In the sixteenth century nothing remained of the Christian communities founded in China by the Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century and by the Catholicmonks in the thirteenth and fourteenth (see CHINA). Moreover it is doubtful whether the native Chinese population was ever seriously affected by this ancient evangelisation. For those desiring to resume the work everything therefore remained to be done, and the obstacles were greater than formerly. After the death of St. Francis Xavier (27 November, 1552) many fruitless attempts had been made. The first missionary to whom Chinese barriers were temporarily lowered was the Jesuit, Melchior Nuñez Barreto, who twice went as far as Canton, where he spent a month each time (1555). A Dominican, Father Gaspar da Cruz, was also admitted to Canton for a month, but he also had to refrain from "forming a Christian Christianity". Still others, Jesuits, Augustinians, and Fransciscans in 1568, 1575, 1579, and 1582 touched on Chinese soil, only to be forced, sometimes with ill treatment, to withdraw. To Father Valignani is due the credit of having seen what prevented all these undertakings from having lasting results. The attempts had hitherto been made haphazard, with men insufficiently prepared and incapable of profiting by favourable circumstances had they encountered them. Father Valignani substituted the methodical attack with previous careful selection of missionaries who, the field once open, would implant Christianity there. To this end he first summoned to Macao Father Michele de Ruggieri, who had also come to India from Italy in 1578. Only twenty years had elapsed since the Portuguese had succeeded in establishing their colony at the portals of China, and the Chinese, attracted by opportunities for gain, were flocking thither. Ruggieri reached Macao in July, 1579, and, following the given orders applied himself wholly to the study of the Mandarin language, that is, Chinese, as it is spoken throughout the empire by the officials and the educated. His progress, though very slow, permitted him to labour with more fruit than his predecessors in two sojourns at Canton (1580-81) allowed him by an unwonted complacency of the mandarins. Finally, after many untoward events, he was authorized (10 Sept., 1583) to take up his residence with Father Ricci at Chao-k'ing, the administrative capital of Canton.
Johann Adam Schall von Bell was born in Cologne in 1592, entered the Society there in 1611, and went to the China mission, where he was known as Tāng Ruòwàng. He was brought to Peking to work on the reform of the Chinese calendar, an apostolically important but politically delicate task. For his success, he was made mandarin and president of the Board of Mathematics, and was permitted to build the first church in the capital. The rapid increase in the number of converts that followed can be attributed at least in part to his work on the calendar reform
Schall was born in Cologne, Germany. After his early studies, he went to Rome to study for the priesthood at the Roman College (the Jesuit college in Rome) and entered the Society of Jesus in 1611. He volunteered for the missions, was ordained a priest in 1618, and entered Macao the next year. Schall remained there for over two years and participated in the defense of the city against Dutch invaders. In 1623 he was in Peking (Beijing), where he assisted Hsu Kuangch’i in reforming the Chinese calendar. From 1627 to 1630 he was assigned to Sian (Xi’an) in Shensi (Shaanxi) Province, where he studied Chinese intensively and built a new church.
Recalled to the capital to replace a confrere who was then on his deathbed, Schall compiled essays on astronomy and mathematics, which were presented to the emperor Muslim and Chinese astronomers opposed the imperial sanction of the new methods. However, Schall set up a congregation of Christians in the palace and published several religious books. When Peking fell in 1644, first to a Chinese rebel and then to the Manchus, Schall was the only Westerner in the city to protect the Christian community. He proved his skills in astronomy to Manchu officials, who entrusted him with the calendar of the new dynasty and appointed him director of the astronomical bureau. With additional honorary titles, his position at court made him the protector of the Christian missions throughout China. In 1650 he received imperial permission to build a new mission compound in the capital, later called the Nan-t’ang (Nantang), South Church.
As the Shun-chih emperor, who in his youth called Schall Ma-fa (Grandpa), turned more toward Buddhism, Muslim astronomers attacked Schall’s astronomical competence and his Christian teachings. On April 20, 1664, Schall suffered partial paralysis, such that his speech and movements were left impaired. Charged with treason and teaching false astronomy and a heterodox religion, Schall was imprisoned with three confreres, endured a state trial, and was condemned to death. An earthquake in Peking followed by a fire less than two weeks later frightened the judges, with the result that Schall and his confreres were set free. After Schall’s death, Ferdinand Verbiest, his successor at the bureau, asked for a new investigation, which led to the rehabilitation of Schall’s name and restoration of all his titles and ranks. Sources
Johann Adam Schall von Bell, Historica narratio de initio et progressu missionis Societatis Jesu apud Sinenses (1665; repr, Historica relatio de ortu et progressu fidei orthodoxae in regno Chinansi permissionarios Societatis Jesu ab anna 1581 uqsue ad annum 1669, 1672). Rachel Attwater, Adam Schall: A Jesuit at the Court of China (1962); H. Bernard and P. Bornet, Lettres et memoires d’Adam Schall, S.J., relation historique (1942); R. Malek, ed., Johann Adam Schall 400th Anniversary Volume (1997); Louis Pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jesuites de l’ancienne mission de Chine (1932-1934; repr., 1975), pp. 162-170 (contains a list of Schall’s Chinese works); A. Vath, Johann Adam Schall von Bell: Missionar in China, Kaiserlicher Astronom und Ratgeber am Hofe von Peking, 1592-1666 (1933; repr., 1991).