story of ancient churches in china; Tibet; Arabia;Japan;Afganistan-- ;the Jesus sutras of china

The Da Qin Project: Early Christianity in China

Speech by Martin Palmer
Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation

Hong Kong, February 23, 2001

May I start by saying what a great honour it is for me to be addressing you today. Our links with the Asia Society are so strong that the New York headquarters have created a website for us and we look forward to working closely with them and you as this project develops. It was here in Hong Kong, through the people, the museums, the libraries and the stories, that I first discovered the Early Church of China, then completely unknown to me. It was here that as an eighteen and nineteen year old, working as a volunteer at the St. Christopher's Children's Home on the Tai Po Road, that I first heard tell of this Chinese Church and first learnt to read Chinese. Perhaps I was predestined to study Chinese religion for I learnt to read Chinese by following the characters in a 1930 edition of English hymns translated into Chinese! So, this is a coming home and I am most grateful to you all for this invitation.

For many years, ever since I first found out about the Early Church of China, I have wanted to go deeper into this story and into the particular version of the Christian Gospel, which it seemed to embody. I have gone deeply into Taoism and Buddhism in China over the years, and have had the privilege of translating the great classical texts such as the Tao Te Ching, I Ching, the myths and legends of Kuan Yin, the Eight Immortals, and perhaps the greatest delight, translating Chuang Tzu. I have been very fortunate in working professionally with Taoists on the Sacred Mountains, and with Chinese Buddhists on various ecological projects. I have travelled extensively in China, and was thus able some twelve years ago to go and see the famous so-called Nestorian Stone found in 1625 and carved in 781 AD, which graphically describes the coming of Christianity in the early 7th century to China.

Let me pause here a moment to define terms. The Early Church is usually described as being 'Nestorian'. This is a slur. It was a term used about what I shall call the Church of the East - a Church that, as we shall see, stretched from Babylon to China, from Southern India to the Central Steppes. The Church never called itself Nestorian' and as no one nowadays has a clue what that means anyway, it has become a stumbling block. It has in fact been used by virtually all those who have written about the Early Church in China as a way of indicating that this was not a 'proper' Church, but a flawed heresy. The following comments by T.W.M Marshall in 1863 sum this up:

"It was the misfortune, perhaps a judicial one, of southern and eastern Asia to be visited in early ages by false apostles, deeply tainted with heresy; and to this fact has been attributed a large share of the multiplied disasters which have marked the course of religion in these ill-fated countries." [Pg 61, Vol I, 'Christian Missions', Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, London 1863]

From now on, therefore, I shall refer to the Early Church in China as the Church of the East, or occasionally use the formal title, bestowed upon it by the Emperor in 638, of the Religion of the Light.

The Nestorian Stone is an amazing artefact [give some description here - otherwise there's a sudden jump.] I was also able to see the astonishing silk painting found at Dunhuang in 1904, which depicts a Christian saint, or even perhaps Christ himself, in what seems at first glance, to be the form of a Bodhisattva.

This fired my interest and as I was commissioned to translate Taoist and Buddhist sutras and classics, I kept hoping that I might also be commissioned to translate the early Christian sutras, the one carved on the Church of the East Stone in Xian, and those written on the scrolls found in the first few decades of the 20th century at Dunhuang and then in various antique dealers in Beijing.

At last, three years ago, I was asked to write a book on the early Church in China. This book, 'The Jesus Sutras" will be published in New York this autumn. In the process of preparing to work on it, I revisited the few books extant on this topic. In particular, I turned to the two wonderful books by the Japanese professor P.Y. Saeki written in the 1930's. He, unfettered by Protestant Christian fears of syncretism, had produced the best existing translations and interpretations of the books of the Early Church in China - what we are collectively calling The Jesus Sutras.

