Catholicism was first introduced to the Chinese people in the late 13th Century by Italian Franciscan priest John of Montecorvino. He built two churches, began translating the New Testament and Psalms, and converted between 30,000 believers by the beginning of the 14th Century. For the next 300 years, and through the hard work of Jesuit and other Roman Catholic missionaries, conversion efforts continued.
It was a permanent mission established at the beginning of the 17th Century by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci that gave Catholicism a true and lasting foothold in China. His groundbreaking efforts to successfully blend and reconcile Catholicism with the teachings of Confucianism helped expedite the process.
By the 20th Century (i.e., December 1939) Pope Pius XII offered a decree that Chinese customs were not superstitious (e.g., honoring dead relatives). This had been a concern in past centuries and one that had alienated many Chinese from the Catholic faith, because the Vatican had seen the honoring of the dead, for example, as merely a religious exercise that conflicted with Catholic dogma (i.e., authoritative principles and doctrines). By 1943 China had established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and after World War II, there were about 4 million Catholics (i.e., one percent of the population). By 1949, there were several-thousand missionaries, priests, and dozens of dioceses, and archdioceses in existence to serve the faithful.
However, everything changed when Communism began its rule in 1949. This meant that the Chinese were first expected to be loyal to the state and to renounce any loyalty to the Holy See. Those who did not had to fear imprisonment. Therefore, Catholicism was officially banned and could only be practiced in state-approved churches (i.e., those that belonged to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association). By the beginning of the 21st Century statistics indicate that there are about 5 million Catholics who belong to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and about 8 million (i.e., underground Catholics) loyal to Rome.
The Roman Catholic Church in China is still considered illegal because its government believes that its people cannot be loyal to China and still hold the beliefs, ideas, and morals associated with Rome (i.e., the Vatican). Despite this, there are about 70,000 people baptized annually into the Catholic faith. There are also about twelve seminaries in China that have a combined enrollment of about 2,000 men.