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The History of Orthodoxy in China is recent when compared to that of the Orthodox Church as a whole. While there is archaeological evidence of Christianity reaching western China in the seventh and eighth centuries in the form of the heretical Nestorian form, and even earlier speculative evidence to as early as the first to third centuries, historically the beginnings of Orthodox Christianity in China is traced from the seventeenth century.

The Beijing Mission, the earliest of all the foreign missions of the Russian Orthodox Church, was founded at a time when the Qing dynasty in China was conducting an isolationist policy of “closed doors.” Up to 1864, the Mission actually served as Russia’s unofficial diplomatic mission in China and was subordinated to the Holy Synod and to the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. Emperor Kangxi conferred high court ranks on all the Mission’s members and allotted state living quarters next to the Albazinian church, near the east gate of Beijing. Except for Russia, no state had representatives of its own in China under the Qing dynasty until the 1860s.[1]

The activities and achievements of the Orthodox Church, especially since the 17th century, have been understated in many historical studies of Christianity in China. By 1955, on the eve of its establishment as an independent entity, the Orthodox Church in China reached its greatest numbers. There were more than 100,000 communicants in former Russian territory in Manchuria, with 200 priests and 60 parishes, as well as monasteries and a seminary. Elsewhere, in China, there were another 200,000 Orthodox Christians and 150 parishes. These conservative figures mean that at that time, around 6% of Chinese Christians were adherents of the Orthodox Church.[2]


The First Orthodox Christians in China (1242-1651)

From Albazin to Beijing (1651-1715)

Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in China (1715-1956)

Era of Diplomatic Representatives (1715-1858)

Era of Limited Missionary Activities (1858-1896)

Era of Active Mission (1896-1956)

Autonomy and Decline (1956-1984)

Revival of the Church (1984-Present)


Presence of Orthodox Communities in China

People's Republic of China (PRC): Administrative Divisions, and Territorial Disputes.
People's Republic of China (PRC): Administrative Divisions, and Territorial Disputes.


  • Its first communities were made up of Russian immigrants concentrated in the north of the country in Albazin (near the town of Skovorodino, in Russia's Amur Oblast region.
  • A group of Albazin Russians were then re-settled in Beijing by Chinese, setting up the Russian Mission (1715-1956).
  • Dioceses were later established in Shanghai and Tianjin, in addition to those in Harbin and Beijing;
  • The regions of Inner Mongolia, Hankou, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong also had Orthodox churches.


  • In addition to Beijing, where there are about 400 faithful, and Hong Kong and Taiwan, most believers live in four main locations, still mainly of Russian origin:
  1. Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, where there is a parish dedicated to the Protective Mantle of the Mother of God.
  2. Ergun (Labdarin) in Hulunbuir Province, (Inner Mongolia).
  3. Ghulja (Yining, Kulj, Kulj-i), in Xinjiang Province, of north west China (in the Tacheng Prefecture).
  4. Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province, of north west China.[20]

Qing Dynasty Emperors (1644-1912)

See also

External Links



Origins in Albazin (Post-1685)
Russian Emigration to China (Post-1897)
Russian Emigrees from Communism (Post-1917)
Roman Catholic



Further Reading


In Chinese
Shanghai: Xuelin Publishing House (上海 : 學林出版社 : 新華書店上海发行所发行), 1986. 345 pp.
(Available through the National Library of Australia, here.)
  • Prof. YUE, Feng (岳峰). History of Orthodoxy ("Dongzhengjiao shi").
(Reviewed by A.V.Lomanov).
In Russian
  • Archpriest Pyotr Ivanov (D.Sc. (History)). From the History of Christianity in China. Russia Academy of Sciences: Institute of Oriental Studies (RAS IOS), Moscow, 2005. 224 pp.
(Book review: S. Bakonina. P. Ivanov, priest. From the History of Christianity in China. Far Eastern Affairs, No.004 Vol.35, 2007, pages: 145-149. (English).


