April 23, 2014

"The Formation and Transformation of Catholic Communities in Northern Vietnam before French Colonization"

Motonori Makino, Senior Research Fellow, Toyo Bunko; Visiting Scholar, Harvard-Yenching Institute

Since the Age of Discovery and the Counter-Reformation, Catholicism has exerted much influence on East Asian cultures—reshaping the daily life of top-level government elites and even rural commoners. While positions on Catholicism have provoked much friction in East Asia, Western religion also brought, in tandem, modern technologies and modes of thought. This talk will illuminate why Catholicism was accepted in Vietnam even if its central government continuously persecuted followers of Catholic doctrines. Groups of Catholic missionaries such as the Society of Jesus, Dominican Order and the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (La Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris; MEP) worked with local governments, causing socio-political conflict from the mid-16th century to the mid-19th century. These Catholic missions became rivals for hegemony, which resulted in the Rites Controversy during the 18th century as well as conflicts with other missions to receive the Vatican’s orthodoxy. Conflict between missions fostered suspicion of Europeans by East Asian government officials, who responded by mass expulsions. As a result, Christianity was prohibited across much of the Sinosphere, although many believers continued to worship Christ in secrecy. With the pretext of stopping government persecution of missionaries and local Christians in Vietnam, the French government invaded and then colonized the country over the latter half of the 19th century. Although this talk will focus on Vietnam, it will sometimes comparatively analyze Catholicism across Asian countries that share a common socio-cultural background of Chinese characters and Confucianism.

Vietnam’s cultural continuity with China and other East Asian nations should be taken into deeper consideration. It is interesting to note that Vietnamese catholic districts had been under Japanese administration by the Society of Jesus. The Japanese missionaries also aimed to extend into China and Japan, the latter where Catholicism had been widely accepted and then extinguished by the will of a 17th century shogun. As a response to the shogun, many Japanese believers and missionaries immigrated to Vietnam to continue practicing Christianity. Vietnamese catholic communities survived persecution through flexibility and adaptation. Thus comparative research is indispensable for parsing Catholicism’s influence as it rapidly expanded across East Asia and South-East Asia.

Motonori Makino currently holds a dual appointment in Tokyo as the Chief Curator of Toyo Bunko Museum and as a Senior Research Fellow of Toyo Bunko (The Oriental Library). He earned his B.A. in History from Gakushuin University (formerly Peers School) and then received an M.A. in Area Studies from the University of Tokyo in 1999. Before being awarded his Ph.D. at the University of Tokyo in 2009, he spent several years as a graduate student at the University of Paris VII and at the Archives of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (La Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris) while conducting documental research. The title of his Ph.D. is The Formation and Transformation of Catholic Communities in Northern Vietnam before French Colonization: under the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Tonkin of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris. Before Makino took his present post at Toyo Bunko in 2009, he worked for several years at the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records of the National Archives of Japan under the late Dr. Yoneo Ishii. As Chief Curator of Toyo Bunko Museum, Makino is interested not only in research but also in educational outreach and informational activities on Oriental Studies. 

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