Christ and Confucius


Ian Rae*


The sixteenth century was for Europe -- and particularly the Iberians -- a century of unprecedented territorial expansion and enrichment through conquest and trade. It was also the century of Reformation and Counter-Reformation and, in the struggle to maintain its global pre-eminence, the Church sent forth missionaries to the new lands in the Americas and the Orient to bring the heathen into the Catholic fold. Conquistadores and missionaries went hand-in-hand and the subjugation of new realms was inevitably followed by religious conversion, often also at the point of an harquebus or pikestaff. The destruction and replacement of secular and religious structures was part and parcel of Imperial expansion and consolidation.

Such was the pattern in most of the Overseas realms, especially in the Americas. However, China was a very different proposition. From the first contacts, early in the century, it was evident that China was no land of warring tribes ripe for conquista but a vast and integrated nation with strength and Cultural depth, equal at least to any nation in Europe.

China was also perceived as the key to the Christianisation of the whole Orient, and therefore an irresistible goal for the missionaries of the time. St. Francis Xavier, the "Apostle of the Indies", expended his last energies trying to enter China, and died unfulfilled on its very doorstep. Alessandro Valignano, the Jesuit Visitor to the Indies who initiated the mission to China, is said to have gazed towards China, from Macao, and lamented the fact that its doors were still closed to the missionaries. 1

Architectonic frontespiece. In: TRIGAULT, Nicolas, S. J., Entrata Nella China de' Padri della Compagnia del Gesu. Tolta da i commentari del P. Matteo Ricci [...] Dove si contengono i costumi [...] descritti con ogni accuratezza, e con molta fede. Opera del P. Nicolao Trigauci [...]. Volgarizata dal Signor Antonio Sozzini [...]. Napoli, Lazzaro Storiggio, 1622(?), title

The doors of China did eventually open to a small group of Jesuit missionaries under the authority of Alessandro Valignano and the direct leadership of his fellow-Italian Matteo Ricci. Their entry was effected without the backing of trade or military power and with scant support even from their own Church. 2 Yet within a few decades they established a presence and respect which had been regarded as impossible at the outset, 3 and which was certainly disproportionate to their numbers and resources.

The foundation upon which the success of the early China mission was built was an approach which in the twentieth century would be termed "cross-Cultural communication". The early Jesuit missionaries grasped the importance of giving an account of European Culture and Christianity which would be intelligible, assimilable and non-confrontational to the inward-looking Chinese. They also perceived that it was essential to deal with the Chinese in their own language, conform to Chinese standards of behaviour, and operate within Chinese rules and structures.

This article will survey the context and genesis of that "communication" approach.


The European Imperial expansions of the sixteenth century had two conspicuous aspects which shaped their dealings with non-European Cultures. The first was an aggressive Eurocentrism or "Europeanism"4 in both secular and religious spheres, which was based on the historical identity of the Church with European Culture. From the time of Constantine through to the first intellectual and artistic liberations of the Renaissance and the schisms of the Reformation, the Church had been the custodian of European learning and Culture, and these had become thereby synonymous with Christianity. In the meetings of Europeans with other Cultures, such as during the Crusades or the struggles with the Moors, in Iberia and North Africa, there was no room for understanding, tolerance and Cultural recognition. It was in such a spirit that many of the missionaries of the sixteenth century went forth; as one scholar comments:

"They brought with them a religion that had been imbued with centuries of development in European soil and comprised a set of dogmatic beliefs that could not be tampered with or blended with any other beliefs."5

Allegorical frontespiece. In: RICCI, Matteo, S.; Ed. TRIGAULT, Nicolas, S. J., De Christiana Expeditione apud Sinas Suscepta ab Societate Iesu, Ex. P. Matthaei Riccii eiusdem Societatis Commentariis, Libris V. AD S. D. N. Paulum V [...] Auctore P. Nicolao Trigautio Belga [...], Romæ, 1616, title page. The famous chronicle of the first period in China, according to his relater Fr. Nicolas Trigault. Second Latin edition.

The second aspect was the national rivalry between Spain and Portugal which was conceived early in the fifteenth century and had a long and bitter gestation through the Age of Discovery, as mariners under the flags of the two Iberian nations explored the coasts of Africa and eventually made their ways to India and the Americas. The Papacy nurtured this exploration by rewarding "Christianisation" of new lands with grants of exclusive territorial Sovereignty. 6 In 1494, the then-known World beyond Europe -- the lands bordering the Atlantic-- was divided by the Treaty of Tordesillas, between Spain and Portugal, and the provisions of this Treaty were extended and further defined as the discovery of new lands progressed.

