The History of Orthodoxy in China is recent when compared to that of the Orthodox Church as a whole. While there is archaeological evidence of Christianity reaching western China in the seventh and eighth centuries in the form of the heretical Nestorian form, and even earlier speculative evidence to as early as the first to third centuries, historically the beginnings of Orthodox Christianity in China is traced from the seventeenth century.
The Beijing Mission, the earliest of all the foreign missions of the Russian Orthodox Church, was founded at a time when the Qing dynasty in China was conducting an isolationist policy of “closed doors.” Up to 1864, the Mission actually served as Russia’s unofficial diplomatic mission in China and was subordinated to the Holy Synod and to the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. Emperor Kangxi conferred high court ranks on all the Mission’s members and allotted state living quarters next to the Albazinian church, near the east gate of Beijing. Except for Russia, no state had representatives of its own in China under the Qing dynasty until the 1860s.
The activities and achievements of the Orthodox Church, especially since the 17th century, have been understated in many historical studies of Christianity in China. By 1955, on the eve of its establishment as an independent entity, the Orthodox Church in China reached its greatest numbers. There were more than 100,000 communicants in former Russian territory in Manchuria, with 200 priests and 60 parishes, as well as monasteries and a seminary. Elsewhere, in China, there were another 200,000 Orthodox Christians and 150 parishes. These conservative figures mean that at that time, around 6% of Chinese Christians were adherents of the Orthodox Church.