Visiting the Getty Research Institute

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Missions & Temples: Religious Exchange

Due to its large size, its multi-ethnic population, and its role in cultivating historically significant trade routes, China has long been a place of religious diversity.

Buddhism, brought from India, joined with the native philosophical traditions of Taoism and Confucianism to form the three teachings (sanjiao) central to Chinese culture. Meanwhile, the worship of household deities, the veneration of ancestors, and the adherence to lunar New Year traditions continued to play a vital role in daily life. Islam also had a significant presence in China beginning as early as the Tang dynasty (618–907).

Anglican Church, Shamian Island

The Jesuits, members of a Catholic religious order, were among the earliest Western missionaries to establish a strong base in China in the late-16th century, initially in southern trading centers such as Macao and later as scientific and artistic advisors at the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644–1911) imperial courts. They were followed by an early-19th-century wave of Protestant missionary activity. Among other activities, the Christian missions provided opportunities for Chinese to experience photography firsthand.

Made for projection, these slides formed part of a collection of more than 500 images made by Michel de Maynard, a Franciscan missionary who, during the last days of the Qing dynasty, lived in Shanxi Province, where he recorded events related to the 1911 revolution and the birth of the Chinese republic.

Unusual for capturing everyday life and current events, the slides also reproduce personal documents that indicate Maynard was granted permission to preach, buy a horse, and rent a field. He probably took these images not only to document China, but also to illustrate the influence of missionary work in lectures he gave after he returned to France.