In one of them he mentioned a possible Christian monastery parts of which might have survived, at a site some fifty miles from Xian. He was cagey about it. He never had the chance to visit it himself and he was alerted to its existence in a somewhat startling way. He was sent a pencil map, which showed a pagoda named in Chinese Da Qin. The pencil map was sent by Japanese friends. It seems clear now that it was created by Japanese spies who were surveying this area, which we now know to be to the south west of Xian - a place where the great mountain range Qinling has a gap, known in the past at the Gateway to the West. As many of you will know, Japanese spies, from the mid 1920s onwards, were mapping China in preparation for the Japanese invasions of the 1930s. They often travelled disguised as archaeologists, botanists or geographers. It is clear that the group spying on this area of China were disguised as archaeologists, and they thus noted archaeological sites.

Saeki, a man of great honour, published the map and alerted Chinese attention to the site. In 1932 a team of four Chinese academics stopped by the site en route to Xian and briefly visited it. They found that a fine Tang dynasty pagoda stood there and that the name was indeed Da Qin. The significance of the term Da Qin is that it can mean 'Of the West.' It can also mean the Great Qin as in the Qin dynasty of 221- 208 BC. The Chinese team noted that there was a statue on the second floor of the pagoda but drew no conclusions about whether the site was actually Christian.

And that was that. Except that in the book Saeki, either accidentally or deliberately, failed to give clear instructions as to where the site was. Indeed, the directions he gave were that it was fifty miles north east of Xian- completely the wrong direction. Consequently, no one had visited the site since the Chinese team in 1932.

I was absolutely fascinated by this. I have always wanted to not just go deeper into the teachings of the Early Church in China, which is possible through the Jesus Sutras, but to also see what an early Church in China might have looked like. Did the extraordinary fusion of Christian and Chinese ideas which the Jesus Sutras reveal, manifest themselves in art, in church architecture? The answer to that seemed to be that no such site had survived, or if it had, had never been conclusively proved to be Christian. This was the status of the Da Qin site.

Despite the fact that since 1932 the Japanese invasion, the civil war, the victory of Communism, the rigours of the Great Leap Forward, the horrors of the Cultural revolution and now the crass commercialism of the rise of capitalistic communism had afflicted China, I felt that it was just possible that this site might still exist and that it might indeed turn out to be Christian. But where was it? I turned my attention to the map and with the aid of a good magnifying glass tried to read the names of the other temples in the area. The map showed no towns or roads, just temples and archaeological sites. Suddenly I realised I knew exactly where this was. Indeed, I had been within a few miles of it about six months earlier with the BBC, when recording a set of radio programmes on religion in China, for right next door to the Da Qin pagoda was marked the name Lou Guan Tai. We had visited this temple complex because this was where, according to tradition, Lao Tzu had been stopped as he headed West through the Gateway to the West, having despaired of the corruption of 6th century BC China. It was here, legend averred, that he wrote the Taoists classic, the Tao Te Ching.

So it was that three years ago, I and a motley crew of my team, found ourselves bouncing along the country roads to Lou Guan Tai, fifty miles south west of Xian. To be honest, I don't think my colleagues really believed we would find anything, but they were kind and indulgent of my obsession.

We duly arrived, climbing up to the terrace of the main temple of Lou Guan Tai. Looking to the west we saw, to our delight, that there was a fine seven-storey pagoda just where the map had shown it should be. It had survived the last seventy years of turmoil. Now the question was; what was it?

There was an old amulet seller sitting there. We asked her which religion the pagoda belonged to. She replied that it was Buddhist. Disappointed, we turned away only to be stopped in our tracks by her next comment. 'But it wasn't always.' We turned back and asked her what she meant. "It used to be Taoist". Disappointed again we thanked her and turned, only to be stopped again. 'But it doesn't really belong to either of them. It was built by five monks who came from the West and believed in One God.'

It is impossible to describe my feelings upon hearing this. Thanking her profusely, we rushed off and found a guide to take us to the site.

When we began to climb the hill, into which a terrace to hold the site had been cut, we stumbled over fragments of terra cotta moulding. Much of it was typical Tang dynasty material, but in amongst it was moulding which could have come from the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople or from the Church of the nativity in Bethlehem. Excited, we scrambled up to be met by a surprised but delightfully hospitable Buddhist nun who was, by her own account, 115 years old.

