In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Jesuits formed the link connecting the mind of Europe with the Far East. But their activities in China were, after 1723, very much curtailed in consequence of the unhappy controversy which took place over ritual. The Chinese, in view of the disputes between the various Catholic orders, then began to regard Christians as apostles of discord, and commenced persecutions, which, even in the eyes of the missionaries, obscured the fair image of ancient China. The
mis~ioparies began to blame, where before they had only praised. If we compare the Memoires concernant l'histoire,
etc., de la Chine (a new series of letters from Chinese Jesuits beginning in 1776) with the Lettres ~difiantes et curieuses, which had appeared fifty years earlier, we are, on the whole, surprised by their matter-of-fact, impartial judgments, in which blame is mingled with praise and a certain bitterness of' tone makes itself felt. Then came the decay of Jesuit influence in Europe, following on the official dissolution of the Order in France in 1762, which was made complete in 1778. But every injury done to the Order also affected the spiritual relations of the West with the East. The unfavourable judgments of the commercial circles gained at the same time a wider hearing. Doubt having once become strong, opinions which had been hardening for a hundred years ventured to express themselves.