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The Many Faces of Asian Mary in Asia and the World


A Panel at the AAS-in-Asia Conference

Kyungpook National University, June 24-27, 2023


This panel investigates different yet comparable forms of the Virgin Mary that have been represented, documented, and commemorated by Asian Catholics in modern times. Specifically, Song discusses the historical factors and distinct Madonna portraits bearing mixed features of Mary and Empress Dowager Cixi, with which he unfolds how Chinese Catholics venerated Mary on their own terms in a transitional society. Wang provides an anthropological account of localized Chinese Marian culture in Shanxi, which has been continually developed by local Catholic devotees through visual, textual, and oral media. Situating her study in 20th-century Korea, Han traces the historical roots of Mother Mary and expounds on how Korean Catholics venerated her as their patron through the periods of Japanese colonial rule and the Second Council of Vatican. Ninh takes a sociological angle to explore the Catholic diaspora as seen in the intriguing two-way motion of Our Lady of Lavang – the French model in Vietnam over the 20th century and the Vietnamese model becoming popular beyond Asia at the turn of the 21st century. Lastly, Chambon tackles the complex public display of Marian images and statues in Singapore, which are mobilized, negotiated, and reconciled to voice many entangling theological, ethnic, and gender concerns across Catholic networks. In analyzing the varied forms of Asian Mary in Asia and the world, these interdisciplinary studies further bring forth broader questions on unity and diversity of modern Catholicism as well as its globalization and localization in historical, cultural, and social dimensions.


Gang Song


Between Holy Mother and Empress Dowager:

The Re-making of Marian Imagery in Early 20th-Century China


This paper examines a distinct set of hybrid style Madonna portraits made by Chinese Catholic artists at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a time when Catholic missions in China turned to a different direction in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, and the Manchu court presided by Empress Dowager Cixi started to embrace Western culture in her last attempt to recover the Qing regime. These factors incidentally prepared an opportunity for the Catholic artists at the Tushanwan Art Workshop in Shanghai to experiment new modes and new styles of Marian iconography. Taking a closer look at the image-making process, which has been largely ignored or misinterpreted in previous research, I will discuss how these artists undertook sophisticated treatments in two subsequent Madonna portraits. They merged various parts of classical Marian icons and the most recent photograph/portrait images of Cixi to fashion an innovative synthetic artwork crossing the boundaries of Chinese and Western, religious and secular, and church and state. The imagery offered Chinese Catholics a preferred channel to express their devotional energy and sensibility towards Mary, particularly for her salvific power in times of adversity. While a duplicate of the first portrait debuted in the 1904 World’s Fair at St. Louis, the second portrait was officially accepted as the model image of Our Lady of China in modern times. The portraits became effective media for Chinese Catholics to represent, document, and preserve collective memory of the Holy Mother featuring a mixed Western and Chinese appearance.

Xintong Wang

Our Lady in Veneration and Commemoration:

Chinese Marian Devotions in Catholic Communities in Shanxi


Shanxi Province in northern China is known for a long history of Catholic missions and many pilgrimages dedicated to Mary. This paper draws visual and oral materials collected from field visits to the major churches in Shanxi and examines a set of Marian images and venerations in local Catholic communities. With reference to relevant Western and Chinese archives, I will analyze the stylistic features, iconographic symbolisms, and religious functions of popular Marian images, including, for example, the Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Interestingly, some of these images are placed in traditional style Chinese palaces and pavilions. The seemingly incompatible juxtaposition suggests a complex mentality of Shanxi devotees under the dual influence of the universal Catholic church and native Chinese culture. Meanwhile, exemplary narratives from interviews with Catholic priests and ordinary believers will be analyzed to reveal their doctrinal understandings and personal experiences of Mary as the Queen Mother of all Christians. They have been told and retold by Catholics in Shanxi to document and consolidate their memories of Mary through generations. Using the analytical tools from visual studies and oral history, I will reconstruct an intriguing historical process in which one may see how modern Chinese Catholics relate themselves to Mary and (re)interpret her imagery, thereby exhibiting Chinese Marian devotions not only as an indigenous religious phenomenon but also an integrated part of the global spread of Catholic Christianity.