The interests of Church and Crown were both advanced by Imperial expansion, and became intertwined. The Crowns of Spain and Portugal became the patrons of the Church and the co-executors of its evangelical aspirations, and each Crown in turn claimed the endorsement of the Church for its acts of conquista. This principle of interdependence and reciprocal support was known as padroado and patronato by the Portuguese and Spanish, respectively, 7 and was so pervasive in the overseas realms that one early seventeenth century observer could comment:

"Tão juntas andaram sempre [...] as duas espadas do poder secular e eclesiástico que poucas vezes achamos mover-se uma sem que se meneasse a outra [...] E assim como se juntavam sempre estas duas espadas, assim também sempre se ajudavam, de tal maneira que, se por uma parte os reis favoreciam os ministros da palavra divina, por outra estes também se empregavam e esmeravam nas coisas do seu real serviço."8

Allegorical frontespiece. In: KIRCHER, Athanasius, S. J.; Trans. DALQUIÉ, F. S., La Chine d'Athanase Kirchere. De la Compagnie de Jesus, ilustrée De plusieurs Monuments tant Sacrés que Profanes, Et de quantité de la Nature et de l'Art [...], Amstelodami, Johannem Janssenium à Waesberge [...], 1670, fly page.

The Jesuits were an Order of the Catholic Church, and their allegiance was therefore to the Pope. However, in their early years they had incurred the mistrust of the half-Spanish Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the enmity of the Dominican-dominated Church hierarchy in Spain. They were supported, however, by King Dom João III (r.1521-†1557) of Portugal and, in 1542, Portugal became the first separate Province of the Jesuits. It proved to be in the Jesuits' interests to maintain this relationship with the Portuguese, particularly to protect their virtual monopoly in missionary access to China and Japan. Even after King Felipe II of Spain [King Filipe I of Portugal] also assumed the Portuguese throne, in 1580, the rivalry between the two nations continued unabated, as did the Jesuit identification in the Orient with the Portuguese. King Felipe II did not actively seek to extend the Spanish sphere beyond its established limits, and the Portuguese and Jesuit exclusivity was assured in 1585 -- at least for a time -- by the Pope in a Brief9 which directed that missionary access to the Orient was only to be via Lisbon and Goa; that is to say, under the auspices of the Jesuits and via the Portuguese Carreira da India.


The philosophy of the first Jesuits represented a significant departure from the established patterns of the Catholic Church. Among other things, it featured an anthropocentrism which was distinctly Renaissance and gave an emphasis to the role of the intellect, the will, the memory, and the imagination in the execution of God's work. 10

The early Jesuits also placed a clear emphasis on their members being able to deal with the World on its own terms. 11 A modem historian of the missions remarks that "in place of mediæval asceticism (the Jesuits) substituted a deep knowledge of, and sympathy with, the Nature of Mankind".12

Such departures from established tradition, together with the high intellectual standards required of those who sought ordination, might be expected to have inclined the early Jesuits to adaptation and laterality in thinking. Moreover, it was a young order, less bound by precedent and age-long traditions than other sectors of the Church. This aspect has been aptly encapsulated as follows:

"Religious orders, like individuals, generally manifest in the days of their youth a flexibility which is wanting to their more advanced age. With age comes caution: a partiality for the well-worn paths of the tried and true; a reluctance to recognize that in a world which never stands still the tried and true often becomes outmoded and false; an unwillingness to embark upon new adventures."13

Certainly, the conditions they encountered in China--the vast distances and delays in communication even with Goa and Macao, their isolation and virtual monopoly of access over other missionary Orders, and above all the fundamental differences of their mission task from the classic confrontations with Judaism, Islam and Protestant heretics in Europe -- were a "new adventure" of daunting proportions, which might be seen as having been conducive to independence of thought and action.

Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that all, or even many, of the Jesuits in the Oriental missions were adaptive and creative thinkers. The Society of Jesus was constituted on military lines which reflected the origins of its founder, and it was governed by principles of discipline and obedience to authority. Particularly in the American missions these principles were encoded in complex and comprehensive rules and precepts which, in the words of one American Jesuit historian, reflected "the miniscule concern of superiors for exact observance".14

Johannes Adam von Schall, In: KIRCHER, Athanasius, S. J.; Trans. DALQUIÉ, F. S., La Chine d'Athanase Kirchere. De la Compagnie de Jesus, ilustrée De plusieurs Monuments tant Sacrés que Profanes, Et de quantité de la Nature et de l'Art [...], Amstelodami, Johannem, Janssenium à Waesberge [...], 1670, p. 152 -- detail. German Jesuit astronomer at the Court of Beijing, reformer of the Chinese Calendar and Director of the Court of Mathematics.

Such a form of governance may well have suited men who had the requisite intellectual competence but little originality or creativity, and may indeed have served well in securing advancement in the Order. There was certainly tension between those who sought new approaches to the challenges of the Oriental missions and those who preferred to cleave to Eurocentric orthodoxy. For example, the Japan mission established, in 1549, by St. Francis Xavier had remained substantially European, with mandatory "Portugalisation" of novices and an insistence that converts adhere strictly to European moral and liturgical norms. It resisted directions on adaptation and accommodation, and most of its members took a conservative line when controversy began to erupt after the death of Ricci over his evangelical methods in China. Again, the Macao-based Jesuits frequently opposed and obstructed the actions of the China mission, frustrating the directions of the Fr. Visitor, Alessandro Valignano. 15

It is clear that the division between Eurocentric conservatism and adaptation largely coincided with the divisions between Portuguese and non-Portuguese missionaries. In Macao, Portuguese were aware of the tenuous nature of their foothold in China and fearful of what its loss would mean in terms of trade and wealth. When Valignano arrived in Macao he found that his Jesuit confrères were reluctant to antagonise the Chinese authorities by embarking on what they regarded as a desperate or impossible enterprise and disparaging of the lone efforts of Michele Ruggieri to learn the Chinese language. 16

This was one of the more unfortunate by-products of the padroado connection and it is surely ironic that although the early Jesuit missions were referred to as "Portuguese", their founding and most conspicuously able members were all Italians.