Scholarly Historical Surveys


  1. A.S. Ipatova (Lead researcher, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences). The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing: 150 Years at the Service of the Church and Diplomacy. DIPLOMAT Monthly: Column - Diplomacy And Religion. Issue 9/2008.
  2. Dr. Kevin Baker. A History of the Orthodox Church in China, Korea and Japan. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. (Description)
  3. William C. Brumfield. Photographic Documentation of Architectural Monuments in the Siberian Republic of Buriatiia. Visual Resources. Vol. XX, No. 4, December 2004, pp. 315-364.
  4. The chapel was originally named the Nikolsky Church because of a wonderworking icon Fr. Maximus brought with him (thaumaturgical image of St. Nicolas, Bishop of Mirlikysk). However the church was consecrated in 1698 in the name of Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom.
  5. The fifth article of the treaty provided for four priests and six students to live in Peking until they felt like returning to Russia, at which time they would be replaced by a new contingent. The mission was to be supported in various ways by both countries. In return, it answered a mutual need for continuous contact between the capitals of St. Petersburg and Peking. (Eric Widmer. The Russian ecclesiastical mission in Peking during the eighteenth century. Harvard Univ Asia Center, 1976. p.4).
  6. During the periods of persecutions, Chinese converts would sometimes mask themselves as Albazinians: "...With God's help and protection, the measures of the Chinese government have not affected our Orthodox Christians of Albazinian origin: it is well known that they are Russian descendants. Thus, other Chinese and Manchurian Christians could safely go to the Church, pretending they were also Albazinians." (V.P. Petrov. Rossijskaja Duhovnaja Missija v Kitae. Victor Kamkin, 1968, p.14.)
  7. The Book of Hours (almost complete), Short Notebook of Paschal Services, the basic chants of the Twelve Feasts and the first week of Lent as well as the Bright Week and Pascha, the Psalter (translated from the Greek into the vernacular), the Paraclesis Service, the Akathist to the Mother of God, the beginning of the Service Book, the Panachida Service, the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete (both in classical language and vernacular), Russian-Chinese Dictionary of Theological and Ecclesiastical Terms. The enormous amount of work undertaken took its toll in the quality of some of the translations, which (as was discovered later) were abundant with imprecision. (Ν. Α. [Hieromonk Nikolai (Adoratsky)]. The present state and the contemporary activity of the Orthodox Spiritual Mission in China // The Orthodox Collocutor. Kazan, 1884. August. Pg. 378).
  8. According to Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyaev, the first Orthodox Bishop of China Metropolitan Innokenty (Figurovsky) was ordained to the rank of Bishop on Holy Spirit Day and count that Day also as the day the Chinese Church was established;
  9. Stephen Uhalley and Xiaoxin Wu. China and Christianity: Burdened Past, Hopeful Future. M.E. Sharpe, 2001. p.22
  10. While the Roman Catholic Church is officially banned in the country, the Chinese government demands that all Chinese "Catholics" must be loyal to the State, and that worship must legally be conducted through State-approved churches belonging to the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association", established in 1957 by the People's Republic of China's Religious Affairs Bureau to exercise state supervision over mainland China's Catholics.
  11. According to 2003 estimated statistics of the Chinese Catholic Church by China Bridge: Observations on China from the Holy Spirit Study Centre, the Church in China has 12 million Roman Catholics, 138 dioceses, 74 bishops in the official (state) Church, and 46 bishops in the unofficial (Papal) Church. The same report also says that there are 1,740 priests in the official Church and 1,000 in the unofficial Church, as well as 3,500 sisters in the official Church and 1,700 sisters in the unofficial Church.
  12. In "Onward, Christian Soldiers," an article appearing in the May 10, 2004 issue of Newsweek magazine, Chinese academics say China now has at least 45 million Christians, most of whom are Protestants. However, Western researchers put the number closer to 90 million. The article notes that there are about 6 million members of the official, government-recognized Roman Catholic Church. China's overall population is about 1.3 billion.(Newsweek)
  13. The officially declared reason for the government's non-recognition of The Orthodox Church is the government's fear that external political forces from outside nations — in this case, primarily Russia — could achieve influence within China. This places the Church to the legal status of religia-illicitata. (Encyclopedia - Chinese Orthodox Church, at Global Oneness).
  14. Geraldine Fagan. CHINA: Will Orthodox Christians soon be allowed priests?. Forum 18 News, Oslo, Norway. September 22, 2004.
  15. According to the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate.
  16. Russian Orthodox church to be set up in Beijing shortly., July 06, 2006.
  17. Aleksej II criticises China, Taiwan accepts to open a church., April 12, 2007.
  18. Patriarch Kirill meets Ye Xiaowen, China’s Religious Affairs minister., February 12. 2009.
  19. Interfax-Religion. Orthodox Church consecrated in China for first time in 50 years. 31 August, 2009.
  20. Aleksej II criticises China, Taiwan accepts to open a church., April 12, 2007.
  21. Currently there is no modern Chinese translation of the Orthodox Bible or Septuagint in use. The Chinese Union Version with traditional punctuation is a Protestant translation from the English Revised Version by C.W. Mateer, C. Goodrich, F.W. Baller, G. Owen, S. Lewis, et al, first published in 1919. 94 scholars participated in the translation (1890-1919), taking an average of 11 hours per verse; it was published in two slightly different editions -- the Shen Edition (神版) and the Shangdi Edition (上帝版) -- differing in how “God” is translated. According to Nelson Mitrophan Chin's website, when quoting from the Protestant Bible, use the Shangdi edition of the Chinese Union Version (CUV), instead of the Shen edition, as Shangdi is the preferred modern Chinese Orthodox term for God since the turn of the 20th century.