Jieun Han

Mother Mary in Modern Korea: Historiographical Roots


When Korea was liberated from the Japanese colonial rule on August 15, 1945, the Day of the Assumption of Mary, many Korean Catholics firmly believed that Mother Mary has been at work in Korean history. In response to the request of Bishop Laurent-Joseph-Marius Imbert (1797–1839) to make Mary of the Immaculate Conception the patron of the newly established Korea Vicariate Apostolic, Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831–1846) gave his permission on the condition that the Korean Church should keep Joseph as a patron saint with Mary. During the time of severe persecution, early Korean Catholics showed a strong devotion to Mother Mary as the rescuer of martyrs and protector of those in hardship. As the French missionaries transferred the leadership to the first native Korean Bishop Paul No Kinam (1902–1984) in 1942 in order to prevent the church from Japanese domination, the localization of Mother Mary in sculptures and icons began. Since Pope Paul VI proclaimed that Mother Mary was the mother of Church as well as the mother of God after the Second Council of Vatican, the resulting documentation saw surging motherly image of Mary. Given this context, this paper explores the development of Korean Marianism in modern periods, focusing particularly on the memory and preservation of both global and local images of Mary.

Thien-Huong Ninh

Our Lady of Lavang: Mediation of the Vietnamese Catholic Diaspora in the U.S., Germany, and Israel


Since her first apparition in 1798 in Vietnam, Our Lady of Lavang has been associated with miracles within the contexts of martyrdom and other life-threatening experiences, from curing illnesses to protection from war. In 1901, a French Bishop used the French model of Our Lady of Victories to (incongruously) represent Mary with her Vietnamese name – “Our Lady of Lavang.” It was not until 1998, upon the 200th commemoration of her first apparition, that this statue was replaced. This time, Mary was represented as a Vietnamese woman, an image created by a Vietnamese American Catholic sculptor and funded by the Vietnamese Catholic refugee community in California. Although this Vietnamese image is a recent creation and the Vatican has not confirmed the historical accuracy of Our Lady of Lavang’s apparition, it has become popular in the world. This paper traces the globalization and transplantation of the Vietnamese-looking Our Lady of Lavang in the U.S., Germany, and Israel. It is the only Asian form of Mary that has become global. Throughout Asia, within the walls of parishes and confines of loose Catholic networks, there are local forms of Mary but none has catapulted to the global scale as Our Lady of Lavang. This Vietnamese mediation of Marianism is not simply another ethnic reiteration of Mary. This paper argues that Our Lady of Lavang is the emblem of the deterritorialized nation of the Vietnamese Catholic diaspora.

Michel Chambon

Displaying Mary in Singapore and Negotiating Catholic Unity and Diversity


This paper explores and questions the public display of images and statues of Mary that one can find across a variety of Catholic sites in Singapore. By identifying artistic patterns, the specific use of space, the display of symbols with cosmological, ethnic, and gender significance, as well as the highly formalized types of Mary which are institutionally recognized and promoted, we take this religious figure as an indicator to explore the composite and moving nature of Catholic networks, identities, and theologies in Singapore. While various Catholic actors emphasize the importance of unity and communion within ecclesial entities, the ways in which Mary is exhibited and venerated suggest that historical differentiation between competing clerical structures, ethnic identities, and dissonant theologies remain vivid today. Therefore, in dialogue with the vast tool kit of devotions offered by Catholicism, I argue that Mary stands as an essential figure not only to document Singaporean Catholicism in motion, but as a strategic ally mobilized by religious actors to mitigate their competing and contradictory desires. Through the highly regulated and negotiated public display of Mary, Singaporean Catholics find ways to reconcile their search for change and preservation, unity and diversity, universalism and patriotism, and autonomy and submission.

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