At first we wandered the site looking in vain for crosses, Christian symbols, anything which would unequivocally declare this to be a Christian site. There was nothing. The pagoda, a fine 8th century structure but leaning somewhat alarmingly, had nothing about it that said Christian. Seeing the cynical expressions on the faces of my colleagues, I sought solace by climbing up the hill and looking down on the pagoda and the terrace, which had been cut sometime in the Tang dynasty to hold the monastery and its pagoda. That was when I realised we had found the earliest Christian site in China. The terrace had it been cut to hold a Taoist, Confucian or Buddhist temple would have run north south as that is the direction of all but an exceptionally few imperial sites. This terrace did not run that way. It ran east west, the cosmic directions of Christian churches.

I leapt down the hillside shouting to everyone. The Buddhist nun wanted to know what this was all about. When I told her that I thought this was an ancient Christian site, she looked completely astonished and drew herself up to her full height of five feet and stared me straight in the eye. I thought Oh no, now I have upset her. But she said:

'Well of course it is. This was the greatest Christian monastery in China. We all know that!'

To my astonishment I discovered that the local people all knew of the Christian history of the site. Lost to the wider world for over a millennium, the local people had retained memory of the five monks from the West and the Church of the east here.

It was now late in the day and we had to leave. But I hesitated. The nun seemed to read my mind. She said, "You want to pray don't you?" And indeed I did want to. I wanted to prayer where my forebears in the faith had prayed and to honour them. But I also didn't want to offend the Buddhist. She said "Pray then: they will all hear you." And so I prayed, perhaps the first Christian prayers to be offered in over a thousand years on this site. And I felt I had at last come home.

That was in 1998.

In 1999, alerted by us to the significance of the site, the Chinese Government began to restore the pagoda. Hit by an earthquake in 1556, it had been sealed shut and no-one had been inside the pagoda for centuries. A few months after the work began we received a message that we should come again to Da Qin because the restorers had found something, which they did not understand.

Once again we found ourselves climbing towards the pagoda, only this time on a new road cut to the site. When we arrived we were invited to climb scaffolding into the pagoda, as the ground floor was still not open. I have a terrible fear of heights so made slow and painful progress into the pagoda. I had no idea what to expect. All that we knew was that two statues had been found and no-one could work out what they depicted.

As I climbed in through the window, my eyes were too busy scanning the floor where the floorboards had rotted to pay much attention. It was only when I stood in the centre that I saw the statue. I was totally flabbergasted. The statue was in fact a form of grotto, rising ten feet high on one wall and made from mud and plaster. At first it seemed to be a wonderful Chinese scene of the Five Sacred Mountains or possibly a representation of the five peaks of Hua Shan, one of the Taoist sacred mountains. But as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, I could see what had foxed the cultural experts from the province. For the centre of the mountain had a cave created within it. And in the cave was the lower portion of a statue. The mountain and the cave were classical Chinese in design. The figure was not. The robes were Hellenistic in style and the posture was one never seen in Chinese religious art.

I have worked extensively with the Russian and Greek orthodox Churches and thus I have become familiar with Orthodox iconography. I suddenly realised what I was looking at. In Orthodox iconography, the Nativity is not depicted as in Western art. The orthodox follow the description contained in the Book of James and this says that Mary gave birth to Christ in a cave in a mountain, by herself. In front of me I could see the mountain and the cave. And the figure of Mary - for so I believe it to be - lay exactly as she is often depicted in Orthodox icons, her right leg drawn up slightly, her left lying along the ground, holding the Christ Child who looks towards her. Above the cave, the celestial light shines down. Here was Mary; here the place where the celestial light had once been but had been ripped down; here outlined by dirt, was the shape of a child. I was looking at the earliest known Christian statue in China and it fused, just as I had always thought it would, Christian and Chinese art in the way that Gandharian art fused Greek and Buddhist art.

After an hour of drawing, photographing and examining the statue, we climbed up to the next floor. Here we found a similar statue, six feet or so high and again a fusion of Chinese with Christian. Again we had a figure lying in an unusual - for China - way. This time, we are fairly sure this depicts Jonah, lying under his gourd tree outside Ninevah. Jonah was a favourite symbol of Christ in the Church of the East.

