Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Preparation for Proselytizing: Matteo Ricci's Treatise Jiao-You-Lun (on Friendship)

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Preparation for Proselytizing: Matteo Ricci's Treatise Jiao-You-Lun (on Friendship)

Article excerpt

Matteo Ricci's treatise on friendship was his first and most influential work published in Chinese. By contrasting this text with his classical sources, this essay investigates the evolution of a strategy involving the use of the persona of a Western scholar friendly to Confucianism as a cover for Christian evangelism.

For his extraordinary contribution to the early modern intellectual interaction of Europe and China, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) has long been celebrated as one of the greatest "cultural brokers" (Gunn 172) and "a veritable 'bridge' between the two civilizations, European and Chinese" (John Paul II 2). Though appropriate, tributes like these fail to capture some crucial complexities. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, the Portuguese became the first Europeans to reach the shores of the "middle kingdom." After aligning themselves with the Portuguese so as to benefit from the padroado, or papal-sanctioned division of geographical influence between Portugal and Spain, members of the newly established Society of Jesus became the first Christian missionaries to set up shop inside the vast country. In 1557 the Portuguese gained a permanent foothold in Macau at the southern tip of the Pearl River delta, but because they lacked "[the] superiority in applying organized violence" (Huntington 51), they had to accept the Chinese terms of a restricted trading relationship (Boxer). In 1565 the Jesuits established themselves in the same Portuguese enclave, but because of the failure of their attempt to turn the local Chinese population into not only Christians but also people with Portuguese names, clothes, and customs, Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), who became the Jesuit Visitor of Asia in 1574, was compelled to experiment with a radically different missionary strategy for the Chinese mainland (Dunne). Working as one of the very first two members of the Jesuit China mission to implement Valignano's new policy of cultural accommodation, Ricci always disguised his real identity. His dubious self-representation greatly assisted his evangelical effort and eventually contributed to his posthumous fame, but it also hampered seriously what he single-mindedly set out to do. Both the intricacy and the irony of his achievement can be seen in his treatise Jiao-You-Lun (On Friendship), which, in addition to being his first and most widely influential work published in Chinese, marked a crucial turning point of his proselytizing enterprise in the late Ming dynasty.

Ricci's essay on friendship was composed in late 1595 in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province. Before then Ricci had already been in China for twelve years. For much of that time he had been trying to understand the social and political peculiarities of his host country and to make himself understood in a way that would facilitate, rather than hinder, his Christian mission. To avoid antagonism, he knew that he had to blend in; the recognition of this need, rather than plain dishonesty and deception, motivated him to assume from the very beginning a persona that at once explained and somewhat concealed who he really was. Just before his historic entry into the country in 1583, for instance, he shaved his beard, cut off his hair, and put on the robe of a Buddhist monk. Neither at that time nor later did he truly understand Buddhism, but he saw its usefulness as a cover for Christianity. Since he dressed himself as a Buddhist monk only for the purpose of being unobtrusive in his real mission, it is not surprising that he decided in 1594 to discard his Buddhist clothes, grow back his beard and hair, and present himself in the garb and guise of a Confucian scholar.

Back in 1583, Ricci's intentionally ambiguous outfit of a Buddhist monk made it possible for him to befriend a local Chinese magistrate, who helped him and his companion, Michele Ruggieri, acquire a piece of land outside the city of Zhaoqing, in Guangdong Province, on which to build a house with a chapel. …

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