Email: The Iron Pillar Cross of the Three Kingdoms! (31.7.2020)

Nestorian Stele 781 CE

Dear Gillian

I was researching the earliest records of Christianity in China, within Chinese language sources. Of course, there is talk of St Thomas going to India (and possibly China), and St Bartholomew who apparently only visited China. Whereas St Paul only concentrated on the West, these two Apostles went East. There is also the usual mention of the 781 CE Stele dug-up in Xian in 1625 CE! This talks of a Nestorian Mission to China which arrived in 635 CE. The so-called ‘Jesus Sutras’ convey Christian theology but within familiar Chinese philosophical concepts. Much later, Catholic Missionaries would clash with the pockets of Nestorians that were left – concerning their practice of ‘integrating’ with local cultures, The Catholics demanded that Christian theology be accepted as it is and not transliterated into a devilish ideology. However, this Nestorian Mission is not the earliest tale of Christians in China. There is a legend that says that during the Ming Dynasty a Great Iron Cross was discovered buried in (Luling) Jiangxi, made during the reign of Chiwu (238 CE – 250 CE) during the Three Kingdoms Periods. The inscription apparently reads:  


(My Translation)

The Four Oceans Celebrate and the Earth is at Peace. 

The Cross of the Iron Pillar Emits the Treasure of Eternal Light.  

Untold Masses Embrace (and are Embraced’) by ‘Da Ze’ (大澤) – ‘Jesus’.

Golden Furnace Fragrant Seal Friendship Thousand Autumns. 

This story seems to be officially recorded, but I have not been able to find any pictures of the cross within Chinese language sources. The Nestorian arrival of 635 CE is clearly supported by a 12 foot stele which everyone can still see today! By coincidence, I found the ‘BitterWinter’ site you mentioned. I am checking whether ‘Prof. Daniel Williams ever taught in China – as his work is anti-China propaganda and I doubt he would be allowed in if that’s his attitude. Anyway, whilst supposedly being an expert on the subject of Christianity in China, he did not even know the story of the Iron Cross mentioned above. Besides, I don’t like his tone! 

The Chinese term for ‘Cross’ has no real cultural meaning and is simply written as ‘十字’ (Shi Zi) – quite literally:

十 (Shi) = The Number Ten (10)

字 (Zi) = Character, Symbol and word, etc

As the term ‘Cross’ is alien to indigenous Chinese culture – the ancient scholars simply transliterated it by defining it as ‘looking like a number ten character’. Obviously, this imported concept carries no further meaning. 

Chinese Language References: (Full Text Below)


2011-06-10 16:08:01 作者:张多默 来源:《信德报》2011年5月10日,14期(总第445期)









关键词: 张多默 天主教 江西 三国



  1. I see.
    I think you are mixing up the original Christian cross and “Conquering cross” as a sing of Western “Christian” civilization (and imperialism) – from the cross on Constantine’s armouries to the cross the Spanish conquistadores planted on arrival in the New World. If Constantine decided to use the cross on his armouries when he claimed conversion to Christianity, it was obviously because the cross was already known as a Christian symbol before, otherwise nobody would have understood what he meant!
    Plain and simple crosses were used by Christians as a reference to Christ’s death, long before the 4th Century. Plenty of them were found by archaeologists, in meeting places, on roads to show the way to meeting places, and in tombs.

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  2. A very interesting read. For many years it was Fujian province which was the designated entry point into China – with many visitors getting no further than this point. However, Fujian province was not part of Qin China and due to its difficult terrain (thick forests, wild indigenous people and malarial swamps) – it did not become part of China until the Northern and Sothern Dynasties (420-589 CE) – but even then it was a slow process involving forest clearing and swamp-draining. Therefore, a cross entering China before the 5th century could not have entered through Fujian. This fact alone adds credence to a 3rd century cross possibly being in Jiangxi. My main objection is that I do not believe there is any evidence for Christians using crosses prior to the 4th century – and that the idea of a cross leading Christianity into unknown areas is probaly a Medieval notion.


  3. It is interesting to consider that the Tomb of the Qin Emperor was written about extensively in the old Chinese texts – but as no one knew where it was – it was considered a myth! Until it was found, of course!


  4. Thanks for your sources.
    An additional comment a reader sent me: if an iron cross was discovered after over 1000 years, it would need to have been very well protected against humidity for the writing to still be visible – except if it was made of another, more rust-resistant material, like bronze.
    Are the sources clear that the cross was made of iron, or do they allow for another material?

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  5. 为什么天主教传入江西是在三国时代?

    Why was Catholicism introduced to Jiangxi during the Three Kingdoms period?