China was clearly not conquerable by force of arms, although attempts at conquista were urged from time to time. 17 Nor was it anxious to trade or enter into dialogue with other nations unless they had acknowledged Chinese superiority and paid tribute. The Ming Dynasty had succeeded the Yuan Mongols in the fourteenth century, and having expelled the foreigners they jealously guarded their borders against foreign incursion or influence. The Ming Code forbade both travel by Chinese and trade with foreigners. The enforcement of this prohibition was inconsistent but, in 1494, was expressly reimposed by the Hongzhi Emperor and the doors remained firmly closed for another two decades. 18

The Portuguese attempted Embassies to China in 1514 and 1516, but any embryonic goodwill was negated by the high-handed actions of the leader of a third expedition, in 1519, Simão de Andrade. 19 The Chinese response was a further prohibition of foreigners which lasted for more than thirty years.

Le Pere Adam Schaal. In: DU HALDE, Jean-Baptiste, SJ., Description Géographique, Historique, Chronologique, Politique, Et Physique De L'Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise [...], 4 vols., Haye, Chez Henri Scheurleer, 1736, vol. 3, p. 87 -- detail.

In 1554, the Portuguese Captain-Major Leonel da Sousa "made a covenant with the Chinese that we would pay their duties and that they should suffer us to do our business in their ports".20 The agreement was in fact only a verbal one with local authorities in the south, far away from and without the knowledge of the Court, in Beijing. Nevertheless, it was the beginning of official relations which some three years later resulted in the granting of a settlement concession in Macao. Even thereafter, however, relations remained tenuous, and residence in China proper was still denied to foreigners.

Nor was China interested in Europe and what it purported to offer. 21 It has been observed that in China at that time "it was complacently assumed that Chinese Civilisation was a finished product".22 Certainly, the Jesuit missionaries encountered a solid disbelief that anything original or of value could come from outside. 23 The Chinese held a firm conviction that all knowledge of the World resided in China; 24 nor was there any music other than Chinese, 25 nor even wines comparable with those of China. 26

There had been earlier contacts between Europe and China, from trade missions in the second century AD to the extended visits of the Polos in the late thirteenth century and the following trickle of Dominican and Franciscan missionaries which continued up to the end of the Yuan Dynasty. Some of these resided in the capital and even constructed Church buildings. 27 However, by the sixteenth century these edifices had vanished and there was no record of their builders in Chinese Records. The earlier contacts with Europe had been effectively expunged from the Chinese memory and consciousness. 28

In short, there was no ready foundation in China in the sixteenth century upon which to construct a mission; no possibility of forceful entry, scant prospect on the basis of trade, little interest or curiosity on the part of the Chinese and no remembered precedent in Chinese history. Clearly, any approach needed to be fundamentally different to those employed elsewhere in the mission fields.


Cultural adaptation had been a strategy of the very early Christian Church. Faced with the organised and unyielding might of Rome, which they hoped to convert to their new religion, they had to adapt themselves to Rome's ways and language. This adaptation established Christianity as a European religion, but removed it further and further from its Middle Eastern origins. Its practices and rituals became European, and the Latin which it adopted for its scriptures and liturgy inevitably shaped its conceptualisation and expression.

Frontespiece with monomark of the Society of Jesus. In: RIBERA, Juan de, Lettera Annua Della V. Provincia Delle Filippine Dal Giugno del 1602, al seguente Giugno del 1603. Scritta dal P. Gio. de Ribera della Compagnia di Giesu [...], Roma, Luigi Zannetti, 1605, title page.

Some scholars have sought to represent the adaptations of the early Jesuits in China as similar to those of the early Christians in Europe. For example, the mission historian Henri Bérnard-Maître has written:

"Sur le modèle de Saint Paul, se faisant Grec avec les Grecs et Romain avec les Romains, ils espéraient ainsi devenir Orientaux avec les Orientaux, Chinois avec les Chinois."29

Even Michele Ruggieri, who preceded Matteo Ricci into China, in 1580, 30 wrote in 1583 "siamo fatti Cini ut Christo Sinas lucifaciamus".31

Such a representation is superficial, however. Bérnard-Maître ignores the Hellenic content of early Christianity and its connection to the Roman World through a long History of linguistic and philosophic precedent and interchange. In contrast, the sixteenth century encounters between Europeans and China were as near to virgin and unprejudiced as any in World History, and between languages, cultures and philosophies which were of profound Antiquity and representative of fundamentally different conceptions of the World.

