Sunday, January 25, 2009

How the Catholics came to Qiunatong (秋那桶)

Joseph Rock makes only a passing mention of Qiunatong in his account of his travels to the 'Salwin' in the August 1926 issue of the National Geographic journal ('Through the great river trenches of Asia').

After crossing over the Sela pass from the Mekong valley and spending time at the 'last outpost of Christianity' - the French Catholic mission station/church at Bahang (Baihanluo) - he describes his encounters with the French missionaries there. He mentions 'the intrepid Father Genestier' who lived at Tjonatong (Qiunatong) and who had been driven out of the village on two occasions by murderous Tibetan lamas, angry about the incursion of westerners - and especially missionaries into the forbidden Buddhist/Lama-ist country. (Bear in mind that Tibet had just been invaded by a British-Indian force lead by Colonel Younghusband in 1904 and hundreds of Tibetans had been slaughtered by British Maxim guns).

Genestier had managed to avoid the fate of other priests in the Nujiang and Mekong valleys, who had been captured and decapitated in 1905 and had their heads displayed on sticks of the town walls at Atuntze (Deqin). Genestier had fled south into Lisu land and into soverighn Chinese territory.

The location of Qiunatong is one of the key reasons why it became a focus for Catholic missionary activity. Located just a few km south of the border with Tibet, Qiunatong was the nearest place to Tibet that the missionaries could set up shop under the protection of the then Qing Dynasty Chinese government. In response to the murders of the priests by the Tibetans in 1905, Genestier headed south and eventually arrived in Kunming - then known as Yunnan-fu, where he saw the French consul. The French consul made loud complaints and demanded action from the Chinese authorities, who obliged by sending a force of Chinese soldiers to modern day Bingzhongluo (then known as Champutong), where they razed the Tibetan Buddhist monastery to the ground and granted the Catholics some land further south at Baihanluo to build another church.

So a kind of uneasy truce was made between Tibetan Lama-ists and French Catholics in the Tibetan-Yunnan border area. And this is where Genestier spent the rest of his life - among the Nu and Lisu people of the Salween (Nu) river canyon. Interestingly, Qiunatong is a completely Nu community - there still are few if any Tibetan converts to Christianity.

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