Church of China
The Chinese Orthodox Church was an autonomous Orthodox church in China. Before the Cultural Revolution it is estimated as having twenty thousand members.
A mission from the Assyrian Church of the East arrived in China in 635, and is commemorated in the Nestorian Stele of Xi'an.
Orthodoxy arrived in China, via Siberia, in 1685. In that year, the Kangxi Emperor resettled the inhabitants of the Russian border towns he had captured in China. Maxim Leontiev, a priest who went with them, dedicated the first Orthodox church in Beijing. In the first century-and-a-half of its presence in China, the church did not attract a large following. It is said that in 1860 there were not more than 200 Orthodox in Beijing, including the descendants of the naturalized Russians.
In the second half of the 19th century, however, the Orthodox Church made bigger strides. The Spiritual Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in Beijing was blessed with scholarly and religious clergy. Numerous translations into Chinese of religious publications were made.
The mission published four volumes of research in Chinese studies in the 1850s and 60s. Two clerics became well-known for scholarship in the subject, Father Yakiuf Bichurin, and the Archimandrite Palladius, who also compiled a "very valuable" dictionary.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900, an anti-Western and anti-missionary uprising in China, saw violent attacks on Chinese converts to Christianity. The Orthodox Chinese were among those put to the sword, and in June every year the 222 Chinese Orthodox, including Father Mitrophan, who died for their faith in 1900 are commemorated during the upheavals as remembered on the icon of the Holy Martyrs of China. In spite of the uprising, by 1902 there were 32 Orthodox churches in China with close to 6,000 adherents. The church also ran schools and orphanages.
106 Orthodox churches were opened in China by 1949. In general the parishioners of these churches were Russian refugees, and the Chinese part was about 10,000 persons. The "cultural revolution" destroyed the young Chinese Orthodox Church almost totally.
The government of the People's Republic of China extends official recognition to five religions communities (Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism) but not to Orthodox Christianity. The major political obstacle is the government's fear that external political forces from outside nations—in this case, primarily Russia—could achieve influence within China.
Several Orthodox congregations, mainly of elderly individuals, continue to meet in Beijing and northeast China (in Heilongjiang and elsewhere), with, apparently, the tacit consent of the government. As of 2005 there was one priest; however, a number of Chinese nationals are currently studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia, with the intent of returning to China to serve in priestly ministry.
The former Orthodox church in Shanghai is currently being used as a restaurant.
Meanwhile, as of the early 21st century, the church operates freely in Hong Kong (where the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sent Metr. Nikitas (Lulias)) and Taiwan (where Hieromonk Jonah (Mourtos) leads a mission church).
Nominally Orthodox minorities in China
Although many of them have adopted Lamaism, which is the mainstream form of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, the Evenkis of both the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China are a nominally Orthodox Christian people. Along with their Even cousins and a few other tribes in Siberia or in China, they are some of the only Asiatic peoples who nominally practice Orthodox Christianity, which they had voluntarily (as opposed to being coerced to do so) adopted during contacts from Russian expansion into Siberia. There are also around 3,000 Evenks in neighbouring Heilongjiang Province.
Orthodox Christianity is also practiced by the ethnic Russian minority in China.