IN COUNTRYSIDE AND CITY
According to the Counter Reformation model of Catholic life that was seemingly adhered to by most of the French Jesuits who established Gong Shang College, church authority should ideally be intertwined with all the major social institutions that constituted a Catholic's environment. The church should control the major schools and newspapers, it should patronize the arts, it should be connected with the political authorities, and it should have enough economic power to sustain its cultural institutions and to be the chief source of help for the poor and sick. Catholic missions in rural China tried to realize this "integralist" ecclesiastical vision. It was not enough to convert individuals. The church had to build whole social environments that were under the authority of ecclesiastical hierarchies. So missionaries strove to create whole villages, or at least whole lineages within a village, that were Catholic. And when they were really successful, as the Jesuits were in Xian county, they created a whole region in which all major aspects of life were dominated by the Catholic Church. Even today, in Xian county almost every village is marked by a church spire. Before the Communists took power, almost all elementary schooling was in church-run schools, health care was provided by a Catholic clinic, and economic aid in time of disaster was provided by church-dispensed charity. Local political leaders were Catholics. Local social life revolved around the church. Catholics were under great pressure to marry fellow Catholics. Church festivals provided the most important community activities. To be a Catholic, the people of Xian county say even today, is to live in the "world of God."
In Xian county, the boundaries of that world were fixed by a natural rural social ecology. It was easier to meet most of one's economic, social, and cultural needs by dealing with fellow Catholics than with non-Christians. The major marketing center for the region was in the town of Zhangzhuang, which was also the site of an imposing cathedral. In the compound surrounding this cathedral were concentrated the major cultural and social welfare institutions of the county, all under church control: a seminary, a famous Catholic library, a convent, a clinic, elementary and middle schools, and a Catholic cemetery renowned for its excellent fengshui. These physical spaces were infused by the rhythms of religious time, marked by daily prayer and Sunday Sabbath observance, by great periodic community
Inevitably, though, when the church sought a Catholic presence in a city like Tianjin, the boundaries between church and world could not be defined in such a clear way. But for all the surface differences between the Catholic life centered on the Jesuit college in Tianjin and the villages of Xian county, there was a fundamental similarity in understanding of Catholic community. As in the villages of Xian county, the Jesuits strove to build a world of God in which as many aspects of life as possible were assumed under the authority of the church. Catholic students, future leaders of society, would study together in a school controlled by the Fathers, live together in dormitories supervised by the Fathers, worship together in a school chapel at mass celebrated by the Fathers. But the boundaries between this world and the non-Christian world were perforce more ambiguous. The Catholic students would have to attend classes together with non-Christian students, for it was neither economically nor politically possible to construct a college solely for Catholic students. The college itself would have to be part of a larger system of non-Catholic academic institutions. To survive and flourish it had to interact constantly with non-Catholic political authorities and to gain the support of non-Catholic social elites. As a modern institute of higher learning it had to teach about ideas in natural and social science, not to mention literature and philosophy, that had been developed by non-Catholics. The challenge faced by the Jesuits was how to keep this non-Catholic social and cultural environment from loosening the grip of church authority on the fledgling urban Catholic community. In other words, how would they maintain the boundaries between the educated Chinese Catholic community and the non-Catholic community? The nature of this challenge was constantly changing as the political and social environment of the college changed.
The twenty-seven-year history of the Jesuit college in Tianjin can be divided into three periods, each characterized by a different way of maintaining the boundaries between this part of the Chinese Catholic community and the non-Christian world. From internal documents written by the French Jesuits for their superiors and supporters, we get a sense of how they tried to preserve their school's Catholic identity by building different kinds of barriers between church and world to adapt to different circumstances. From school yearbooks and catalogues, we can get a sense of how the Jesuit attempt to preserve a Catholic identity influenced the ways in which both Catholic and non-Catholic members of the school—students, faculty, and alumni—constructed their Chinese identities.