    2011-06-10 16:08:01Author: Zhang Duomo Source: Sindhi, Issue 14, May 10, 2011 (No. 445 in total)

    In 196 A.D., Cao Cao forced Emperor Xian of the Han Dynasty to move his capital to Xuchang. The Eastern Han Dynasty survived in name only, and finally formed the situation of the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu. From 238 to 250 AD, it was the year of Chiwu, Sun Quan of the Three Kingdoms. Sun Quan was the great emperor of Eastern Wu and occupied Jiangdong (now Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, and Fujian). In the early Ming Dynasty, Liu Zigao’s “Poetry Collection” and Li Jiugong’s “Shensilu” both recorded that the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang unearthed a huge iron cross in Luling, Jiangxi (now Ji’an City, Jiangxi Province), on which Sun Quan’s Chiwu year and month were cast. Liu Zigao made the “iron cross” to commemorate the miracle.
    On the iron cross, there is an exquisitely artistic couplet saying: “The four seas celebrate Anlan, the precious light of the iron pillar leaves the cross, the people cherish the great lake, and the golden furnace incense seals the future.”
    In September 1998, “A Brief History of Christianity in China” (written by Lee Kuan-sook of South Korea) published by the Literature Publishing House of the Academy of Social Sciences affirmed this matter on the second page of the first chapter.
    According to the first chapter of “Yanjing Kaijiaolue”: “The iron cross excavated in Luling County, Ji’an Prefecture, Jiangxi Province, was engraved with the year of Sun Wu, that is, 230 years after the birth of God.” The bishop of Jiangxi wrote a letter to missionaries in Beijing on January 15, 1886, the twelfth year of Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty: The big iron cross has a very strange shape. It is seen in Ji’an Mansion, which is the so-called cross of St. Andrew the Apostle. . Looking closely, it is by no means an ordinary gold and stone thing. For many years in the previous generation, literati and poets often wrote poems to praise its magic. So far, there are still worshipers among the people. Or burn incense and worship, or kill chickens and stand up, called the Cross Temple of the Cross Bodhisattva. The layout of other temples is also quite different. The cover is specially built for enshrining the cross. The iron cross is four feet five inches high, four inches wide in branches, and six inches five inches wide in the middle. There are two holes one chi and one inch apart on the cross. The niche of the cross is placed in the middle, and poems are embroidered on the niche. Among them are the words Wanminsihai. The so-called ten thousand peoples are all over the world. Playing with its meaning carefully, it was actually written by me, a Catholic. This cross is actually a relic of the Holy Church.
    The cross was unearthed in the Hongwu period of the Ming Dynasty, and it has the name of the year of Sun Wu. Since then, Catholicism was introduced into Jiangxi Province, and it has a history of 1781 (230-2011).
    The establishment of Catholicism in Jiangxi Province should be attributed to Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit in the Ming Dynasty. In 1595, Matteo Ricci established the Catholic Church in Nanchang. In the Ming Dynasty, nearly a hundred Jesuits entered Jiangxi to preach. In Nanchang, Matteo Ricci wrote three works: “On Making Friends”, “The Law of the Western Kingdom” and “The True Meaning of God”. He also gave lectures at Bailudong Academy in Lushan Mountain, becoming the first foreign visiting professor in Chinese history.
    Today, Jiangxi has 100,000 Catholics, 44 priests, 40 nuns, 60 monks, and 60 churches.
    The bishop of Jiangxi is Wu Shizhen.


  6. Here is the relevant data and a Chinese language reference – translated into English. As the author observes – other than a few written references – there is no other proof that the Luling cross ever existed. The Chinese term for ‘Cross’ has no real cultural meaning and is simply written as ‘十字’ (Shi Zi) – quite literally:

    十 (Shi) = The Number Ten (10)
    字 (Zi) = Character, Symbol and word, etc

    As the term ‘Cross’ is alien to indigenous Chinese culture – the ancient scholars simply transliterated it by defining it as ‘looking like a number ten character’. Obviously, this imported concept carries no further meaning.

    Luling (庐陵) – Jiangxi (江西)

    Location: West-Central Jiangxi Province (South-eastern China)

    Luling Iron Cross (庐陵铁十字 – Lu Ling Tie Shi Zi)

    Chinese Language Reference:

    三千年景教沉浮录:兴于叙利亚 光大于长安(图)

    English Language (Automatic) Translation:

    3000 Years – Nestorian – Rise & Fall Record: Prospered in Syria – Shone Brightly in Chang’an (Photos)


  7. Understood – I will look into it and get back to you. I was talking to a Russian Orthodox friend living in Romania and we appear to have strayed into this area.


  8. No, I mean the legend of the iron cross found in Luling which you mention in the article I am commenting. If by this question you mean to ask if I am a conspiracy theorist, then the answer is clearly no!

    So more about me: I am an amateur historian and have a blog (in French, my native language) on the history of early Christianity, so this is obviously of interest to me: it is commonly admitted that Christianity entered China during the 7th Century, as commemorated by the Xi’an stele; if this legend is historically true, it would prove a Christian presence in China several centuries before that. Is is historically true? I have no way to answer, but you might have.

    I first heard about this cross in an article by a Chinese theologian, who merely mentions it without any details. When I did more research, I found your article. You obviously got your information from somewhere, so I would be interested to know where? Is this cross mentioned by historians of the Ming Era? You even have the words of the inscription, which I found nowhere else – where did you get them?

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  9. Hello
    I was looking for further information on this iron cross of Luling. When researching it online, your article was the only source I found. Do you have more detailed sources to share? I don’t speak Chinese and can therefore only research the English web, maybe there is more available on the Chinese web?

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