Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724

Article excerpt

Asian Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724. By Liam Matthew Brockey. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 2007. Pp. xiv, 496. $35.00.)

The celebration of the Jesuit mission to China started early. Barely five years after the death of the mission's first diarist in 1610, Nicolas Trigault published Matteo Ricci's diaries. The book was soon circulating in six languages and was being avidly read by the fervent young men who flocked to the Jesuit call to evangelize the world. Ricci is the hero of Trigault's nicely crafted volume: a man of action who takes initiative in difficult moments, interacts cleverly with Chinese of all backgrounds, and overcomes the obstacles placed between him and his destination, Beijing. That he failed in his ultimate goal to become the confessor to the Wanli emperor was not included in this story, nor would it tarnish his heroic status. George Dunne's widely read Generation of Giants (1962) continued in this celebratory vein. Interestingly, Dunne opens his foreword with the hope that "this book qualifies as a scholarly work" (p. [vii]), as though there might be room for doubt. The book is indeed scholarly, but it is hugely partisan as well. Dunne's purpose was to celebrate the mission as "a splendid page in the history of the cultural relations of East and West" (p. 14) and, in so doing, to celebrate the "giants" who built it.

Whether we should see the mission as a splendid page in that history, or as a more modest insert in a different history altogether, has only recently been asked. Much has changed, not least of which is that China historians have entered the ranks of the mission's chroniclers, reversing the gaze and showing what the mission meant from the Chinese side. Additionally, Jesuit historians have learned to historicize their subjects and recognize setbacks as something historically more interesting than tests in an aEegory of faith. …

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