As you can appreciate, we were somewhat excited. Here was the first ever evidence of Christian statues from the early Church in China. We immediately set about plans to preserve the statues and to excavate the site, for it is clear that at Da `Qin we have the most extraordinary fusion of traditions, as further proven when, last year, we discovered Syriac graffiti on the fourth floor.

Let me summarise what we have. We have a site, which according to Chinese contemporary documents was built in 650 AD, the second church to be built in China. It is the only surviving one and thus the oldest surviving Church site. We have statues in a pagoda built in 781 AD and the statues have been tentatively dated to 800 AD. We have Syriac graffiti and a site orientated east to west. In other words, we have the most important Christian antiquarian site in China. What is more, we have this church and pagoda, this monastery, built within the sacred compound of the huge Lou Guan Tai Taoist complex. This was the Imperial Temple of the Tang dynasty and here the Christians were allowed to build a church. Indeed the Emperor must have given them the site. It is as if the Hare Krishnas were given a site beside Canterbury Cathedral, or the Muslims were allowed to build a mosque in the grounds of the White House. It shows that the Church, far from being one amongst a number of strange western religions in Tang dynasty China, had a special place. This has revolutionised our understanding of the Church in China.

But how on earth did the Church come to be there?

To answer that, and to discover what we found when we began to translate the Jesus Sutras I need to take you on a long journey in time, geography and belief. We need to travel to Antioch on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Here, where according to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, Christians were first called Christians, c 40 AD, the Silk Road had its terminus. Here goods from Persia, the Steppes and China arrived. And here in a great cosmopolitan city, which looked east not west to home, arose the first stirrings of the Church of the East.

Many have tried to present the early Church as one ship, ploughing forward, driven by truth, with odd heresies breaking away from it. In fact the Early Church of the first 4 centuries of the Christian era were a motley collection of distinct tradition s which drew upon and fused with a variety of local, pre-Christian traditions. In Britain for example, the Celtic Church arose, distinctive through its fusion of Christianity with Celtic traditions and even deities. Antioch developed a Christianity that fused Christianity with a humanism which was the hallmark of the philosophical schools of the City. Meanwhile down in Egypt, the Church of Alexandria fused Christianity with the ancient traditions of the goddess Isis and her infant son Horus to produce the earliest known statues of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. Egyptian Christianity was far more transcendental, more concerned with godhead than the humanitarian traditions of Antioch.

All this came to a head in the fifth century. The Roman Empire had turned Christian during the 4th century and sought to create One Church just as it saw itself as the One State. As a result, local divergences and differences came to be seen as a profound threat to the concept and unity of the One Church model. Gradually local versions of Christianity were absorbed, dismantled or dismissed. These differences often expressed themselves in debates about the nature and person of Christ. For reasons too complex to go into now, the Archbishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, was in 431 dismissed as a heretic and his teachings about the humanity of Christ were declared heretical. At the same time, the Church in Persia was emerging from nearly forty years of terrible persecution. The Persian Church had existed from the 1st century and was part of a network of Churches in the east such as the ancient Church of India founded by St. Thomas in the 1st century; the Church in Sogdiana, Bactria and Gandhara, the ancient Greco-Indian kingdoms in present day Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Church in Arabia.

The Persian Empire of the Sassanians loathed the Roman Empire. Thus they loathed the new religion, which had become its state religion - Christianity. The Church of the east - the Church from Persia onwards - was seen as a Fifth Column. To break this link and because of profound theological reservations over the direction of Roman Christianity, the Church of the east broke away from the Church of the West in the late 5th century. Its opponents in the West dismissed it as 'Nestorian' and therefore heretical and there was virtually no contact between the Church for centuries. The Church of the east thus cut itself off from the developments of the Church of the West, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. It developed its own theology without the influence of, for example, St. Augustine and his concept of original sin, without the fusion of Hellenistic thought, which emerged from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Church of the east went its own way.

