St. Joseph's Church, Beijing

Coordinates: 39°54′57″N 116°24′21″E / 39.91583°N 116.40583°E / 39.91583; 116.40583
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St Joseph's Church, Beijing
大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese)
Wangfujing Cathedral (Dongtang)
The facade of a Romanesque-style cathedral with three spires
St Joseph's Church, Beijing 大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese) is located in Beijing
St Joseph's Church, Beijing 大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese)
St Joseph's Church, Beijing
大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese)
St Joseph's Church, Beijing 大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese) is located in China
St Joseph's Church, Beijing 大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese)
St Joseph's Church, Beijing
大聖若瑟堂 (in Chinese)
39°54′57″N 116°24′21″E / 39.91583°N 116.40583°E / 39.91583; 116.40583
LocationWangfujing, Beijing
DenominationRoman Catholic
StatusParish church
Founded1653; 370 years ago (1653)
Founder(s)Lodovico Buglio
Functional statusActive
StyleRomanesque Revival
Completed1904; 119 years ago (1904)
ArchdioceseRoman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing
ArchbishopJoseph Li Shan

St. Joseph's Church (simplified Chinese: 大圣若瑟堂; traditional Chinese: 大聖若瑟堂), commonly known as Wangfujing Church (Chinese: 王府井天主堂) or Dongtang (Chinese: 東堂, the East Cathedral), is an early 20th-century Romanesque Revival church that is one of the four historic Catholic churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing. It is located in the Dongcheng District of the city at 74 Wangfujing Street.[1]

The construction of the church was finished in 1655 by Jesuit missionaries. Due to renovations and reconstruction, the current structure dates back to 1904. The church is the second oldest in Beijing after the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.[2]


Original structures (1653–1900)[edit]

The congregation was first established in 1653 by Father Lodovico Buglio, an Italian Jesuit astronomer and theologian who worked as a missionary to China.[3][4] The land the first church building was constructed on was donated to the religious order by the Shunzhi Emperor.[5] At the time, the Jesuits were the only group of people from Europe given permission to reside in the capital city, on account of their insight into astronomy.[6] As a result, the church also served as the residence of Buglio and another fellow Jesuit priest.[7]

The church underwent an extremely turbulent history.[5] An earthquake which struck Beijing in 1720 damaged the building.[1] Approximately ninety years later, the church building was obliterated by fire and the remnants that survived were destroyed as a result of the government's anti-Western sentiments and policies. The site remained barren until 1860, when British and French forces invaded Beijing as part of the Second Opium War. Thereafter, foreign missionaries, who were once again allowed into the capital, rebuilt St. Joseph's.[5] However, anti-foreign sentiment never faded away and arose once again at the turn of the century, culminating in the Boxer Rebellion. At the height of the uprising in 1900, the church building was "burned to the ground".[6]

Present-day cathedral[edit]

St. Joseph's was rebuilt in 1904 utilizing Romanesque Revival architecture, featuring pilasters and three bell towers.[7]

In 1949, Communist forces under Mao Zedong emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War.[8] The new atheistic regime broke off all diplomatic relations with the Holy See two years later,[9] and attempted to eliminate all forms of religion by either seizing or destroying churches and other places of worship.[8] St. Joseph's suffered the same fate and, in the 1950s, it was expropriated to the government, who then turned it into an elementary school.[6] The communist government further tightened their control on the Catholic Church in China by establishing the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) in 1957.[10] As a result, the church of St. Joseph's has been under the administration of the CPCA since that year and its parish priests are not recognized by the Vatican.[11]

The church was closed down altogether in 1966—the first year of the Cultural Revolution—and suffered further damage during this period of time until the end of the revolution in 1976.[1]


How to get there: take Beijing metro line no. 1 to Wangfujing station. Walk north along Wangfujing Street for 10 minutes: church is on your right.


