Papal prerogative to appoint bishops, however, was considered to be an act of interference into the interior affairs of the Catholic Church in China which violated the principles of the Three-Self-Reform-Movement and the sovereignity of the New China.

The Religious Affairs Buraus on all levels pushed the erection of local branches of the CCPA, but met determined resistance by several Catholic bishops. Leading the opposition against the CCPA were the Bishops Ignatius Gong of Shanghai and Dominic Tang of Canton who were adamant in their opposition and consequently prohibited the erection of sub-organizations of the CCPA in all parishes under their jurisdiction.

It did not take long before these two bishops, together with other bishops, priests, religious and faithful actively involved in resisting the CCPA, were arrested, put into prison for many years or sent to labour camps.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) membership in the CCPA did not provide protection, because the "Red Guards" who did not make any distinction and oppressed all people believing in a religion persecuted all Catholics. For them all religions were remnants of the "old" and "feudal" order, which they were bent to destroy and to eliminate.

During the 1980s representatives of the different government institutions responsible for ideological and religious policy issues discussed the question of whether the formula "religion is the opium of the people" still had to be held and defended. Would it not be more appropriate to evaluate this position critically by following Deng Xiaoping's guideline: "Learning from the facts" , that is, by studying and evaluating the reality of religious life in China before making an "a priori" judgement?

In any Catholic parishes the question of to what extent Catholics might cooperate with the Communist government was debated. The position that cooperation could be tolerated, as long as fundamental principles of the Christian faith were not endangered, led to considerable tensions and quarrels. One of the controversial topics in this discussion touched on the relationship of the Catholic in China with the pope in Rome. The formula defended by the Chinese Government and by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) affirmed that the Pope rightly was the "spiritual leader" of all Catholics and, therefore, Chinese Catholics were entitled to preserve a spiritual relationship with him.

In 1980, the third National Congress of the CCPA was held in Beijing and decided to restructure the organization of the Catholic Church in China. The organizational changes set in progress the creation of three separate organizational bodies within the Catholic Church in China: The Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Administrative Commission of the Chinese Catholic Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, an intermediate political organ in charge of maintaining the relationship of the Catholic Church with the institutions of the state and the party.

With the beginning of the 1990s, the climate within the open Church community changed. Till then the attitude towards the pope and the Holy See had been to assert an independent role for the Catholic Church in China and to stress its autonomy and independence. This sometimes rather abrasive stance changed and gave way to a more reconciliatory position. More and more bishops who had been consecrated without permission by the pope, made efforts to be recognized by Rome and thus legitimize their status as bishops by restoring their communion with the pope.

(History with: Georg Evers, The Churches in Asia, Delhi, 2005)


Beijing's climate is a monsoon-influenced humid continental climate, characterised by hot, humid summers due to the East Asian monsoon, and generally cold, windy, dry winters that reflect the influence of the vast Siberian anticyclone. Average daytime high temperatures in January are at around 1º C, while average temperatures in July are around 30º C.


The municipality of Beijing borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianjin Municipality to the southeast. Beijing is situated at the northern tip of the roughly triangular North China Plain, which opens to the south and east of the city. Mountains to the north, northwest and west shield the city and northern China's agricultural heartland from the encroaching desert steppes. The northwestern part of the municipality, especially Yanqing County and Huairou District, are dominated by the Jundu Mountains, while the western part of the municipality is framed by the Xishan Mountains. The Great Wall of China, which stretches across the northern part of Beijing Municipality, made use of this rugged topography to defend against nomadic incursions from the steppes. Mount Dongling in the Xishan ranges and on the border with Hebei is the municipality's highest point, with an altitude of 2303 m. Major rivers flowing through the municipality include the Yongding River and the Chaobai River, part of the Hai River system, and flow in a southerly direction. Beijing is also the northern terminus of the Grand Canal of China which was built across the North China Plain to Hangzhou. Miyun Reservoir, built on the upper reaches of the Chaobai River, is Beijing's largest reservoir, and crucial to its water supply.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News, UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia.
Union of Catholic Asian News Limited
P.O. Box 69626,
Kwun Tong,
Hong Kong