It was also dealing with very different worlds. The Church of the West never missionaised a culture more advanced than its own until the 18th century. The barbarian tribes of Bulgars, Angles, Saxons, Lombards, and the such like, which were converted by Rome and Constantinople all had to have alphabets created for them so they could read the Bible in their own tongue. But the Church of the East was working in cultures such as Persia, India, Arabia where literature was well established; where in many cases universities had been functioning for hundreds of years, and where learning and philosophy were part of the life of each culture. The Church of the East missionized equals, whereas the Church of the West, after the fall of the Roman Empire, missionized those desperate to partake of culture in one form or another.

Today the Church of the East is almost completely forgotten. Yet in the 8th century, when the Da Qin monastery was at its height, the Church stretched three times as far as the Church of the West and had probably twice as many churches and Christians as the Church of the West. Historians usually dismiss the Church of the East because in Western terms it failed. It did not convert an entire Empire and in the end was destroyed by the slow growth of Islam but more seriously by the destruction of the Mongols in the 13th to 15th centuries.

Yet it was this Church which brought the Gospel to China. We know that in 635, according to both Chinese dynastic records and the Church of the East stone in Xian, a bishop called Alopen arrived in China with the Gospel, icons and banners to proclaim Christianity. He brought with him books, which were to be translated for the Chinese. It was clearly a well-planned mission, for he was expected and given Imperial treatment and favour.

We have four of the books that Alopen brought, but in Chinese translations. Found in the early part of the last century, they reveal the breadth of the Church of the East for the books come from different sections of the Church. It seems quite clear that the mission realised it was going to encounter a culture in which Buddhism, shamanism and some other forms of belief were central. It therefore drew together books that could speak to this multi-religious world.

When we started work on the Jesus Sutras we expected that it would reveal a fascinating view of Christ and the Gospel within Chinese culture of the Tang dynasty. What we did not expect to find were lost books from other Eastern mission fields of the Church. It is quite common for Buddhist scholars to examine the Chinese translations of Buddhist sutras to find books which are now lost in their Sanskrit originals. The Chinese Buddhist translations preserve many such otherwise lost sutras. We have found the same within the Jesus Sutras. Of the four books from the first round of translations, c 340 AD, one comes from Syria and is the most complete surviving text of a lost Syrian masterpiece, The Teachings of the Apostles by Tatian. This book was a synopsis of the Four Gospels and, until it was banned in the 8th century, was more popular than the Gospels.

We have found a book which fuses Greek, Indian Buddhist and Christian philosophy in such a way that it points to having been written in the old Greek kingdoms of India and Pakistan - Gandharia, in fact. Indeed, it is a pale Christian imitation of the classic fusion of Greek and Buddhist philosophy known as the Milindapanha. We have a composite book, which contains a radical version of the Ten Commandments which teaches vegetarianism and which shows signs of having been created in India proper, possibly in dialogue with followers of either Jainism or a Vedic tradition of vegetarianism. And finally, and most astonishingly, we have found a sutra which contains parts of a book which seems to have been written by Tibetan Christians and which for the first time records certain ideas which later find their place in the Buddhist version of the Bon religion text 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead.' The idea of Christians in Tibet may seem surprising, but the Church of the East had a cathedral in Lhasa from the 6th century onwards, which was only finally destroyed by the Buddhists in the 12th or even 13th century.

These astonishing sutras show us a Church from Persia to India to Tibet, which had fused its teachings with local traditions and from which radical new ideas of what it meant to be Christian had emerged. Let me just read you two pieces from these early Sutras.

In the Sutra, which we believe is modelled on the Milindapanha, which comes from the Gandharian area of present day Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is the belief in karma. Karma is of course the accumulated consequences of your actions which cause rebirth. At death, if you have still karma, then you must be reborn in order to try and get rid of it. The Sutra of Cause, Effect and Salvation take karma and reincarnation as the existentialist crisis, which Christ has come to solve. It knows nothing of Western beliefs about life after death, which we naturally expect to find it reflected in Christian texts. The Vedic world and Buddhist world believes in karma and reincarnation and thus the sutra addresses this:

'So it was that He existed before existing in His mother's womb. But to change your karma, you must exist in this physical world. A person can only change his karma residue by being born again into this world.........There was no other way to free us from sins but for Him to enter this world. So He came and suffered a life of rejection and pain before returning.'