Similarly, Ruggieri's view may be seen as informed by wishes unfulfilled rather than real understanding. Although his role in the establishment of the China mission was important, 32 there is evidence that Ruggieri--despite his own claims to the contrary -- never acquired great competence in Chinese33 and therefore had a defective appreciation of the Cultural interaction.

In any case, to "become Chinese" would have been unacceptable to most Europeans of the time and -- as the later Rites Controversy was to demonstrate -- would have been a provocation to rebuke from the Eurocentric Church authorities in Macao, Goa and Rome. Moreover, to assume an identity with things Chinese carried the risk of consignment to inconsequential oblivion. Indeed, one of the difficulties faced by the early missionaries was the tendency of the Chinese to classify Christianity as a subset of, or variation upon, familiar belief systems, and thus dismiss it as a sect of Buddhism or Islam. 34 What was clearly required was a presentation of Christianity as a distinct and worthy philosophy which would be reconcilable with Chinese traditions and beliefs.

Alessandro Valignano was the first to formally identify the need for a new approach. In 1573, Valignano was appointed Visitor to the Índias Orientais. Early in his voluminous correspondence, even before he embarked for the Orient, there are glimpses of an innovative but pragmatic approach to the development of the missions. 35 His early appreciation of China as a Culture comparable to that of Europe was expressed as follows

Frontespiece with ornamental bordure and monomark of the Society of Jesus. In: MOREJÓN, Pedro de, Historia Y Relacion De Los Svcedido En Los Reinos De Iapon y China, en la qual ∫e continua la gran per∫ecucion que ha auido en aqlla Igle∫ia, de∫de el año de [1]615 ha∫ta el de [16]19. Por el Padre Pedro Morejon [...]. Lisboa, Iuan Rodriguez, 1621, title page. This is the second work by Morejón narrating the events which occured in Japan and in China during the persecution of the Christians, which took place between 1615 and 1619. It is the most important document about the Jesuits' activities in the Far East. It contains an historical summary about the situation in Japan and China in that period, and it depicts the work done by the missionaries and their martyrdom: it lists the majority of the one-hundred-and-sixty martyrs who died during that period, along with the date, place and nature of the tortures.

"El reyno de la China es tan diferente de todos los demás reynos y naciones que hay en todo este Oriente [...]y paréscese mucho en algunos cosas con la riqueza y hartura de nuestra Europa, y en muchas le excede."36

He was quite clear that China could not be won through a standard European approach, and wrote to the Jesuit General that to have any possibility of success the approach of the missionaries would need to be completely different from that adopted in other missions in the Orient. 37

In 1582, Valignano outlined the basics of his approach in an instruction which required the missionaries to dedicate themselves assiduously to the learning of spoken and written Chinese and the study of the customs of the country, and anything else that was necessary for the advancement of the missions. In his view, the acquisition of fluency in language and customs was a sine qua non for the conversion of China. 38

In 1582, Francesco Pasio and Michele Ruggieri had established the first toehold in China. In 1583, Valignano sent Matteo Ricci to advance that tenuous establishment. Ricci may in time have exceeded even Valignano's expectations in his interaction with China, but at the outset probably had no clear plan of action. He did, however, clearly share Valignano's views on the need to appreciate and adapt to the Culture of China. A detailed account of his twenty-seven-year apostolate -- his understanding of Chinese society and the targeting of the literati and the Confucian philosophy as the dominant Class and Culture, the adaptations of dress and behaviour, the acquisition of learning in the Chinese classics which equalled that of the Chinese scholars, the adoption of Chinese terms for Christian concepts, and the accommodation of Christian practices to Chinese moral and social standards -- is not the purpose of this article. However, it has been observed that the History of the early China mission is that of:

"[...] the development and testing of Ricci's perceptions of a complex society in the course of his effort to establish himself in it as an effective agent of change."39

The record of Ricci's dealings with the Chinese is not one of unilateral submission or accommodation, but rather of understanding and respect for the mainstream Culture, counterpointed with a presentation of the essential qualities of his own Culture, with a constant underlying theme of minimisation or explication of differences. Ricci's publications in Chinese were in large part documents of Cultural reconciliation. For example, his Map of the World, first published in 1584, honoured Chinese certainties about their own centrality, but in the subsequent editions introduced the Chinese to the idea of lands and powers beyond their own sphere. 40In presenting the Map he was careful to link it to Chinese authorities of Antiquity, 41 and to seek endorsement of its acceptability by prominent contemporary Chinese. 42

Ricci's first literary publication in Chinese, On Friendship, dated 1595, gathered sayings from European writers on that subject and presented them in a manner which would be of interest to the Chinese literati and demonstrated a comparability of their Cultures in an essentially non-controversial area. 43

In 1596, Ricci's publication on Memory, Treatise on Mnemonic Arts, capitalised on the fact that the Chinese literati were deeply impressed by his facility for remembering tracts from the Classics on a single reading. 44 It sought to present the Chinese with ideas from the European Classics, including the Greek poet Simonides and probably also the Romans Pliny and Quintilian45 to illustrate the worth and Antiquity of European Culture.

