The Church in China
The introduction of Christianity into China has been ascribed not only to the Apostle of India, St. Thomas, but also to St. Bartholomew. In the third century, Arnobius, in "Adversus Gentes", speaks of the Seres, with the Persians and the Medes, as among the nations reached by "that new power which has arisen from the works done by the Lord and his Apostles". Though there is evidence that Christianity existed in Mesopotamia and Persia during the fourth century, as evidenced by the persecutions which began in 345 under Sapor (309-379), there is no proof that it spread to China. After the condemnation of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, at the Council of Ephesus (431) and his banishment, his disciples spread his errors through Asia. They seemed to have reached China in the seventh century, according to the Si-ngan-fu inscription. In should be added that, according to Ebedjesus, some thought that Arch�us, Archbishop of Selucia, had created a metropolitan see in China in 411, while others said that the metropolitans of China dated only from Saliba Zacha, patriarch of the Nestorians from 714 to 728. According to Pauthier, the T'ang Emperor, Hiuan T'sung issued in 745 an edict wherein it was stated that the temples of the religion from Ta Ta'in being known popularly as Persian temples, it was ordered that, this being inaccurate, thenceforth the latter name should be changed to Ta Ts'in temples.
In the year 1625 the Jesuits in Peking were informed that a slab referring to the Christian religion had been found not long before, possibly in 1623, at Ch'ang-ngan (Si-ngan-fu). Father Nicolas Trigault was sent to inspect the stone, which had been discovered at Cheu-che, some distance from Ch'ang-ngan. It was one of the monuments called by the Chinese antiquaries pei. The French traveller, Grenard, who visited Si-ngan-fu a few years ago gives the following measurements: height, 7 ft., 9 ins., width 2 ft. 9 ins., thickness 10 ins. At the top a cross is incised, under which nine large characters in three columns for the heading, which reads as follows: Monument commemorating the introduction and propagation of the noble law of Ta T'sin in the Middle Kingdom. According to the text of the inscription, Olopen arrived from Ta T'sin at Ch'ang-ngan in the ninth year of the period Chang-kwan (635); Emperor T'ai Tsung sent his minster, Duke Fang Huan-ling, to receive him and conduct him to the palace; the Scriptures were translated, and the Emperor, becoming convinced of the correctness and truth of Olopen's religion, gave special orders for its propagation, and in the seventh month of the twelfth year of Chang-kwan (638), in the autumn, issued a proclamation: a Ta T'sin monastery was built, etc. The conclusion of the inscription runs as follows: Erected in the second year of the period Kien-chung (781) of the great T'ang dynasty, the year star being in Tso-yo, on the seventh day of the first month, being Sunday. The inscription consists of 1780 characters; in addition to the Chinese characters, at the foot and on the sides, the stele also exhibits a series of data in the Syriac language, in Estrangelo characters. Sir Henry Yule (Marco Polo, II, 27) thinks that Olopen is only a Chinese form of rabban, a monk, while Prof. Hirth makes Olopen stand for Ruben, or Rupen. It appears from a paper by J. Takakusu (Ts'ung-pao, VII, 589-591) that Adam (King-tsing) who erected the monument under Te-tsung, under the same emperor, translated, with a Buddhist, a Buddhist S�tr�, the "Satp�ramit�", from a Hu text.
The question of the authenticity of the inscription has been formerly often raised, but to-day no one can doubt the genuineness of this most important document for the history of the propagation of the Faith in the Far East; we fully agree with A. Wylie, who writes: If the Nestorian tablet can be proved a forgery, there are few existing memorials of bygone dynasties which can withstand the same type of arguments. This inscription is generally considered as emanating from Nestorians; but this is supported only by circumstantial evidence, for it must be remarked that nothing in it is characteristic of Nestorianism.
The Nestorians were successful in converting the Keraits to Christianity at the beginning of the eleventh century, as related by the Christian historian, Bar Hebr�us. The Keraits remained Christians till the time of Jenghiz Khan, as is attested by Rashiduddin; Their head is spoken of by Rubruck and Marco Polo as Ung Khan (Wang Khan), identified with Prester John; when Wang Khan was defeated by Jenghiz, his niece, Sorhabyani, married Tuli, the fourth son of the conqueror, and became the mother of Kublai. When Kublai removed his capital to Peking, he founded in 1280 the chief Christian consistory, under the name of Ch'ung-fu-tze; the priests of the Nestorian sect were known as Erkeun (Ye-li Ko-wen). but this term was later applied to Christians in general, who were called by the Mohammedans Tersa (transcribed Tie-sie). The last name, however, disappeared with the removal of the capital to Peking. Mar Sergius, a Nestorian, and other Christians are mentioned in a description of Chin-kiang-fu. The Nestorians had a number of bishoprics throughout Asia and two archbishoprics, one at Cambalue (Peking), one at Tangut (Tanchet); there is even a record of a Chinese Nestorian, Mar Jabalaha (b. 1245), a pupil of another Nestorian, Rabban Sauma (b. in Peking), being appointed Patriarch of Persia when Denha died, though he was unacquainted with the Syriac tongue. This is a proof of the influence of the Mongols of China. Buddhism, however, prevailed at court, and two of the Nestorian churches were converted to heathen temples. The prosperity of the Nestorians in China continued through the Mongol period. We may judge their numbers and influence by the fact that friar Oderic, about 1324, found three Nestorian churches in the city of Yang-chou, but soon afterwards they fell into decay. Evidence of their existence was found by the Jesuits at the beginning of the seventeenth century.