Christ, in other words, has the answer to karma.

In the Sutra of Jesus Christ we find this radical reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments:

"The first and most important is to honour God. The second is to honour the Emperor. The third is to honour your parents. The fourth covenant is that anybody who understands the precepts should know to be kind and considerate to everything and to do no evil to anything that lives.

The fifth covenant is that any living thing should not only not take the life of another living being, but should also teach others to do likewise."

From there on the commandments are the same.

Within a hundred years, the Church in China was no longer just translating Christian books from the West - from the rest of the Church of the East. It was creating its own masterpieces, guided by the remarkable figure of Bishop Qing Qing, who is one of the undiscovered literary geniuses of not just Christianity, but also Tang dynasty China.

Qing Qing wrote the text of the Stone Sutra, but he also wrote one of the most beautiful books of Christianity; 'The Sutra of Returning to Your Original Nature.' In this sutra, written c780 AD, Chinese Christianity draws upon the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, Buddhist imagery and Confucian thought to create a revolutionary new way of describing Christianity.

First of all, let me give you a taste of how the Church by 720 was reinterpreting Jesus in a Chinese context. This comes from the Sutra Taking Refuge in the Three.

"Great Holy Law Giver
You bring us back to our original nature.
And the souls that are saved are countless:
Divine compassion lifts them up from the dust
Redeeming them from the saddened realm of ghosts.

The hundred ways bring us clarity and kind-hearted mercy.

Now I close to our Holy Compassionate Father
The One who creates salvation -
See the angelic spirits crossing the ocean of Dharma!
We know to practice peace in our hearts through you.
This whole gathering unites in singing to you, Honoured One:

The Great Law is now the Heavenly Wheel
Of Returning to You."

Here Buddhist imagery - Dharma, Heavenly Wheel, Returning - is used to proclaim the Christian message of salvation, but there is also a profound use of a Taoist concept. The term 'original nature' refers to the idea of a true goodness of nature with which we are born. The Church in China has no concept of original sin. Quite the reverse, it believes in original goodness - just as Chuang Tzu and so many of the Taoist schools taught. Chuang Tzu sums this up thus:

"Horses have hooves so that their feet can grip on frost and snow, and hair so that they can withstand the wind and cold. They eat grass and drink water, they buck and gallop, for this is the innate nature of horses. Even if they had great towers and magnificent halls, they would not be interested in them. However, when Po Lo came on the scene, he said 'I know how to train horses.' He branded them, cut their hair and their hooves, put halters on their heads, bridled them, hobbled them and shut them up in stables. Out of ten horses at least two or three die […] The people have a true nature, they weave their cloth, they farm to produce food. This is their basic Virtue."

The idea of humanity being essentially good produces a dramatically different understanding of Christ and of salvation. It is this that Qing Qing explores so stunningly in his sutras. It is, however, an original goodness, which has become lost through the effects of bad actions and the resulting build up of karma. In the Sutra of Returning to your original nature, Christ says:

"From goodness in past lives, people come to this religion and through the faith they find Happiness […] Simon know this: You ask me about the Triumphant Law. What your ancestors have done bears fruit in you, their karma finds its outcome in you."

Qing Qing also draws upon the distinctive Taoist concept of wu-wei - no action. Indeed he builds it into the central teaching of Christ, for it is Christ who is pictured preaching in this Sutra:

"This is why I say: no wanting, no doing, no piousness, no truth.
These are the Four essential Laws. They cannot teach you in themselves
But follow them and you will be free
From trying to sort out what to believe."

Qing Qing presents us with a Buddha type Christ who teaches to a vast cosmic multitude. He also gives us new teachings such as this parable:

'I will tell you a story. There was a sick man
Who heard people talk about this precious mountain.
Day and night he longed to reach it - the thought never left him.
But the mountain was high and miles away and he was very crippled.
He longed to realise his dream, but he couldn't.
But he had a close relative who was wise and resourceful.
And this man had scaling ladders brought and steps cut
And with some friends he levered and pushed the sick man up
Until he reached the summit. And there, he was healed.'