Later publications such as the Twenty-five Moral Statements, in 1604, and the Ten Paradoxes, in 1608, were similarly written to emphasize the acceptability of European thought to Chinese values; indeed, as Ricci wrote to Acquaviva, the Jesuit General, the latter publication was seen by the Chinese as more "catadoxa" than "paradoxa".46

During his time in China, Ricci became accepted by the literati almost as one of their own, and converted some of the leading scholars and Mandarins to the Christian Faith. 47 The number of converts in total was not great, but prudence in the Mission's evangelical activities had been a matter of policy from the outset. 48 He seems to have ceased to be regarded as a foreigner, 49 at least in the pejorative connotation that the term could carry in Chinese.

The fact that Ricci was allowed to establish residence in the capital, Beijing, was a mark of acceptance by the Chinese and therefore of the success of his approach. This was further emphasised by the Imperial honours bestowed upon Ricci after his death. One historian has suggested that the Chongzhen Emperor was so impressed by Ricci's reputation and so influenced by one of Ricci's converts, the Mandarin Xu Guangqi, that he seriously considered conversion to Christianity. 50 Had that occurred, the subsequent history of China might have been greatly different, and the principle of cross-Cultural communication brought into the Western repertoire three centuries earlier!


There is a recurring theme throughout mission histories that the Jesuits gained their initial foothold through their knowledge of Western science and mathematics. It is true that the early Jesuits -- particularly Ricci -- accurately perceived that although the Chinese were far from backward in their knowledge of mathematics51 they had failed to apply that knowledge to such areas as astronomy. 52 It is also true that the Jesuits hoped to arouse Chinese interest in European science, and use this as a basis for the advancement of their missionary aims. 53

It has already been mentioned that the Chinese did not initially believe that anything of value could come from outside China, 54 and they were therefore unreceptive to European claims of scientific superiority. Nor were any of the first Jesuits especially adept in science or mathematics. 55 Indeed, some authors claim that their knowledge was still "mediæval", restricted to the principles of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and that the innovations offered by Ricci were limited to the sphericity of the Earth, and devices such as mechanical clocks and the telescope. 56 However, Ricci certainly understood the vital importance of mathematics and astronomy in a time when the decay which would before the middle of the next century bring the Ming Dynasty to ruin was already evident. In such times of uncertainty, accurate prediction of celestial phenomena such as eclipses was essential to demonstrate that the Emperor still held the Mandate of Heaven. Ricci noted that Chinese astronomy was in some confusion due to the existence of two Schools, based on ancient Chinese and Persian principles. 57 Ricci wrote to Rome, probably first in the mid-1590s, to ask that a "good astronomer" be sent to the Mission. In a later letter, dated May 1605, he pleaded that:

"Nothing could be more advantageous than to send to Beijing a Father or Brother who is a good astronomer. [...] if this mathematician58 of whom I speak should come, we should be able to translate our tables into Chinese [...] and thus undertake the task of correcting the calendar. This would enhance our reputation, give us freer entry into China, and assure us greater security and liberty. I wish your Reverence would take this matter up with Father General as a thing of great importance for China, and whatever their nationality, send one or two astronomers directly to China and to Beijing [...]."59

Such requests to various Church authorities were repeated throughout the remainder of Ricci's life and supported by other prominent members of the mission but prompted no action. 60

Ricci made some impression on the Chinese with European innovations such as clocks, spheres and astrolabes, and also through the publication of his Mappamundo. In the letter quoted above, and elsewhere, he refers to his having gained a reputation as "the greatest mathematician in the World."61 However, in the light of his pleadings for astronomers and his assessments of Chinese proficiency and his own limitations, this reference may be seen as somewhat rueful. However much interest and curiosity his devices may have raised amongst provincial officials, and indeed facilitated his progress to Beijing, Ricci knew that they were not "science".

Ricci also took a part in the translation into Chinese of certain European works on mathematics and science, notably the first six books of Euclid's Principles of Geometry, in 1607, and the Astrolabium and Sphera of Cristoforo Clavio -- whom he had known in Rome--, in 1608. In both of these he was assisted substantially by Christian Chinese scholars of greater mathematical learning than he possessed. The former was published by Xu Guangqi with an extensive preface, 62 while the latter was largely the work of Li Jizao63 In such collaborations were sown the seeds of much later adoption of European knowledge, as both these scholars were to play key roles -- particularly through the Calendrical Bureau -- in the reform of Chinese science. 64

It was not until well after Ricci's death, in 1610, that his requests for competent European astronomers received any attention. In 1612, the Belgian Jesuit Nicolas Trigault was dispatched to Europe by Ricci's successor, Nicolò Longobardo, to promote the work of the mission and procure support which was to include scientific books and "two mathematicians".65 Trigault was evidently a very able travelling salesman, for in his journey through Europe he secured most of what he sought, including the works that were to be the basis of the Jesuit Library in Beijing, and a number of mathematicians and astronomers including Giacomo Rho, Johannes Schreck (latinised as Terrentius), and Johann Adam Schall von Bell.

