In 1988, following the Silk Road from Xi’an deep into the Shaanxi Province countryside, we discovered this small village of solid mud-brick homes, well-manicured dirt roads and an impressively large, five-spired Catholic church in the Gothic style. As a single church bell rang, women and children happily walked up the main road to mass. Of course, I’d seen Catholic churches in Chinese cities, many partially in ruins, some closed and undergoing renewal. But this seemed extraordinary: a living example of piety and remote local prestige, and what China scholars and Catholic authorities had referred to as ‘the fifth evangelisation’.
As you entered the village, you couldn’t miss the happy medium on the wall: ‘Family planning is glorious!’