Kilise-Beijing-Çin - panoramio.jpg

The Chinese government under Deng Xiaoping subsequently repudiated the Cultural Revolution. At the Fourth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in September 1979, a key document was tabled that evaluated the entire 30-year period of Communist rule. At the plenum, party Vice Chairman Ye Jianying declared the Cultural Revolution "an appalling catastrophe" and "the most severe setback to [the] socialist cause since [1949]."[12] The Chinese government's condemnation of the Cultural Revolution culminated in the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China, adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It stated that "Comrade Mao Zedong was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist. It is true that he made gross mistakes during the "cultural revolution", but, if we judge his activities as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes. His merits are primary and his errors secondary."[13] Furthermore, Deng briefly allowed free speech to flourish, thus permitting open and public criticism of the government to take place. Known as the Beijing Spring, this led to a universal condemnation of the Cultural Revolution throughout the country.[14]

The change in prevailing political views was favorable to St. Joseph's Church; the Beijing municipal government funded the church's restoration efforts.[2] The refurbished building reopened in 1980 for Catholic services.[7] Another significant renovation on the church was completed in September 2000.[2][5] On July 16, 2007, Fr. Joseph Li Shan—the then-parish priest of St. Joseph's—was elected as the new Archbishop of Beijing by the CPCA.[15] Although no official Vatican statement was issued, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his approval of the appointment, making Li one of the few bishops in China to have the support of both the government and the Holy See.[16][17]


St Joseph (east cathedral) Wangfujing IMG 4971.jpg

The church of St. Joseph was built in a Romanesque Revival style[7] and is noted for its mixture of European and local Chinese features in its design.[2] A plaque attached to the outside wall details the history of the church.[11] Surrounding outside the church is a large square and park that is 1.2 hectares.[2] It contains a statue of the Madonna and Child.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

The Church of St. Joseph's appears in Cixin Liu's novel The Three Body Problem, where the three Romanesque vaults mirror the nature of the physics conundrum.[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Harper, Damian; Eimer, David (January 1, 2010). Beijing. Lonely Planet. p. 76. ISBN 9781742204031. Retrieved February 1, 2013. st joseph's church is also known locally as the East Cathedral.
  2. ^ a b c d e "China reports renovation of Catholic church in Beijing". Xinhua News Agency. September 7, 2000. Retrieved February 1, 2013. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Pagani, Catherine (2001-10-01). Eastern Magnificence & European Ingenuity | Clocks of Late Imperial China. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press. p. 213. ISBN 9780472112081. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  4. ^ Anderson, Gerald H. (1999). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 99. ISBN 9780802846808. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Lin-Liu, Jen; Pham, Sherisse (February 18, 2010). Frommer's Beijing. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 131. ISBN 9780470616154. Retrieved February 5, 2013. wangfujing church.
  6. ^ a b c Bernstein, Richard (February 6, 1983). "Around The Corner, An Ageless China". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d Yuan, Yuan (May 1, 2008). "Discovering Beijing: Street Life". Beijing Review. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Wiseman, Paul (April 5, 2005). "Chinese Catholics caught between churches". USA Today. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  9. ^ Bradsher, Keith (April 30, 2006). "China Installs Bishop as Vatican Objects". The New York Times. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  10. ^ Lopez-Galo, Pedro (January 29, 2013). "'Old celestial empire' still surprises Westerners". The B.C. Catholic. Archived from the original on January 4, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Roberts, Rosemary (July 1, 2005). "China Has Aura Of Openness". Greensboro News & Record. p. A11. Retrieved February 14, 2013. (subscription required)
  12. ^ Poon, Leon. "The People's Republic Of China: IV". History of China. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  13. ^ Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (June 27, 1981). "Comrade Mao Zedong's Historical Role and Mao Zedong Thought—Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China (abridged)". Chinese Communist Party. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  14. ^ Berryman, Elizabeth (June 2, 2009). "Leader Profile: Chinese Patriarch Deng Xiaoping". PBS. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  15. ^ "Beijing Catholics elect Dongtang priest as new bishop". Catholic News Service. July 17, 2007. Archived from the original on August 17, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  16. ^ "China installs Pope-backed bishop". BBC News. September 21, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  17. ^ Bodeen, Christopher (September 21, 2007). "Vatican hopeful about new Beijing bishop". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  18. ^ Liu, Cixin (2014). The Three Body Problem. Tor Books. pp. Chapter 9. He sat in front of St. Joseph's Church at Wangfujing. In the pale white light of dawn, the church's Romanesque vaults appeared as three giant fingers pointing out something in space for him.


  • Pagani, Catherine (2001). Eastern Magnificence & European Ingenuity: Clocks of Late Imperial China. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-11208-1.