A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742

A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742

A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742

A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742

Excerpt

As the sixteenth century was drawing towards its close and the august Dynasty of the Chinese Ming had run more than two-thirds of its course, there came to China one of the most remarkable men of the age. His name was Matteo Ricci and he was a Jesuit priest. Of all the Europeans who attempted the task of understanding the Chinese and their civilisation he was the most talented, the most important. Among all the Westerners who sojourned in China, he was the only one to whom the Chinese accorded unreservedly their respect as a scholar in their own language and literature.

Nigel Cameron's tribute to Matteo Ricci is echoed by many scholars including the greatest European authority on Chinese history and culture, Joseph Needham. Many scholars have written about the extraordinary achievement of the Italian priest and intellectual who was accepted as one of themselves by the highest ranks of the academic elite, the Confucian literati, who had administered China for centuries even as different dynasties came and went.

How did this extraordinary Italian come to be in China at all? He was there because he had been chosen to join another Italian Jesuit, Michele Ruggieri, in the inaugural mission of the Society of Jesus to China. The mission was planned by Alessandro Valignano, Visitor to the East of the Society who had already reformed the Jesuit mission in Japan which had been inaugurated by St Francis Xavier.

Valignano reformed the mission in ways that broke fundamentally and decisively with the approach to the propagation of the Christian faith by missionaries under the authority of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. When, midway through the fifteenth century, the Portuguese began the massive Iberian expansion over the whole world by reaching India via the Cape of Good Hope, they did so with the blessing of the Papacy. After Columbus' discoveries, the Spanish joined the game and expanded their authority over vast areas of the Americas with astonishing rapidity.

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