The secret of the “Chinese” scrollThe scroll’s life story is shrouded in mystery.

At first glance, the missionary scroll from the Celje Regional Museum resembles a Chinese painting, pasted onto a silk base and with round wooden sticks at the top and bottom ends. The sticks were intended for the scroll to be kept rolled up, which was a common practice of storing paintings in China. However, the scroll is just as Chinese as it is European, and it testifies to the depth of the intellectual and artistic contacts between Europe and Asia. The three woodcut images with inscriptions in Chinese depict Catholic religious scenes, which reveals that the scroll came into being within the scope of Catholic missionary activities in China.

The scroll is just as Chinese as it is European, and it testifies to the depth of the intellectual and artistic contacts between Europe and Asia. The scroll’s life story is shrouded in mystery. The images were woodblock printed and then meticulously hand painted with watercolours, their distinct style suggesting the scroll may have been produced at the Tushanwan Jesuit workshops located on the outskirts of Shanghai. Little is known about the exact time of its production, the ways it travelled thousands of kilometres and survived so well preserved for more than a century of turbulent Slovene history.

The only hint on how old it may be is provided by the inscription on the back of the scroll. A semi-legible pencil note reads:

Mission Anstalt [unreadable] bei Shanghai Shanghai 3/5 1883 [unreadable]

The information about the “mission station” that was “near Shanghai” matches the scroll’s style and motifs, which are characteristic of the Tushanwan workshops. Unfortunately, it is not known who wrote this German note on the back of the scroll in May 1883, nor whether it was the same person who brought the scroll to Celje or its surroundings. Two rather frustrating facts contribute to the mystery. The first one is that there are no records on Slovene missionaries in China during this period. Joseph von Haas from Mozirje worked at the Austro-Hungarian consulate in Shanghai at the time, and the legacy of his widow Eleonora was partially lost after her death during World War II. The second one is that the scroll came to the Celje Regional Museum from the Federal Collection Centre as one of the objects confiscated after the war. Unfortunately, no records on its owners prior to confiscation have been found to date.

Scroll details

Zvitek Rgb En
The missionary scroll from Shanghai featuring three scenes titled (from top to bottom) The Joy of Heaven, The Death of the Righteous, and Purgatory. Tushanwan Workshop, Shanghai, China, between 1850 and 1883, available at: East Asian Collections in Slovenia, ©Celje Regional Museum

The hard-to-read inscription on the back of the scroll mentions the “mission station” near “Shanghai” and year "1883". Transcription: Mission Anstalt [unreadable] bei Shanghai Shanghai 3/5 1883 [unreadable]

The Scroll’s Origin

Xujiahui, better known in old writing as Zikawei, is an area located in the southwest of Shanghai. Its name, which literally means “the Xu family crossroad”, refers to the piece of land donated to Catholic missionaries by the most well-known early Chinese convert, the astronomer Xu Guangqi (徐光啓, 1562–1633), also known as Paul Xu.

Children from the Tushanwan orphanage were trained as illustrators and printers, and the orphanage even ran outstandingly successful painting, carving, silver, steel, and glass workshops.

The Jesuit Mission in China, established as early as the late 16th century, operated until the bull by Pope Benedict XIV was issued in 1742, refuting the admissibility of the Jesuits’ accommodation approach. Using the method of “accommodation”, the Jesuits tried to make Christian teachings more familiar and understandable to the local population by accommodating them to Chinese culture, while they also tried to adopt Chinese culture and language themselves as much as possible. The Jesuit order was dissolved by another papal bull in 1773. After its restoration in the early 19th century, the Jesuits in China focused mainly on the country’s southern parts, since missionary activity, formerly the vital part of the Jesuit Mission, had been taken over by the Lazarists in the meantime. It was during this period that Xujiahui, the Xu family estate, became the centre of the Chinese mission. The Jesuits established a printing house there, as well as the Tushanwan orphanage (written Tou-se-we in old records), a school, the St. Francis Xavier college, a novitiate, scholasticate, a museum of natural history, and an observatory.

