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THE ARCHIVES OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF CANTON (GUANGZHOU), CHINA
天主教廣州總教區档案

The Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at the University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim is very pleased to announce that the newly digitized archives of the former Catholic Archdiocese of Canton will become available to researchers beginning in summer 2011. Containing approximately 15,000 items (30 linear feet) of documents, plans, maps, correspondence, deeds, petitions, decree’s and artifacts, the Archives cover the period from 1851 to 1949, which nearly exactly coincides with the “hundred years of shame” (百年國恥 bainian guochi), from the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing through the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 and the end of Catholic missionary work. Diocesan and parish records from this period and locale are extremely rare. The Canton Archives thus provide a unique resource on the Chinese Church during a turbulent period in modern Chinese history.

A Varied Collection

Written primarily in French, Latin and Chinese by Catholic missionaries, Chinese Catholics, French diplomats, Chinese priests and local officials, the collection reveals missionary perceptions of evangelistic goals, strategies, achievements and failures in the South China mission field. Information broadly extends from the internal operation of the Diocese (baptismal records, Masses, statistics on local Catholics and conversions, personnel reports, etc.)  to the development of Catholic networks, both regional and transnational. Reports describe anti-Christian disturbances, Catholic and non-Catholic accounts of major anti-Christian cases (教案 jiao’an ), including official investigation of particular disputes, and transcripts of district court proceedings, permitting a re-evaluation of the scale of anti-Christian violence in rural Guangdong before and after the Boxer Uprising and the changing power relations between Catholics and non-Catholics locally. The records also contain information about related issues such as village feuds, fighting among rival warlords, banditry, piracy (a problem on both the coast and local riverways), natural disasters, and the ongoing tensions between the Catholic Diocese and various political regimes of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Property Documents

The collection of more than 800 property deeds/contractual agreements and ten account books comprise by far the largest and most complete collection of Chinese Christian property documents known to exist. Deeds are divided into “red” and “white”, the red deeds (紅契 hongqi) being officially stamped documents in which the property transfer was approved by local officials, whereas the white deeds (白契 baiqi) indicated unstamped private transactions. These property deeds record transactions as varied as the purchase of farmland, houses, ancestral halls, and temples, while contractual agreements concern leases and rental arrangements between parish priests and local Catholics. Account books detail rental and investment incomes collected by Catholic merchants for their churches. Grass-roots implementation of treaty rights in Canton and surrounding areas, various patterns of land customs and property transactions, and the role of the Canton Diocese as a major real estate investor and developer in the local economy, are well illustrated in Archive documents. The records will also enable historians to identify Catholic mission properties in downtown Canton, market towns along the Pearl River Delta, and the interior of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.

The Lives of Missionaries

Documents from within the religious community itself, primarily under the administration of the Missions étrangères de Paris (MEP) are particularly revealing, and include detailed information about the administration and personnel of the Canton Diocese and the development of local mission stations, though regrettably little is said about the history of specific Catholic communities and the conversion experience of individual converts. Another issue concerns the conflict amongst missionaries over interpretation of religious and secular matters. Protestant missionary enterprises operating in the same region were often subject to internal criticism and reveal anti-Protestant bias and competition.

A Diocese in Local Context

In the early 20th century, Canton was the center of the Nationalist and Communist revolutionary movements and these records provide an untapped resource for local history of the period and details of church-state encounters. The Canton Diocese itself and some mission schools were within walking distance of Communist-controlled labor unions and anti-Christian student associations. After the Nationalists gained control of China in 1927, the Canton municipal government sought to re-develop the downtown area. Against this background of urban development, the Sacred Heart Cathedral on the north bank of the Pearl River worked with the municipal authorities in urban planning of modern Canton. The Church’s correspondence with municipal officials reveals the Catholic response to the growth of revolutionary nationalism, urbanization, and involvement in state-building.

Research Opportunities

The Canton Diocese Archives are a detailed resource for scholars in support of fields as varied as Church-State relations in China, architecture, building, and city planning in Canton in the 19th and early 20th centuries, religious life of local Christians, social life in Guangdong, church finances, Catholic social movements, local dialects and phonology, crime and punishment, Chinese judiciary of the late Imperial-early Republican era, and warlordism and rebellion.   

Finding Aid and Sample Listings

A searchable finding aid covering the entire digitized Archives will be available online in Summer 2011. For sample descriptive document listings, please visit Ricci Institute Library website. There is no plan at this time to post the Archive online.

Research Visits

For an appointment to use the digital archives for research at the Ricci Institute, please write contact ricci@usfca.edu.

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email: ricci@usfca.edu
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