Shengren – Chapter 2.2 – Missionarism, A Form of Parasitism?

In the thoroughly organic rural world of Christianity all thought was Christian {…} they {the missionaries} could express the meaning of their actions only in the one cultural vocabulary that was available to them: the vocabulary of the Church that worshipped a God who had sent his son to the liberation of humanity. [1]

– Orlando Patterson, Die kulturellen Werte Europas

The European missions to Asia consisted of very few highly specialized individuals trained in theology and the sciences. Their destination countries – India, Japan, China, and Indochina – were the size of civilizations. What the missionaries reported back would become world history –accurate or not.

The Jesuits, a religious order of the Catholic Church, traveled to Asia and virtually practiced cultural mimicry. They would wear the robes and garments of the local tradition, appropriated the Confucian xuezhe [scholars], and participated in local rituals and customs, while teaching Western sciences and The Bible to the community. It is reported, that the Protestant missions – many prominent German missionaries among them – were less successful in converting the disbelievers.[2] The Chinese were unaware that the missionaries filed ‘reports’ to Europe that had the effect of intelligence gathering and spying that would eventually enable the Church to push ahead and follow their imperial ambitions to command China’s spiritual future: to bring God to the god-less, to dominate the Middle Kingdom culturally, and to transform it into a dignifying Western colony: ‘And the Lord said: Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ [Genesis 1, 25-26].

The Chinese were largely ignorant of what was coming for them; that Western civilization’s drive for expansion was the necessary outcome of Greek philosophy of endless search for new knowledge and Christianity’s mission to subdue the rest of the world. On the contrary, the Chinese traditional love for learning, and their Confucian sympathy towards all learnedness, made them learn quickly from the Westerners, while they did not (and certainly could not) expect quite the same in return from the Westerners. It was a common belief that the Chinese language was too difficult for Europeans to master, largely because the Westerners didn’t master it. And they didn’t need to: Most of the missionaries were middle-aged or old men, so they were venerated to such an extent they would never have dreamed of back in Europe where youth-worship prevailed.

Usually, if the preachers, and that’s what they were, spoke a sentence or two, that was sufficient to go down into the annals of history as ‘Chinese experts.’ No matter what their actual proficiency of Chinese was, they almost certainly needed Chinese helpers. But those Chinese helpers had never seen the world outside China, and unknowingly surrendered their precious and unique Chinese concepts to the cult of Plato and Jesus Christ.

Some German missionaries and orientalists first felt disgusted[3] that the Chinese had no God, but next decided they needed Him; thus Schott (1826), Gützlaff (1833), Grube (1902), Haas (1920), Wilhelm (1925), and Biallas (1928) deliberately used biblical language (e. g. Gott, Heilige, Heilige Geist, Heiligkeit, Gottmenschen) to report China as a pre-Christian society that could be converted and dominated, no problem:

The aspect of arrogance was the presumption that non-European culture was something to master and own, not an ongoing living set of traditions into which one entered as a guest.[4]

This dismantlement of a culture from within was undertaken all the while the missionaries and orientalists in China enjoyed the hospitality, kindness, and resourcefulness of their naive and trusting host. That the original concept of shengren was already compromised – it never reached Europe and the Chinese now officially had biblical holy men – the Chinese could hardly have anticipated.

Finally, to add salt into all wounds, Western commentators today never stop at accusing China of stealing Western concepts and innovations, tinker them around and change them a little bit, but never contribute anything original to world history. A more accurate picture of world history is that the West systematically collected and composted hundreds of thousands of foreign concepts already.

[1] Patterson, 2005, p. 173: ‘Da in der rundum organischen ländlichen Welt des Christentums alles Denken christlich war […] konnten sie ihrem Tun nur in dem einzig verfügbaren kulturellen Vokabular Ausdruck und Bedeutung verleihen, dem Vokabular der Kirche, die einen Gott anbetete, der seinen Sohn zur Befreiung der Menscheit ausgesandt hatte.”

[2] Giles, 1925, p. 260

[3] Richter, 1833, pp. 13 ff.

[4] Marchand, 2009, p. 497

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York