N° 29
Daqin jingjiao liuxing zhongguo bei

Tang Dynasty, 781
Plaster cast, early 20th century
H: 279 cm
Inv. , gift of Fritz Holm, 1921
Paris, National Museum of Asian Arts - Guimet

The dimensions of this plaster cast in Paris are the same as those of the limestone block of the original stele, which stands on a massive tortoise at Beilin in Xian. The stele is surmounted by a rounded pedimen bearing the title of the monument, Daqin jingjiao liuxing zhongguo bei, Memorial of the propagation in China of the luminous religion from Daqin. A cross with flared arms is placed above the inscription. A large pearl with intertwined dragons whose bodies are covered with scales is sculpted on the upper part, while 1756 characters and some 70 words in Syriac script are inscribed on the lower part.

The text opens with a long theological exposé whose vocabulary is drawn from multiple sources, including Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. It invokes Genesis, the cross and the baptism before referring to God as "Veritable Majesty," a Byzantine form. There follows a tribute to a succession of great Christian missionaries of the Tang Empire, commencing in 635, date of the arrival of the Persian Aluoben, and continuing to the day of the erection of the monument.

Propagation of the Nestorian faith was made possible by the benevolent attitude of the emperors. The Holy Scriptures were authorised as soon as they were translated by an imperial edict dating from the summer of 638. The Nestorians constructed a monastery in the Yining quarter of Chang'an and 21 priests were assigned there.

Recognition by Taizong (627-649) was soon followed by that of Gaozong (658-683), and a number of monasteries were founded. After a dark period corresponding to the reign of the empress Wu Zetian, Xuanzong (712-755) and his successors lavished their favours on the faith until Sunday, February 4, 781: this was the date of the inauguration of the stele erected by Jingjing, whose Syriac name was Adam and who bore the titles of chorévêque and papash of Chinistan.

The stele was found near Zhouzhi between 1623 and 1625. Zhang Gengyu, a disciple of Ricci, realised the importance of the inscription, which was published shortly thereafter. The stele was moved to the Buddhist temple Chongren, built on the site of the old Nestorian monastery in the Yining quarter. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the date when this cast was made, the stele was finally transferred to Beilin.

Jean-Paul Desroches