The true watershed in the acceptance of European science did not occur until 1629. In June of that year a solar eclipse was expected, and the three competing "Schools" of astronomy -- the Chinese, the Persian-Mohammedan and the Jesuitic -- were required to give in advance their predictions of the hour and duration of the phenomenon. The predictions of the Jesuits proved devastatingly superior to those of the others. As a result, Xu Guangqi and Li Jizao were directed to enlist the assistance of the Jesuits in an extensive reform of the Chinese calendar. 66 The eventual appointees were Rho and Schall, and it was those two who, in the words of Pasquale D'Elia:

"[...] introdussero difatti l'astronomia in Cina, publicarono una vasta collezione di libri scientifici finita verso il 1645 e riformarono il calendario cinese."67

Clearly, this occurred almost half a century after Ricci and his companions first established Residence in China. It cannot therefore be maintained that the establishment of the China mission rested on the missionaries' knowledge of European science.


Faced with a missionary task that could not be addressed with the usual methods of their time, the first Jesuits in China adopted an approach which anticipated twentieth-century notions of cross-Cultural communication. It was unique in its time, and rested on cultural understanding and reconciliation rather than military- or trade-supported domination, or even the introduction of European scientific expertise as happened in later decades of the mission.

From the late seventeenth century the vigour and success of the China mission began to wane, largely because bitter political opposition within the Church -- and even from within the Society itself-- focused on the "communication" approach which had been the foundation of the mission's success. When the Jesuits eventually lost the long-running debate over adaptation of practices and teaching -- the "Rites Controversy" -- in 1742, the Catholic missions in the Orient entered a long period of stagnation from which they never fully recovered. Certainly, the standing and prospects of the first decades were never regained.


1 The story of Valignano standing at his window in Macao, gazing towards China and exclaiming "Oh, rock, when will you open?" recurs in mission histories, including Semedo (17th century), but may well be apocryphal.

2 WICKI, Josef, S. J., Ed., Documenta Indica, in: "Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu", Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 16 vols., Roma, 1948-1988, passim; [Author's Note: The items of correspondence alluded to are numerous and scattered throughout the sixteen volumes of the series]; cf. LAMALLE, Edmond, S. J., La Propagande de Nicolas Trigault En Faveur des Missions de Chine, in: "Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu", Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, (9) 1940, pp. 65-70 -- Much correspondence from those times was concerned with the desperate financial straits of the China mission and the lack of other support.

3 Ed. D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Fonti Ricciane: Documenti Originali Concernenti Matteo Ricci e la Storia delle Prime Relazioni tra l'Europa e la Cina, Roma, Libreria dello Stato, 1942, vol. 1, p. 142, fn. 1.

4 DUNNE, George H., S. J., Generation of Giants: The Story of the Jesuits in China in the Last Decades of the Ming Dynasty, Indiana, University of Notre Dame, 1962, passim; SAID, Edward, Orientalism, New York, Pantheon Books, 1978, passim -- Where this theme is expounded. [Author's Note: the theme referred to is expounded throughout the works cited -- in the work by Dunne there are nine separate references and in the said work the references are extremely numerous].

5 MIMAMIKI, George, The Chinese Rites Controversy: From Its Beginnings to Modern Times, Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1985, p.1.

6 MARTINO V, Sane Charissimus, 4th of April 1418.

This occurred as early as 1418, with the granting of sovereignty over lands in Africa by Martino V to the Portuguese Crown.

7 BOXER, Charles Ralph, The Church Militant and Iberian Expansion 1440-1770, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1978, p. 77ff. -- For an useful and succinct exposition of padroado and patronato.

8 TRINDADE, Paulo da, O. F. M., Intro. and Notes LOPES, Félix, Conquista Espiritual do Oriente, 3 vols., Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1962-1967, chap. 26, p. 127 -- "So closely did the two swords of secular and ecclesiastical power always go together that we seldom find one making a move without the other [...] And to the extent that these two swords were close, so they always helped each other, so that on one hand the Crown aided the ministers of the Holy Word, while on the other these undertook and advanced matters of Crown interest."

9 GREGORIO XIII, Pastoralis Officii Cura, 13th of December 1585.

10 LOYOLA, Ignacio de, Exercicios Espirituales de S Ignacio de Loyola, Barcelona, Francisco Rosal, 1892, pp. 10,49--On the Intellect, pp. 32,85-87,91-93 -- On the Will; pp. 42-43,125 --On the Memory, pp. 41,62-63,68ff. -- On the Imagination,

11 RODRICK, James, S. J., The Origin of the Jesuits, London, Longmans Green, 1940, p. 104ff.

12 ROWBOTHAM, Arnold, Missionary and Mandarin: The Jesuits at the Court of China, New York, Russell & Russell, 1942, p. 65.

