Return to France, then Exile, 1927 - 1946

Before Teilhard reached Marseille a new attack was made on his thought due to a series of his lectures which were published in a Paris journal. While Teilhard edited and rewrote The Divine Milieu in Paris, he was impatient for a direct confrontation with his critics. Finally in June 1928 the assistant to the Jesuit Superior General arrived in Paris to tell Teilhard that all his theological work must end and that he was to confine himself to scientific work. In this oppressive atmosphere Teilhard was forced to return to China in November 1928.






Teilhard and the Abbe Breuil in China at the Ming Tombs, 7 April 1935.  Abbe Henri Breuil (1877-1961), was a French priest and noted authority on paleolithic art.


For the next eleven years Teilhard continued this self-imposed exile in China, returning to France only for five brief visits. These visits were to see his family and friends who distributed copies of his articles and to give occasional talks to those student clubs in Belgium and Paris who continued to provide a forum for his ideas. These years were also very rich in geological expeditions for Teilhard. In 1929, Teilhard traveled in Somaliland and Ethiopia before returning to China.


He played a major role in the find and interpretation of "Peking Man" at Chou-kou-tien in 1929-1930. In 1930 he joined Ray Chapman Andrew's Central Mongolian Expedition at the invitation of the American Museum of Natural History.


The following year he made a trip across America which inspired him to write The Spirit of the Earth. From May 1931 to February 1932 he traveled into Central Asia with the famous Yellow Expedition sponsored by the Citroen automobile company.
He and his comrades were held prisoner for several months in Ouroumtsi, capital of Sinkiang. The following year the Sino-Japonese war broke out.

In 1934, with George Barbour he traveled up the Yangtze River and into the mountainous regions of Szechuan.


A year later he joined the Yale-Cambridge expedition under Helmut de Terra in India and afterwards von Koenigswald's expedition in Java. In 1937 he was awarded the Gregor Mendel medal at a Philadelphia Conference for his scientific accomplishments. That same year he went with the Harvard-Carnegie Expedition to Burma and then to Java with Helmut de Terra.


Click on a photo to begin a slide show of years 1927 to 1946

Most of the photos are from "The Teilhard de Chardin Album" by Jeanne Mortier and Marie-Louise Aboux


As a result of this extensive field work Teilhard became recognized as one of the foremost geologists of the earth's terrain. This notoriety, in addition to his original theories on human evolution, made him a valuable presence for the French government in intellectual circles east and west.


His professional accomplishments are even more noteworthy when one recalls the profound tragedies that he experienced in the years between 1932 and 1936 when his father, mother, younger brother, Victor, and his beloved sister, Guiguite, all died during his absence.


The final years of exile in China, 1939 to 1946, roughly correspond to the years of World War II and the disintegration of central control in Chinese Republican politics. During this period, Teilhard and a fellow Jesuit and friend, Pierre Leroy, set up the Institute of Geobiology in Peking to protect the collection of Emile Licent and to provide a laboratory for their on-going classification and interpretation of fossils.


The most significant accomplishment of this period, however, was the completion of The Phenomenon of Man in May of 1940. An important contribution of this work is the creative manner in which it situates the emergence of the human as the unifying theme of the evolutionary process. The Phenomenon of Man in its presentation of the fourfold sequence of the evolutionary process (the galactic evolution, earth evolution, life evolution and consciousness evolution) establishes what might almost be considered a new literary genre.