Tianjin Religious Case, a historic massacre in Qing Dynasty

Updated: 21 Jan 2011
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Tianjin Religious Case
The Tianjin Religious Case (天津教案) occurred in Tianjin in 1870. It is considered to be one of the archetypal and most important religious cases or missionary cases of the late Qing Dynasty. The incident marked the end of the comparative cooperation between foreign powers and the Tongzhi court, and adversely affected the ongoing renegotiation of the Treaties of Tianjin of 1858.

In June 1870, kidnappings (or rumours thereof) spread throughout China, with the blame frequently being attached to the Catholic missions. Local Catholic nuns had been active in bringing children into their orphanages, sometimes with the inducement of payment to their family. During 1870, the already high number of deaths at these orphanages increased through outbreaks of disease. On June 18, a kidnapper was arrested in Tianjin who claimed to have sold children to the janitor of the orphanage, which seriously raised tensions. Missionaries and foreign officials blamed local officials and gentry for stoking the tensions.

Chinese officials met with their French counterparts, who had assumed responsibility for the Catholic missions to China since the Arrow War, which led to some reduction in tensions. However, in a disputed sequenced of events on June 19, the French consul Fontanier forced his way into the yamen of the local magistrate. An angry crowd gathered, and the consul appears to have ordered his guards to fire on the magistrate. The incited crowd rioted, killing the consul and his advisor. Catholic institutions were attacked and ransacked, with 30-40 local converts and 21 foreigners killed.

French gunboats were sent to Tianjin. Reparations and reprisals were demanded by the French government. Chinese negotiations to mitigate the damage were led by the aging statesman Zeng Guofan. Sixteen Chinese were executed, though little evidence was given as to their participation in the massacre.

A Chinese mission of apology under Imperial Commissioner Chung How later sailed for France, formally apologising to the provisional French Head of State Adolphe Thiers in November 1871.
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