Jesuits, Women and Domestic Christianity in Early Modern China

This talk will discuss the connections between Jesuits, women and domestic worship in seventeenth-century China. Women have long played a marginal role in narratives of the Jesuit China mission. Following Jesuit narratives, historians have focused their attention mainly on activities based in the semi-public spaces of Jesuit residencies and churches when investigating early modern Chinese Christianity. However, in order to gain insights into Christian women’s devotional lives in China, it is necessary to shift the attention to the spaces that Chinese Confucian thinking associated with the female gender: the household. The talk will start with a review of the Jesuits’ view of Chinese women. It will show how the missionaries’ accommodation strategy had important – and probably unintended – side-effects for their masculinity, and how this prompted them to adjust their behaviour towards women. It will then turn to the household as a devotional space and argue that it was an important site of female religiosity and worship. Finally, the talk will examine Christian women’s domestic religiosity. It will focus on one particular case, namely the home of the eminent Xu family of Shanghai, to show how genteel Christian women in Jiangnan organized their religious life in seventeenth-century China.