A Stone Discovered

Keevak Michael

in The Story of a Stele

Published by Hong Kong University Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9789622098954
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9789882207608 | DOI:
A Stone Discovered

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This chapter discusses the way in which Western missionaries tried to find the traces of Christianity in China even before they had arrived there at the end of the sixteenth century. One day in 1625, a group of workers accidentally unearthed a large limestone stele in the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an. An enormous black tablet about three meters high, one meter wide, and half a meter deep, the front and sides were exquisitely carved with a long inscription that included both Chinese and a Syriac script known as Estrangelo. Moreover, it shows the existence of something so apparently Western came to represent China in premodern Europe, and like the monument as a whole European readings of the cross had little to do with China as it really was. The Chinese were not seen to exist independently from Christian universal history, even if their documented past was much more ancient than that of the Christian West. It is then argued that as the stone actually became sinology, it is hardly surprising that the stele also quickly became much less important than the various answers that it seemed to provide—or not to provide.

Keywords: Western missionaries; stone; Christianity; China; Xi'an; black tablet; Estrangelo; sinology

Chapter.  10712 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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