On Jesuit Missionaries in China, Feodosii Smorzhevskii (1746)

In the 1740s, Feodosii Smorzhevskii, a Russian hieromonk in Beijing, reported to his superiors on the work of Jesuit missionaries in China. Both the Russian Orthodox and Catholic missionaries attempted to navigate the labyrinthine world of the Qing imperial court. In the selection below, the Russian hieromonk reveals—in vivid detail—the precarious position of Christians in China, both for the local population and for the missionaries. These observations are excerpted from Smorzhevskii’s complete notes, as translated in English for the first time in Gregory Afinogenov’s Notes on the Jesuits in China. To learn more about the title (which contains the original Russian and Afinogenov’s translation), please visit Jesuit Sources.



15. On November 20 of the late year 1746, the aforementioned Jesuit Walter came to us at the Russian compound and said that in July of the current year in Fokien (Fujian) province, a Chinese layabout, drunk, spendthrift, and scoundrel, came to a missionary (priest) who lived there and began to ask him for a loan; the priest, having heard that he was a bad person, did not give it to him; and so he went to the governor, and reported in writing that the xiyang-ren (Westerners or Europeans) are living in these provinces, although by decree of the khan they are forbidden to come here, and they have multiplied greatly in the provinces. And that they bring silver and gold money in great quantities from their country and use them to bribe people, and purchase lots of weapons, which are sent to them and which they then sell and distribute to others; and that they take our people into their country, persuading others with constant seditious speeches to rebellion and treason. All of which the governor (who was quite unfavorable and unmerciful to the Jesuits) reported to the khan.


16. These are the words of the said Walter: that this year, in June even, in the same province, there appeared some particularly renowned and powerful bandit, who gathered to himself a tremendous number of similar people, among whom there were many converts, and they came to a city, defeated the guard, and sacked many other towns and captured them, and when the Fokien governor and zongdu sent a vast army to protect the cities, the bandits defeated them too; and then a larger force was sent and ordered to seize them, and among the captured Chinese there were many who upon being tortured turned out to be converts. And having learned of their family, rank, and hometown, they found others, and as if following a thread to a ball of yarn, they began to confiscate their homes and property, in which they found many European weapons, coins, and other things.


17. Again, these are his words: under torture many Christians gave away other Christians, and worse, even without tortures Christians give each other away. And those who were unbaptized covered up for them better and helped them. And so one of the converts, under interrogation, began to say that in such-and-such a place, which he named, there was a xiyang-ren teacher, and that he had gathered many people to him (for it was a Sunday); and having listened under the door of this bureau, one of the guards, an unbaptized man, ran to that place where the priest was and took pity on him and told him about everything; and he left everything behind there, mounted a white horse, and fled wherever his eyes were pointing.


18. The people sent to that house from the bureau found icons, crosses, and priestly vestments and other European objects (because of the churches Yongzheng had destroyed, masses were held in homes), they found European coins and weapons, saw deeds to shops and to houses, and indentures for farms, and so on, through his registers saw the servants that he had bought and seized them, and through the landlord of that house learned of everyone who had been there and arrested them; and having described that priest’s appearance, his horse, and its color, they sent to all the surrounding provinces so that he would be captured.


19. Having found out about this from somebody (maybe through a donation of gold), this priest blackened his horse with ink or soot, and traveled to Beijing by means of untraveled side roads. Along the way, he met an unbaptized Chinese of his acquaintance, who told him that it was dangerous for him to go by himself, for he would be captured; he undertook to transport him personally all the way to Beijing, and delivered him to the Shunzhimen college.


20. When he arrived, it is said, and told the Jesuits about all of this, they all gathered for a council, and decided to keep him secretly in the suburbs at their cemetery, meanwhile keeping an eye out for how events would develop.


21. When they, either themselves or through trustworthy converts, began to listen and gather information, they discovered [Walter said] that they were all being watched and surveilled by the Chinese and that a special guard had been set to watch them from afar.


21 [sic]. I [he said] came to see a sick man, and began to notice myself that from the college itself all the way to my very destination I was being followed by a man, and when I left that place he went to a duizu guardhouse. And I, noticing the surveillance, notified everyone in the college about it when I arrived, and sent one of the catechists to that house where I had gone, so that if anyone asked about who it was he could answer that a healer had come; and although this might have appeared to be a falsehood, because I am not a healer, yet I had in mind a spiritual healer rather than the physical one they meant. As soon as the catechist arrived, he noticed the guardsmen already arriving and asking questions.


22. We also observed [he said] that a very small number of converts was coming to church, because there were patrols set up everywhere near us, even though we were not given to know anything about that; we conferred with each other and agreed that none of us would leave the compound either to administer Christian sacraments or for any other reason, but that we would use for that purpose Chinese priests who were baptized and ordained, both in the city and in villages, and act through them in all ways. If the distance was short they could walk, and if it were longer they could take a simple cart halfway so as not to be recognized, and from there walk to the designated place.


23. In August of the same year [1]746, [he said] we heard that all of the city gates have decrees posted up about us, with orders to seek out and investigate with great strictness, which of the Chinese have taken up the Jesuit faith and for what purpose; and this decree prescribed the punishment to be death.



Original Source (English translation):

Smorzhevskii, Hieromonk Feodosii. Notes on the Jesuits in China, trans. and ed. Gregory Afinogenov (Boston: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2016), pg. 73-77 [15-23].

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