Men on a mission

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-25 10:24
Men on a mission

The gravestones for Western missionaries on the campus of the Beijing Administration Institute. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

When I visited the tombstones, early on an autumn day, I was with Li. The plants were still lush, and viewed from a certain distance the tiny walled graveyard resembled a little corner of Louis XIV's Versailles.

One type of tree is the little leaf box, a precious species believed to have been first planted here, before appearing in other parts of Beijing. About 2005 Li moved two ginkgo trees here, and when I was there a small patch of white flowers was in full bloom, half-hidden by broad leaves.

"Their color and shape resemble a jade hairpin, which of course is why they are called jade-hairpin blossoms," Li says.

In that sense, they seem to be the perfect flowers for Giuseppe Castiglione, the Italian missionary buried here. In his five decades in China he served mainly as a court painter for the Qing emperor Qianlong and his impeccably dressed and delicate-looking consorts and concubines.

Apart from the rustling of tree leaves, quietness reigned that morning. Occasionally a stray cat or two would come and curl themselves up either on the low wall or beside the gravestones.

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