'Simon, know this: people coming to this mountain
Were confused and unhappy because of their worldly desires.
They had heard the truth. They knew it could lead them to the Way.
So they tried to scale this mountain, but in vain -
Love and faith had all but died in them.'

'Then the Compassionate Knowing One came like the close relative
And taught them with skill and sincerity so they knew
That He is the scaling ladder and the steps cut in stone
Where they can find the true Way, freed of their weight forever.'

The Jesus Sutras show us a Gospel in Eastern garb unlike any Gospel the West taught. This has led to it being denounced as not Christian. But I think it is and that it is perhaps the most exciting discovery of all. Here is the Christ story transcending the structures of the West and working. Here is a fusion between distinct traditions, which produces a gospel. In a world where increasingly the interaction between faiths is being taken as normal, the Jesus Sutras show us that the encounter, the fruitful encounter between faiths has taken place before - 1400 years ago in China. Furthermore it shows that the traditional Western understanding of the cosmic, stereological and existential purpose of Christ is but one possible version amongst many.

For over a thousand years, the Church of the East in China has lain literally buried - its sutras lost, its buildings ignored or gone. In the 17th century it was initially rediscovered, but the Church was too embarrassed at the fusion of Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity to want to go too deeply into what the Church in China had done. Today we are uncovering the full scale of the astonishing achievements, literary, theological, philosophical, poet, artistic and architectural of this Church. At an intellectual level, the Jesus Sutras are as important, if not more so, than the Dead Sea Scrolls. At an archaeological level, the discovery and planned excavation of Da Qin is as important as the discovery of the terra cotta warriors.

At Da Qin we shall be creating a Museum and Centre of the West in Ancient China. This challenges Chinese ideas of the isolation and self-sufficiency of Chinese culture just as powerfully as the Jesus Sutras challenge the western version of the meaning of Christ. We stand on the brink of major shifts in understanding. We invite you to come with us on this journey of adventure, discovery and transformation.

christians in ancient japan:-
Japanese Christianity

In Memoriam

to the nearly one million indigenous Japanese Christians who were martyred for their faith in the Kirishtan Holocaust over a 250-year period beginning February 5, 1597.

Who Were the Keikyo?

The word "Keikyo" derives from the Chinese expression meaning "The Shining Religion." It is the name given to a group of indigenous Japanese Christians who lived in Japan, possibly as early as 198 A.D.

Tragically, much of the information that would shed light on early details of Keikyo history has been lost as a result of the 280-year persecution of the Kiristan.

Many scholars believe that following the dispersion of the early church, many faithful Christian missionaries took the command of Christ to "go to the ends of the earth" seriously. Evidence exists of Christian missionaries reaching India in 52 A.D., China in 61 A.D., and Japan in 198 or 199 A.D. Early Christians frequently traveled abroad in self-sustaining communities, extending throughout the known world at that time.

Though their progeny are in the minority in India, they still number in the tens of thousands. In China, during the Tang Dynasty, large Keikyo Temples were erected in every province.

The influence of the Keikyo in Japan was profound. It is believed they were involved in the founding of the city of Kyoto, whose Uzumasa area contains the same Chinese characters used in China to refer to the Christian church.

In the Imperial Chronicles of Japan there is reference to a visit of a Keikyo Priest to the Imperial Household in 737 A.D. Many other references in various historical records of the same era hint at the extensive influence of the Keikyo. The Empress Komyo appears to have embraced Christianity, and became known as a great saint who performed miracles of healing. Her great niece entered a Christian convent and experienced a vision of heaven which she depicted in a large work of embroidery. This work of art is still on exhibit in the holy city of Kyoto.

Though it is today rightly thought of as a predominantly Buddhist or secular nation, Japan's Christian history stretched through nearly 18 centuries, thanks to the Keikyo. Their history in Asia demonstrates that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Western phenomenon. The flame of Christianity has burned long in the East before Columbus ever landed on the shores of America.