Stars of the Orient: New Martyrs of China
Troparion, in the Fifth Tone:
In a pagan land ye were enlightened by the Orthodox Faith,
and having lived in the Faith but a little time,
ye inherited the eternal Kingdom.
By the purity of your Christian ways
ye put to shame the false Confucian piety
and trampled demon-inspired Buddhism underfoot as refuse,
sanctifying the Chinese land with your blood.
Wherefore, we pray:
Entreat the Master of all
that He enlighten your land with Orthodoxy in these latter times,
and strengthen us therein.
Kontakion, in the First Tone:
O Martyrs of these latter times,
ye whitened your garments in the blood of the Lamb,
and shed your own blood for Christ.
Wherefore, ye now minister unto Him day and night
in the Church of heaven.
Therefore, entreat Christ for us, O glorious Martyrs,
that He hide His little flock from the beguilement of Antichrist,
and that He lead all of us out of great tribulation
unto a land of never-waning light.
The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined. -- Isaiah
No matter how rich in tears, tribulations and death was the end of the XIX century, its very last year marked a particularly sinister event, a rough sketch, as it were, of the new realities to be unveiled by the dawning 1900s -- a century which in the eyes of most contemporaries promised common good, justice and plenty for all. If men could only learn the lessons of the Boxer Rebellion in China, wouldn't it be possible that the entire modern history changed its course?
Today, unlike 100 years ago, there is no naive excitement about the future: instead we see mass apathy, despair and horror caused by the abundant fruits of our century. This is hardly a better choice, however: what's needed is a sober and honest assessment of our trouble, both around us and inside ourselves, to get out of it before it is too late. A glimpse into the past helps find our way in the future.
Part 1: The Celestial Empire and her Northern Neighbor
Not only the Chinese people is the most numerous in the world: it also has a very rich culture and ancient statehood. Hundreds of years B.C. the Chinese had established the way of life which was preserved with little changes until very recently. Silk and paper, gunpowder and printing press speak for the material culture of China; names of Confucius and Lao-Tse remind us of its spiritual heritage.
Traditional Way of Life
Chinese religious scene is often understood as some sort of ecumenism where "anything goes". This is not so: three traditions of Chinese religious thought -- Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism -- constitute certain structure known as "the three ways to the single goal". This structure, moreover, was remarkably stable and resistant to external influences.
Fr. Seraphim (Rose), who had been a serious scholar of ancient Chinese culture, and for whom Taoism became a bridge to the Christian Orthodox faith noticed that
"...there is a very strong idea in the Chinese mind of orthodoxy: that there is a right teaching, and that the whole society depends on that right teaching. This orthodoxy is expressed in different forms ... Taoism is the esoteric side, and Confucianism is the more social side."
Reserved and cautious approach to alien influences helped the Chinese to keep their culture and civilization throughout millennia in numerous conflicts with neighbors and nomads. We all remember the timeless advise:
"...If we are truly born to imitate, why shouldn't we borrow then from the Chinese their wise incognizance of foreign tribes, and get redeemed from tyranny of fashion?" (Griboedov, Woe from Wit)
Traditional way of life based on the notion of orthodoxy was the foundation of the Chinese society and state. Western attempts to establish contacts with China, including Christian missionary efforts, remained largely unsuccessful due to disregard (or total ignorance) of that foundation.
Albazinians in Beijing
China faced her northern neighbor in XVII c., when Russia expanded into East Siberia. First contacts were limited to border skirmishes; then, in 1685, a 15,000 strong Chinese force captured Russian fortress of Albazin on the Amur River. A number of Cossack families were taken prisoners and settled in Beijing: that was the origin of the Russian "Albazinian" minority in the Chinese capital. Fr. Maxim Leontiev went to Beijing with the Cossacks to become the first Orthodox priest on the ancient Chinese soil.
The Albazinians were assigned to the honorary warrior estate; they played an important role in the development of political and trade relations between Russia and China in XVII - XIX cc. Chinese authorities allowed them to build a chapel, and later, in 1695 -- when the Antimens, service books and church articles had been sent from Russia, -- a church was built, in spite of the widespread restrictions and persecutions of Christians. Remarkably, Metropolitan Ignatios wrote to Fr. Maxim in Beijing:
"Your captivity is not without benefit for the Chinese; for the light of the Christian Orthodox faith opens to them through your presence, and you gain much towards your own salvation."
