Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 October 2004
For more than a century after its introduction into China in 1807, Protestant Christianity remained an alien religion preached and presided over by Western missionaries. In fact the Christian enterprise, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, was given protection as Western interests by the Qing court after China's defeat in the Opium War of 1839–42. According to the treaty signed with the United States in 1858, for instance, the Qing government was to shield from molestation ‘any persons, whether citizen of the United States or Chinese convert, [who] peaceably teach and practise the principles of Christianity.’ In the Convention of 1860 signed with France, the imperial court promised that in addition to the toleration of Roman Catholicism throughout China, all Catholic properties previously seized should be ‘handed over to the French representative at Beijing’ to be forwarded to the Catholics in the localities concerned. By the time of the Boxer Uprising of 1900, Protestant converts numbered about 80,000 and the Catholic Church (whose modern missions to China had begun in the late sixteenth century) claimed a membership of some 720,000—a following that was perhaps disappointing to the Western missions yet aggravating to those who saw both the Confucian tradition and Chinese sovereignty eroded by the coming of the West. As a perceived foreign menace the Christian community became the target of the bloody rampage by famished North China peasants known as the Boxers. Before the revolt was quelled in August by the eight-power expedition forces, it had visited death on more than 200 Westerners and untold thousands of native converts.
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