CBN.com - A recent discovery in central China is changing Asia's historical record. While the region has long been dominated by Buddhism, one historical record tells of a time when Christian monasteries could be found in hundreds of cities across the land.
But a new find in an old imperial city is now confirming the vital role of the Christian faith in ancient Chinese culture.
Popular belief has it that the Gospel was brought to China by Hudson Taylor and friends, but early Chinese documentation shows the Gospel was flourishing in central Asia long before the west was Christianized.
David Aikman of the Ethics & Public Policy Center said, "It reveals that the Christian presence in China in the seventh century was much larger than had hitherto been thought. There is an existing Chinese tablet indicating the presence of Nestorian Christians in China in the Seventh Century.”
That tablet is found at the Nestorian monument, discovered in the 1600's in the city of Xi'an in central China.
Ken Joseph of Tokyo's Keikyo Institute described the message found on the monument. “I'm standing here right in front of a copy of the Nestorian Monument, which tells of the great exploits of the church in the Tang Dynasty, Seventh Century,” Joseph said. “It tells about a church being in every city, in every province. And the church being requested by the government to manage the affairs of the country."
An article in the March 5th U.S. News and World Report noted a recent discovery of the oldest Christian site, dating back to AD 638 near the ancient Chinese capital of Sian.
"We did not have any evidence of, although it was always considered a possibility, a very significant Christian community complete with a church, living quarters and so forth, in that location of China. This is a major discovery," Aikman said.
The original church building, which looks somewhat like a Buddhist pagoda, is a few yards away. The people of this area verify the finding as an authentic Christian site.
The church was situated in what would have been the center of the imperial area of the Tang Dynasty. It confirms for the first time the stories that appear frequently in Chinese narratives that tell of a major church in China in the Tang Dynasty from 618 - 877 AD.
According to the book, The Cross and the Lotus by Lee Shiu Keung, in AD 635, Bishop Alopen from the church of the East began his mission in "Chang Ang," the present Xi'an.
However, early Christian tradition has it that the gospel was brought directly to Sian by the Apostle Thomas in 64 AD, but for the most part died out with the rise of Islam and the closing of the Silk Road by the people of Turkestan. Travel between the East and the West resumed when the Silk Road was reopened in AD 630.
The Tang Dynasty was a very special period in Chinese history with a broad policy of tolerance and interest in fostering foreign religions. However, with the fall of the Tang Dynasty, a period of severe persecution followed, but the church grew again in the 13th and 14th centuries.
“There is a Chinese Christian tradition, that a poem written by a Chinese Christian of the 17th Century, which is clearly a Christian poem in Chinese, may have been written actually by the Kang Shi Emperor of China who was the greatest of the Ching Dynasty emperors. Indicating that secretly, he might have been a Christian,” Aikman said.
The Keikyo Institute, a Christian museum in Tokyo, is seeking to raise a million dollars to restore this and similar sites in China and Japan. These, they say, are standing testimonies to the Gospel being the faith of their ancestors and not a foreign religion.
For more information, visit the Keikyo website.