1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Olopan
OLOPAN, Olopuen or Olopen (probably a Chinese form of the Syriac Rabban, i.e. monk: fl. A.D. 635), the first Christian missionary in China (setting aside vague stories of St Thomas, St Bartholomew, &c.), and founder of the Nestorian Church in the Far East. According to the Si-ngan-fu inscription, our sole authority, Olopan came to China from Ta T’sin (the Roman empire) in the ninth year of the emperor T’ai-Tsung (A.D. 635), bringing sacred books and images. He was received with favour; his teaching was examined and approved; his Scriptures were translated for the imperial library; and in 638 an imperial edict declared Christianity a tolerated religion. T’ai-Tsung’s successor, Kao-Tsung (650–683), was still more friendly, and Olopan now became a “guardian of the empire” and “lord of the great law.” After this followed (c. 683–744) a time of disfavour and oppression for Chinese Christians, followed by a revival dating from the arrival of a fresh missionary, Kiho, from the Roman empire.
The Si-ngan-fu inscription, which alone records these facts, was erected in 781, and rediscovered in 1625 by workmen digging in the Chang-ngan suburb of Si-ngan-fu city. It consists of 1789 Chinese characters, giving a history of the Christian mission down to 781, together with a sketch of Nestorian doctrine, the decree of T’ai-Tsung in favour of Christianity, the date of erection, and names of various persons connected with the church in China when the monument was put up. Additional notes in Syriac (Estrangelo characters) repeat the date and record the names of the reigning Nestorian patriarch, the Nestorian bishop in China, and a number of the Nestorian clergy.
See Kircher, China Illustrata; G. Pauthier, De l’authenticité de l’inscription nestorienne de Si-ngan-fou (Paris, 1857) and L’inscription syro-chinoise de Si-ngan-fou (Paris, 1858); Henry Yule, Cathay, Preliminary Essay, xcii.-xciv. clxxxi.-clx.xxiii. (London, Hakluyt Soc., 1866): F. Hirth, China and the Roman Orient, 323, &c.; Father Henri Havret, La stèle chrétienne de Si-ngan-fou, two parts (text and history) published out of three (Shanghai, 1895 and 1897); Dr James Legge’s edition and translation of the text, The Nestorian Monument of Hsî-an-Fu (London, 1888); Yule and Cordier, Marco Polo, ii. 27-29 (London, 1903); C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, i. 215-218.