Documentary focuses on an Italian missionary in Imperial China

First slide

Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit lay brother who came of age in 18th-century Italy, picked up a paintbrush for Christ, made the trek to China and became the court painter for an emperor famous for patronizing the arts. Now, paintings by Lang Shining - his adopted Chinese name - are among the Palace Museum's collection of more than a million artifacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties. It's not every Westerner whose creations are housed in Beijing's Forbidden City, but Lang Shining was not like most Westerners in China at that time.

The documentary film, "Giuseppe Castiglione in China: Imperial Painter, Humble Servant," screening April 14 at St. John Baptist De La Salle Church in Chillum, Md., follows the missionary's unusual story.

The film details how Lang Shining quickly took to court culture while also standing up for Catholicism in a land where it was not widely understood. It also focuses on his abilities as an artist notable for blending Italian and Chinese styles.

Three presentations will follow the screening. Keynote speakers will include Rose Nan-Ping Chen, president of the Rose Group for Cross-Cultural Understanding, a Richmond-based nonprofit co-sponsoring the event; Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington; and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Giuseppe Castiglione in China" was produced by American Jesuit Father Jerry Martinson of the Taiwan's Kuangchi Program Service and China's Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation. The film is the third in a series about Jesuit missionaries in China. Paul Xu Gangqui and Johann Adam Schall con Bell are the subjects of two other documentaries that have been broadcast multiple times in China and seen by millions. The films were produced in time to commemorate the Palace Museum's 90th anniversary this year.

The version of "Giuseppe Castiglione in China" screening April 14 has been abridged for an English-speaking audience. In January, the same version of the film was screened at a smaller event at Georgetown University in Washington but this event is expected to draw more members of the general public, said Carolyn Ng, one of the screening's organizers. She added that these documentaries help "the Chinese learn about the missionary motivation of these characters and their contributions to the cultural and scientific development of China."

Ng is a member of Sapientia, St. John Baptist de la Salle Church's "think" group for college students and young working professionals. (The name means "knowledge" in Latin.) Sapientia is co-sponsoring the screening with the Rose Group for Cross-Cultural Understanding.

"Something like this is rare, so we are blessed to have it so close," wrote Corinne Monogue, director of the Arlington Diocese's Office of Multicultural Ministries.

If you go

Screening at St. John Baptist de la Salle Church, 5706 Sargent Rd., Chillum at 5:30 p.m. The first talk begins at 6:15 p.m. RSVP by April 11 at

Stoddard can be reached at

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015