The Ecclesiastical Mission
Such was the beginning of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing. For over 250 years it provided Christian enlightenment to Albazinians and native Chinese, and served as the base for the Russian scholars of Chinese land, language, history, and culture. Commenting on the Mission's opening and on conversion of a number of Chinese, Emperor Peter the Great observed:
"This is a very important enterprise. But, for God's sake, let us be cautious and circumspect, not to provoke either the Chinese authorities or the Jesuits whose den is there since long ago. To this end, the clergymen are needed not so much as scholarly, but rather reasonable and amicable, lest this holy effort suffers a painful defeat because of certain kind of arrogance".
Although Peter I is rarely counted among Christian sources, in this case his foresight proved to be amazingly accurate.
The work of the Mission had its ups and downs, but we always see its best representatives following the original guidelines and combine the highest levels of knowledge with deep respect to the country they lived in, to her people and culture. Take for instance Archimandrite Hyacinth Bichurin, Chief of the Ninth Mission in Beijing (1808-1820), one of the most prominent sinologists, author of many scholarly works, Pushkin's friend and inspirer:
"Fr. Hyacinth immediately plunged into the Chinese life, and soon he was feeling himself completely at home. He got used to the Chinese, learned the language to perfection... broad contacts with local people gave him accurate and first-hand knowledge of the country and its life."
Or listen to Archimandrite Peter Kamensky, Chief of the Tenth Mission (1820-1830), who wrote about his contacts with Chinese dignitaries:
"This great minister of the local faith, a Manchurian named Kutouhta, became our good friend in Beijing. He visited us very often, many times was present at the Divine Liturgy, invited us for dinner, and so did we..."
Those who see St. Stephen of Perm, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent of the Aleutian Islands, or St. Nicholas of Japan as a role model for a Christian missionary will find little noteworthy in the above quotes: basically, what else should be expected? But if we hold these saints as a standard, alternative ideals and examples of enlightenment of heathens abound in the Western world ever since the Crusades.
Visible results of the Mission's work could be more impressive. Numbers of the Chinese Orthodox would grow and then shrink again. During the periods of persecutions, Chinese converts would sometimes mask themselves as Albazinians:
"...With God's help and protection, the measures of the Chinese government have not affected our Orthodox Christians of Albazinian origin: it is well known that they are Russian descendants. Thus, other Chinese and Manchurian Christians could safely go to the Church, pretending they were also Albazinians:... in 1768 the Great Khan issued a very stern decree, prohibiting all Manchurians, Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans to convert into a foreign faith under the pain of terrible punishment..."
Unfortunately, Albazinians seemed to be far from exemplary Christians: frequent were complaints of their ignorance, weakness in faith, tendency towards pagan customs, drunkenness... The year of 1900 will judge them from a different standpoint, however, reminding once again of how limited the human judgment could be, and how dangerous it is to draw a line between "good" and "bad" Christians.
The Sections of the New Martyrs of China:
- The Celestial Empire and her Northern Neighbor
- Traditional Way of Life
- Albazinians in Beijing
- The Ecclesiastical Mission
- Slicing of the Melon
- The Dawn of the "Millennium of Peace"
- Under the Attack of Free Trade
- Pistol Diplomacy
- The Underlying Crisis
- Red Fist vs. Mailed Fist
- Young Liberators
- Swift Success...
- ... And Crushing Defeat
- "Compensation for Damage"
- The Glory of the Huns
- "Preaching the Lamb of God, ye were also slain as lambs..."
- Orthodox Martyrs in Beijing
- "We came here to bring you the Good News..."
- One Hundred Years Later
- Dewey, Marx and Lenin
- "Multicultural Developments" at Home
- Memory lives
 Monk Damascene Christensen. Not of This World. Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, 1993, p.74-75. (Note: Since Mr. Markish wrote this section on the New Martyrs, an improved and corrected new edition of this biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose has been published, which is now entitled Father Seraphim Rose - His Life and Work, Hieromonk Damascene, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, 2003.)
 V.P. Petrov. Rossijskaja Duhovnaja Missija v Kitae. Victor Kamkin, 1968, p.14
 Ibid., p.17
 Ibid., p. 64
 Ibid., p. 74
 Ibid., p. 50