13 DUNNE, George H., S. J., op. cit., p. 13.

14 POLZER, Charles, S. J., Rules and Precepts of the Jesuit Missions in Northwestern New Spain, Arizona, University of Arizona Press, 1976, p.14.

15 COOPER, Michael, S. J., Rodrigues the Interpreter: An Early Jesuit in Japan and China, New York, Weatherhill, 1974, pp. 53,175-176; cf. HARRIS, George, The Mission of Matteo Ricci, SJ: A Case Study of an Effort at Guided Culture Change in China in the Sixteenth Century, in: "Monumenta Serica", Tokyo, SVD Research Institute, (25) 1966, p. 53.

16 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., op. cit., vol.1, p.142, fn. 1 ("impresa disperata or impossibile") -- Reference is also made to correspondence from Ruggieri to the Jesuit General, Mercuriano, in November 1580.

17 BOXER, Charles Ralph, Macao as a Religious and Commercial Entrepôt in the 16th and 17th Centuries, in: "Acta Asiatica", Tokyo, Institute of Eastern Culture, (26) 1974, p. 66 -- For the quoting of a letter on this subject. For example, in 1588, King Felipe II was urged to send a Spanish-Portuguese force, assisted by Filipino and Japanese auxiliaries, to conquer China.

See: BOXER, (1978), op. cit., p. 53. -- For further references on this subject.

Also see: SCHUETTE, Josef, S. J., Manoel Godinho de Erédia, 'Entdecker' der Terra Australis-Lebenund Werke, Vorschläge an Papst und Jesuitengeneral, in: "Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu", Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, (38) 1969, pp. 308-311 -- For a remarkable letter to the Pope, dated 1611, on the subject of the invasion of China.

18 LACH, Donald F., China in the Eyes of Europe, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p. 732.

19 CHANG T'ien-tse, Sino-Portuguese Trade from 1514 to 1644 -A Synthesis of Portuguese and Chinese Sources, Leyden, E. J. Brill, 1934, pp. 47, 65; CHAN, Albert, S. J., The Glory and Fall of the Ming Dynasty, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982, p. 53.

20 CRUZ, Gaspar da, Tractado em que se cõtam muito por estãco as cousas da China, in: Ed. BOXER, Charles Ralph, "South China in the Sixteenth Century", London, Hakluyt Society, 1953, p. 191ff.

21 JONATHAN, Spence, To Change China -- Western Advisers in China 1620-1960, New York, Penguin, 1980 [1st ed. 1969,], p. 6. -- For a puzzling assertion to the contrary, based on an English translation of Nicolas Trigault's writings, to the effect that "the Chinese possess the ingenious trait of preferring that which comes from without to that which they possess themselves". Not only is this contrary to most historical evidence, but it cannot be located in Fonti Ricciane. It is probably, therefore, a Trigaultean embellishment of doubtful provenance.

GERNET, Jacques, À propos des contacts entre la Chine et l'Europe aux XVIéme et XVIIéme sièclse, in: "Acta Asiatica: Bulletin of the Institute of Eastern Culture", Tokyo, (23) 1974, p. 80 -- The author's assertion that the sixteenth century was a time of"effervescence intellectuelle et de nouveautés de grande curiosité et de liberté d'esprit" may be supported in terms of thinking in China being in flux, but not with respect to foreign ideas.

22 DUNNE, George H., S. J., op. cit., p. 11.

23 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., op. cit., n.226: "[...] i cinesi non si possono [...] persuadere de forastieri sappino qualche cose meglio de loro."

24 Ibidem., n. 166.

25 Ibidem., n. 43.

26 Ibidem., n. 13.

27 RACHEWILTZ, Igor de, Papal Envoys to the Great Khan, London, Faber, 1971, p. 190ff.

28 LETURIA, Pedro, S. J., El Puesto de Javier en la Fundación de las Misiones del Extremo Oriente, in: Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, (22) 1953, pp. 513-515.

29 BÉRNARD-MAÎTRE, Henri, S. J., Les Jésuites de la Chine, in: "Aspects de la Chine", Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1959, vol. 1, p. 194.

30 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., op. cit., vol.1, p.139, n.5; PFISTER, Alois, S. J., Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jésuites de l' ancienne Mission de Chine, (1552-1773), in: "Varietés Sinologiques", Shanghai, 1932, p. 16

31 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., J. S., op. cit., vol. 1, p. 167, n. 5 --"We have become Chinese to gain China for Christ", from a letter to the Father General, Claudio Acquaviva.

32 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Quadro Storico-Sinologico del Primo Libro di Dottrina Cristiana in Cinese, in: "Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu", Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, (3) 1936, p. 193. -- The author represents Ruggieri's role in relation to Ricci as comparable to that of John the Baptist to Christ.

33 Ibidem., p. 196ff.; D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., n.207.

34 Ibidem., n. 804; CHING, Julia, Confucianism and Christianity - A Comparative Study, Tokyo, Sophia University, 1977, p. 13.