The Tushanwan printing house, originally run by the Spanish Jesuit Juan Ferrer and his Chinese assistant Lu Bodu, moved to the Xujiahui area in the 1860s. It began to develop rapidly, especially in conjunction with the orphanage that provided many apprentices. Children from the Tushanwan orphanage were trained as illustrators and printers, and the orphanage even ran outstandingly successful painting, carving, silver, steel, and glass workshops.

Figurines from the Tushanwan workshops, which depicted life in China and were tremendously popular as souvenirs, can also be found in the collection of Alma Karlin kept by the Celje Regional Museum.

“Tourists might admire the shops or the pagoda on the other side of the river; what seems more extraordinary to me is the French Mission. It is where they embroider splendid mass cloaks and other items, and receive commissions from all over the world. Orphans that enter the convent gradually learn this art of embroidery, in which Chinese are very skilful. They embroider while still children, when they grow up, when they become husbands and wives (men embroider as well), and they only stop when their eyes become cloudy like lanterns in the rain. Some boys carve the famous Chinese cabinets from precious wood, using ancient models. The children from wealthy families also enter this convent to study ordinary school subjects, and, in times of famine, one can often find abandoned girls nearby.”

Alma Karlin, Samotno popotovanje (The Lonely Journey), Celje: Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 2006, pp. 316.

Mateo Ricci
Mateo Ricci is portrayed on the left and is accompanied by Xu Guangqi 徐光啓, known as Pavel Xu, on the right. Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata, 1667, available at: Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, ©public domain
Katoliski Verniki
Catholic believers in front of St. Mary’s Shrine of the School of St. Ignatius, Xujiahui, Shanghai, circa 1864, available at: China Mission History: Digital Archive ©public domain

Alma Karlin and the workshop

The Restoration Process

In terms of its exceptional quality and outstandingly well-preserved state, the missionary scroll ranks among the handful of such products by the Tushanwan workshops still kept in collections and museums around the world. However, it suffered quite a bit of damage due to improper handling and inappropriate storage in the past. In addition to the surface dirt accumulated on the front and back, yellowish stains of unknown origin are visible in the upper third of the scroll. There was a lot of physical damage; the edges were torn and brittle, while the scroll was fractured and folded several times across its entire width. The coloured layer was damaged at the fractures as well. Some major tears and damage were also present along the two sticks at the top and bottom of the scroll.

The conservation-restoration process was therefore a complex one. It was undertaken and completed by advising conservator and restorer Tatjana Rahovsky Šuligoj, assistant conservator and restorer Darja Harauer, and senior conservator and restorer Mateja Kotar at the Restoration and Conservation Centre of the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia.

Before the conservation and restoration procedure started, experts examined the possibilities of dry cleaning and ran tests on the painting medium’s solubility. Microscopic analysis of the fibres confirmed that the fabric used was silk. The scroll, previously stored rolled up, was first straightened with the help of a light weight, which allowed the procedure to begin. Dry cleaning followed, and after the removal of the surface impurities, the fractured spots were smoothed over.

The tears were repaired and the missing parts were substituted with suitable paper and glue using traditional manual restoration methods. Fractures in the paper and the consequent damage to the coloured layer were repaired by straightening, simultaneously hardening the coloured layer on the front and pasting strips of suitable paper to the back of the scroll. The restored scroll was straightened again by light moistening and drying using blotters and weights.

Tehnicna Risba Eng
A technical image of the missionary scroll @East Asian Collections in Slovenia

Other Sources and Information

Selected bibliography

Catherine Jami, Peter Engelfriet and Gregory Blue (ed.), Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) (Sinica Leidensia 50), Boston, MA: Brill, 2001.

William Ma, “From Shanghai to Brussels: The Tushanwan Orphanage Workshops and the Carved Ornaments of the Chinese Pavilion at Laeken Park”, in: Beyond Chinoiserie. Leiden: Brill, 2018, pp. 268–296.

