0ne of the characteristics of Chinese Catholics is their deep and affectionate devotion to the Virgin Mary, expressed in the Marian shrines spread throughout the country. Some of them are particularly significant, such as the Sheshan sanctuary in Shanghai, the Donglu Marian basilica in Hebei and the Banshishan pilgrimage site in Shanxi province, as well as Our Lady of the Rosary in Fujian.
This Marian cult derives its roots from the teachings of missionaries in the nineteenth century. Mary was painted as a European woman with brown hair and blue eyes, and often displaying her Immaculate Heart. She was, first of all, the one who helped in trials and defended one from all enemies, as well as healing the sick.
In fact, around the famous Marian sanctuaries there are stories of miracles and wonderful events that have nurtured the minds and hearts of many believers throughout generations. At the same time, the role of Mary in the lives of new Christians might have somehow been underlined in order to bring out some similarities with the Buddhist Guanyin.
This devotion to Mary might also have been due to the lack of priests and therefore access to the sacraments during the horrific times of the Cultural Revolution, and for the underground communities even up to the present. This inability to receive the sacraments might have been alleviated by devotion to Mary, the merciful one. It is not surprising still to see Catholics praying the rosary during the mass. In times of persecutions Catholics could easily and anywhere pray the rosary, either alone or in community.
In the midst of the troubles faced by Catholics, Mary has also played a comforting role in the midst of a hostile society. Pilgrimages have been a way to find strength to cope with those pressures although very often, even up to the present moment, the government will prohibit them, as is the case of the sanctuary of Dong Lu.