From Atlantic Online:
In 1577, the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci left Italy on a mission to bring the Christian faith to Ming dynasty China. He was neither the first Christian, nor the first Catholic, to arrive in the Middle Kingdom. But his arrival marked the beginnings of a Jesuit presence that would survive erratically in China for nearly four centuries.
Everything changed in 1949 when the Communists came to power. Western religion—along with all else foreign—was unwelcome welcome in the PRC. Although Pope Pius XII had established an official independent hierarchy for China’s Church back in 1946 (making the China Jesuit Mission null and void), European bishops still retained control over more than 80 percent of the country’s dioceses. In 1951, the Communist Party expelled all missionaries and severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Chinese priests tried to convince the Communist government that the country’s Catholic Church could operate independently, but by 1955, Chinese Catholics had become targets as well, and over the course of two weeks that fall, more than 1,200 Catholic priests, nuns, and laypeople were arrested and detained.