Wangfujing Cathedral

On August 17, 2011, in Beijing, Featured China Stories, by Jack Li

Perhaps when you’re in holiday in Europe you would visit the world famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the countless sacred sites in Spain, but did you ever imagine yourself visiting a notorious cathedral in China? If you assumed the answer was no, then be prepared for a surprised. The Wangfujing Cathedral, also known as the St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a must-see when you travel to Beijing. There are many essential China Tours and Wangjufing Cathedral (pictured below) is worth a visit.

This beautiful piece of old architecture stands tall in Downtown Beijing, near Wangfujing. The church is known by locals as ‘Dongtang’ which means ‘East Cathedral.’ It was first build in 1653 and was officially opened by the Italian Jesuit Father Lodovico Buglio. Over the centuries, several Earthquakes and Wars gradually destroyed the Cathedral. It was then rebuilt in 1904 into a more Romanesque architectural style. The 20th century saw the Cathedral developing into an iconic symbol of Christianity in China. Today, there is a large concrete plaza outside the building, which has become a popular skateboarding location in Beijing.

When it was built, it became the 2nd Catholic Church in Beijing. The mission housed well-recognized members of the Catholic community such as Johann Adam Scholl von Bell. Other missionaries such as Ferdinand Verbiest and Giuseppe Castiglione served in this glorious place of worship for years. You can also see some traditional Catholic art in the Church. Paintings by Giuseppe Castiglione are spread out around the building. After the Cultural Revolution, it was used as a primary school. It progressively became a unique cultural site in the capital.

Religion, like any other country in Asia, is an interesting concept in China. Shenism-Taoism and Buddhism remain the most popular religions in China, representing 30% and 11% of the population respectively. Other religions include Islam (1% of the population) and Christianity (4%). It is estimated that roughly half of the population are either agnostic or atheist. Naturally, theses statistics vary. Nonetheless, Christians are definitely a minority and thus, the Wangfujing Cathedral serves its purpose as a site just as much as a place of worship for local Catholics.

There are three other famous churches in Beijing alone, all known after the region they are situated in. As noted earlier, Wangfujing Cathedral is known as ‘Dontang’, which means ‘East Cathedral.’ Locals know Xizhimen Church as ‘Xintang’, which means ‘West Church.’ The third main Cathedral in Beijing is the Xishiku Cathedral, known as ‘Beitang,’ the North Cathedral. The South Cathedral (Nantang) is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in Beijing, established in 1603; it was later developed into a Baroque styled building.

So when you come to China, of course you’ll want to see the Forbidden City or the Great Wall first, but if you are into architecture, history and religion, you must visit some of the Cathedrals that this city has to offer. Most Beijing Hotels will offer assistance and advice for visits to these sites.


Jack Li

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