35 Ed. WICKI, Josef, S. J., op. cit., passim -- [Author' s Note: The items of correspondence alluded to are numerous and scattered throughout the early volumes of the series. There is therefore no specific reference.]

36 VALIGNANO, Alessandro, S. J., Historia del Principio y Progresso de la Compañia de Jesús en las Indias Orientales, Ed. WICKI, Josef, S. J., Institum Historicum Societatis Iesu, Roma, 1944, pp. 214-215 --"The kingdom of China is very different to all the others in the Orient [...] in some respects it resembles our Europe in richness and abundance, and in some exceeds it."

37 BÉRNARD-MAÎTRE, Henri, S. J., Aux Portes de la Chine: les Missionaires du Seizième Siècle, 1514-1588, Tientsin, Hautes-Études, 1933, p. 241.

38 D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., vol. 1, p. 89, Instruction, 12th Feb 1582 -"[...] imparare la lingua mandarina, a scrivere e a leggere, studiando pure i costumi e tanto quello che à necessario per poter tentar questa impresa quando piacera a Nostro Signore; assi non debbono distrarsi in altre occupazioni nè il Superiore della casa deve distrarli, occupandoli in altre cose; difatti finchè non abbiamo alcuni dei Nostri che sappiamo la lingua mandarina è impossibile poter tentare con frutto questa tanto desiderata conversione della Cina." It is thought that this was probably a restatement of an instruction to the Japan mission in 1579 (original lost).

39 HARRIS, George, op. cit., p.71.

40 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Recent Discoveries and New Studies (1938-1960) on the World Map in Chinese of Father Matteo Ricci, S. J., in: "Monumenta Serica", Tokyo, SVD Research Institute, (20) 1961, p.160.

41 Ibidem., pp.90-92 -- Notably, Tsou Yen (350-270 BC).

42 Ibidem., p.91 -- For example, the official Wu Tso-hai wrote a preface to the second edition of 1600, attesting to the reliability and sound historical basis of Ricci's computations.

43 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Further Notes on Matteo Ricci's De Amicitia, in: "Monumenta Serica", Tokyo, SVD Research Institute, (15) 1956.

44 MOULE, Arthur Christopher, The First Arrival of the Jesuits at the Capital of China, in: "New China Review", Shanghai, (4) 1922, p.459.

45 SPENCE, Jonathan D., The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, London, Faber, 1969, pp.2-5.

46 DUNNE, George, S. J., op. cit., p.101.

47 D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., vol.3, p.238 (index) -- For references to Chinese converts.

48 Ibidem., nn.245,458,463, 760.

49 Ibidem., n.312 - "paesano", n.491 - "già della Cina", n.536 - " già non forastiero nella Cina".

50 CHAN, T'ien-tse, op. cit., p.123.

51 D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., n.56.

52 Ibidem., n.58.

53 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., The Double Stellar Hemisphere of Johann Schall Von Bell, SJ, in: "Monumenta Serica", Tokyo, SVD Research Institute, (18) 1959, p.328.

54 Ibidem., n.226.

55 Ibidem., n.252 -- "Il Padre [Ricci] que sapeva mediocremente queste cose di matematica per esser stato alcuni anni discepolo del P Cristoforo Clavio quando stava in Roma".

56 GERNET, Jacques, op. cit., p 82. -- In fact, there is evidence that the first telescope did not reach China until 1621; D'ELIA, (1959), op. cit., p. 335.

57 D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., nn.56-60.

58 The various branches of the sciences were not so clearly differentiated in the writings of that time, and terms such as "astronomer", "astrologer" and "mathematician" are used almost interchangeably.

59 D'ELIA, (1959), op. cit., pp.330-331 -- Quoted here in translation.

60 D'ELIA, (1936), op. cit., p.329ff.

61 D'ELIA, (1942), op. cit., n.266--"il maggiormatematico di tutto il mondo ".

62 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Presentazione della Prima Traduzione Cinese di Euclide, in: "Monumenta Serica", Tokyo, SVD Research Institute, (15) 1956, n.1.

63 D'ELIA, (1959), op. cit., p.331.

64 HASHIMOTO, Keizo, Hsü Kuang-ch' i and Astronomical Reform: The Process of the Chinese Adoption of Western Astronomy, 1629-1645, Osaka, Kansai University Press, 1988.

65 Ibidem., p.334ff; LAMALLE, Edmond, S. J., op. cit., pp.71,83.

66 D'ELIA, (1959), op. cit., p.335ff.

67 D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., Il Contributo del Missionari Cattolici alla Scambievole Conoscenza della Cina dell'Europa, in: "Le Missioni Cattolici e la Cultura dell'Oriente, Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente", Roma, Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1943, p.65 -- The eventual apointees were Rho and Schall and it was those two, together with Schreck, who in the words of Pasquale D'Elia: [...].

* Researcher on the cross-Cultural communication strategies of the early Jesuit Missions in the Orient. BA in History and Philosophy, Australian National University (Canberra) and in Modern Languages (Canberra). Director of the Study Skills Centre (University of Canberra). Associate of the Australian Institute of Jesuit Studies.

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