Clarke Jeremy, S. J. Our Lady of China: Marian Devotion and the Jesuits, Saint Louis, MO: Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality, 2009.

Joachim Kurtz, “Messenger of the Sacred Heart: Li Wenyu (1840–1911), and the Jesuit Periodical Press in Late Qing Shanghai”, in: Cynthia Brokaw and Christopher A. Reed (ed.), From Woodblocks to the Internet: Chinese Publishing and Print Culture in Transition, circa 1800 to 2008, pp. 86–87, Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Nichols James Hastings, History of Christianity, 1650–1950: Secularization of the West, New York: Ronald Press, 1956.

Junhyoung Michael Shin, “The Jesuits and the Portrait of God in Late Ming China”, Harvard Theological Review, 107.2 (April 2014): 194–221.

Adrien von Ferscht, “The Silver Orphans of Shanghai 上海的银色孤儿”, published 7 February 2013,, 20 April 2021.

Online resources

Description and detailed photos of the missionary scroll on the VAZ website

A website with the description and photos of the missionary scroll can be found on the East Asian Collections in Slovenia (VAZ) website and in its database. The VAZ website enables access to the missionary scroll and several thousands of other East Asian artefacts from Slovenian museums. Currently available in Slovene language. Read more about VAZ in blog post The Hidden Gems of Slovenian Museums, East Asian collections from the turn to the 20th century.

Video presentation of the missionary scroll

A ten-minute video presentation of the missionary scroll from Shanghai, made by researcher Dr. Helena Motoh of the Science and Research Centre Koper (ZRSK). It was part of a general presentation of the East Asian Collections in Slovenia (VAZ) research project at the symposium held by the Department of Asian Studies on 19 March 2021. Available in Slovene language.

Blog entry: Predmeti iz tushanwanskih delavnic v zbirkah Pokrajinskega muzeja Celje

A short blog post by Dr. Helena Motoh, Science and Research Centre Koper (ZRSK), presents the Tushanwan workshop and its history in more detail. It has been published on the VAZ website. Available in Slovene language.

International Symposium Missionary Activities and East Asian Collections
The symposium’s website lets users view contributions by international researchers elaborating on the topic of Christian missions and East Asian collections in Europe. The symposium was held at XY and it was possible to attend it live via Zoom.

Exhibition: What Is a Samurai Doing Here? East Asian Objects from the Celje Regional Museum Collection 

Online exhibition: Exhibition: What Is a Samurai Doing Here? East Asian Objects from the Celje Regional Museum Collection

The Three Types of Chinese Entertainment concert (Trois divertissements Chinois)
A recording of The Three Types of Chinese Entertainment (Trois divertissements Chinois), a “Chinese music” performance in European musical notation as introduced to Europeans by the Jesuit missionary Jean Joseph Marie Amiot (1718–1793). Just like the missionary scroll, the performance is an interesting example of practical challenges that arise due to intercultural dialogue in a historical and contemporary study context.

Digitalized database of Christian history – China Historical Christian Database
The project collects and visualizes data on the presence of Christianity in modern China (1550–1950). The browser enables users to find Christian schools, churches, hospitals, orphanages, and printing houses, as well as individual missionaries. One of the individuals that can be found among them is also the famous Jesuit missionary and mathematician, Ferdinand Augustin Hallerstein, born in 1703 in Mengeš.

For media and users

Press release (PDF file)

Press Kit (zip file)

The general terms and conditions are identical to the terms of use for the East Asian Collections in Slovenia website

Text: Helena Motoh (Science and Research Centre Koper)

Translation: Mina Grčar (Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana)

Associate professional for digitalisation: Dunja Zorman (Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana)

The research project East Asian Collections in Slovenia: Inclusion of Slovenia in the Global Exchanges of Objects and Ideas with East Asia (no. J7-9429) was funded by the Slovenian Research Agency.