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Delving into the archives of the Zongli Yamen—the Qing dynasty bureau that mediated conflicts between foreign missionaries, local Christians, and local communities—Alan Sweeten presents detailed accounts of interactions between Catholics and non-Catholics in the market towns and villages of Jiangxi. Sweeten pieces together a close view of tensions in the countryside, their eruption into violence, and as often, their peaceful resolution. He concludes that the sources of tension lay with day-to-day problems common throughout rural China, rather than with issues of religion per se. Although religious identity did play a role in local conflict during this forty-year period, personal or family disputes, poverty, and general alienation turn out to be equally important factors.
Earlier scholarship on urban anti-Christian incidents pointed to agitation by local elites against aggressive missionaries and the enclaving of Chinese Christians apart from their communities, yet this author's findings suggest that Catholics in rural Jiangxi were normally well integrated into their larger communities, and conflict with Catholics was more often a contest of personal interests among neighbors.