Church publication to preserve a piece of China's history

New Catholic journal will also analyze positive role of the church in Chinese society
Church publication to preserve a piece of China's history

Some of the pages of the first edition of the Catholic Humanities and History of Changzhi. (Photo supplied) reporters, Changzhi and Hong Kong
September 1, 2016
The people in Changzhi Diocese, central Shanxi province, love tomatoes so much they use them in at least 12 different dishes. However, most probably they do not know that a Chinese priest introduced the fruit to the region.

Father Wang Tingrong often ate tomatoes when he was sent to study at the Naples seminary in Italy in 1840 — at a time when foreign religion was banned in China. Father Wang found tomatoes to be so delicious he learned to how to grow the plant and then brought seeds back home in 1852.

This historical account was just one of 27 articles that featured in the first issue of Catholic Humanities and History of Changzhi, a journal launched in July to help Chinese society better understand the Catholic Church.

Another of the journal's articles shed light on the customs of Nantiangong Village, examining their history and rituals associated with Chinese New Year, marriage, funeral and rain seeking.

Nantiangong Village was founded in 1795 by 10 families who accepted Catholicism not long after it had first been introduced to China. It was dubbed the "Village of God" and today, more than 86 percent of the village's 1,700 people are Catholics.

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Village weddings have a number of distinct traditions. The newlyweds' home would be decorated with religious icons and aphorisms to do with Christian marriage. Returning home after the church service, the first thing the new couple would do is kneel before religious icons and pay tribute to God; then the banquet could begin.

"Our journal is different from theology books or parish newsletters," said journal editor, Father Shen Xuezhong.

"It is to analyze the positive role of the church in society and dig deep into local church history and culture," he said.  

"It will help researchers and general readers understand the local church from a cultural and historical perspective."

Changzhi Diocese currently has a Catholic population of 55,000, according to the priest.

The diocese first considered multimedia and internet publishing but eventually decided that print held an irreplaceable value. The first edition of the journal was printed and had a circulation of 1,000. A number of researchers reserved their copies long before the launch, according to Father Shen.

"The internet may be convenient for today's fast-food culture but a printed publication is more suitable for research and preservation … and will never be out of date," said the priest, who is also responsible for the diocese's social communication.

China's Catholic publishers

In China, there are three established Catholic publishers: Hebei Faith Press, the Sapientia Press of Beijing Diocese, and the Guangqi Research Center of Shanghai Diocese. They provide Christian literature covering theology, philosophy, and liturgy for China's 10 million Catholics. Their publications are mostly offered for free with no copyright for reprinting in Hong Kong, Taiwan or abroad.

Hebei Faith Press and Guangqi Research Center can only publish for "internal circulation," according to China's censorship laws, which means they are only allowed to sell in church venues, while the Sapientia Press cooperates with secular publishers.

Individual dioceses also print their own evangelical and historical interest booklets while some private Catholic publishers offer books on spirituality and personal reflections. Their titles are usually published on a smaller scale, maybe a few hundred copies each, providing a channel for writers who want to offer their work for evangelization purposes.

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