The Connection between Opium, Christianity, Cults and Cannon Balls in China

Organized religions and cults such as the Falun Gong have been in China for centuries, but have never played a major role in the culture until the 19th century when Christianity was forced on China.

C.M. Cipolla wrote in his book, Guns, Sails and Empires, “While Buddha came to China on white elephants, Christ was born on cannon balls” powered by opium.

The treaty that ended the opium wars included a clause that required China to allow Christian missionaries free access to all of China to convert the heathens.

Then the Taiping Rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan, God’s Chinese son and a Christian convert, was responsible for more than 20 million deaths. Hong claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Millions believed him.

In the early months of 1900, thousands of Boxers, officially known as Fists of Righteous Harmony, roamed the countryside attacking Christian missions, slaughtering foreign missionaries and Chinese converts.

Confucius and possibly Lao-Tse have influenced the foundation of Chinese culture and morality the most. These two along with Buddha offer more of a blended influence on Chinese culture than Christianity or Islam.

Thanks to Confucius, China’s mainstream culture understands the importance of people within the family and society more so than many other countries and cultures.

This may explain why China is a powerhouse of industry today.

Learn of Christianity and Islam in China


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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Note: This post first appeared on iLook China March 11, 2010 as post # 128. This revised version reappears as post # 1095.

7 Responses to The Connection between Opium, Christianity, Cults and Cannon Balls in China

  1. TBl says:

    I didn’t know that Eurpe and America did so much damage in China back then. Awful. Why don’t this teach this in school. Greed is horrible. We should learn how awful it is.

    • I agree but the foundation of capitalism is built on greed. Why should corporate America shoot itself in the foot—unless it brings them a profit. What happened in China can happen anywhere when greed is involved.

  2. Jamey m says:

    Woa, the British and French (with some help from a few other democratic countries) really did a number on China. No wonder the Communists won.

  3. Y Chan says:

    Sure go ahead.

    Father Matteo Ricci was an Italian, came to China 400 years ago, first landed in Macao, then went to Hong Kong and Guang Dong for several years. So, he spoke fluent Cantonese rather than Manderin !!

    At first, he studied Buddhism and poised as a Buddhist monk, dressed like one and talked like one when he tried to introduced Christianity to the Chinese people. But it proved to be ineffective because he found that to gain trust from the Chinese Emperor, he must know Confucianism more.

    Through the study of Confucianism, he was able to get into the Imperial Court and appointed as something like a “Director of Science”–the first Westerner holding a high position in the Chinese Government.

    The most important thing about Father Ricci is that he treated Chinese culture and religions ON AN EQUAL BASIS as he introduced Christianity to China, whilst the British missionaries (Rev. Robert Morrison, Protestants) looked down on China as a land of barbarians to be “saved” as they came ashore with gunboats and opium.

    You should be able get a lot of information about Father Ricci on the internet.

  4. Y Chan says:

    You may want to be more specific when using the word “Christianity” in your article.

    In the English language, the word “Christianity” usually refers to the hundreds of religions that are based on Jesus as their Saviour, such as Catholics, Anglicans, Seven Day Adventists, United Church, and even the Mormons. However, to the Chinese people, the words “Catholicsm ” and “Christianity” seem to refer to two different religions which is wrong. The translation got lost somewhere.

    In fact, different Christian sects came to China in different times with different techniqnes. The Catholics first came to China under Father Matteo Ricci around 1582 WITHOUT any weapons nor gunboats. All he brought was the Bible and scientific knowledge and thus gained the respect of all Chinese people even today.

    Well of course there were disputes between China and the Vatican (known as “ceremonial conflict”) which escalated into diplomatic level. But by and large they had not played a large role in the partial colonization of China.

    Actually religious exchange happened both ways. Whilst the Jesuits brought Christianity to China, they also introduced Taoism, Buddhism and Confusicism to Europe, because Father Ricci studied and translated many Chinese texts and sent them back to the Vatican.

    On the other hand, the Protestants did came to China under the backup of gunboats and opium. The first Protestant missionary was lead by Robert Morrison of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. He pioneered the translation of the Bible into Chinese. He actually was hired by the notorious British East India Company which traded opium in China.

    Therefore Chinese historians usually give a much higher repect to Father Matteo Ricci than to Rev. Rebert Morrison. Today, as the sun had set in the once powerful British Empire, Rev. Morrison had largely been forgetton by most Chinese people.

    • Y Chan,

      I would like to take this comment and post it as a guest post to this Blog where more people will see it. Is that okay? I’ve read about Father Matteo Ricci and considered writing a historical fiction novel of his time in China. I’ve seen texts written in Mandarin (at a large multi-story bookstore in Shanghai) of Ricci but would like to know more of his life in China in detail written in English. Do you know if Ricci kept a journal and if so was it translated into English?

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