Should They Stay or Should They Go?: The Jesuits, the Qing, and the Chinese Rites Controversy

By Kyle, Colleen | World History Bulletin, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Should They Stay or Should They Go?: The Jesuits, the Qing, and the Chinese Rites Controversy


Kyle, Colleen, World History Bulletin


Course: World History (8th-12th grade levels)

Historical Skills Addressed/Standards Covered: This lesson

plan simulation covers the following NCHS (National Center for History in the Schools) standards:

* Historical Thinking Standards:

** 3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation.

** 5. Historical Issues--Analysis and Decision Making.

* World History Content Standards, Era 6, The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450-1770:

** 2. How European society experienced social, economic, and cultural transformations in an age of global intercommunication, 1450-1750.

** 5. Transformations in Asian societies in the era of European expansion.

Overview: The Jesuit Order was founded in Europe during the Catholic Counter-Reformation in an attempt to reach new converts outside of Europe (the Protestant Reformation challenged many aspects of Catholic authority and launched a series of violent disruptions in Europe from 1517-1648). They established missions all around the globe, and had particular influence in French North America, South America, India, and China.

The Ming Court was initially receptive to Jesuits because they brought scientific and geographic knowledge that the mandarins found useful. Matteo Ricci was the first westerner allowed within the walls of the Forbidden City in Peking (Beijing). For their part, Jesuits admired Chinese traditions and philosophies, and sought to correlate the teachings of the Catholic Church with Confucian ideals, foundational Chinese texts, and Chinese practices such as rites honoring ancestors.

But over time, and as the Ming Dynasty transitioned to Manchu Qing rulers, the Jesuit presence became less welcome. Furthermore, winds of change in Europe turned against the Jesuits, as opposing forces within the Vatican (from which the Pope oversees the Church) began to question Jesuit assertions that ancestral rites are not in opposition to Christian practices.

The best way to explore the historical ramifications of conflicting belief systems and power is to engage students in a simulation that assigns them roles representing the various interests at stake. Using the documents from Matteo Ricci and the Qing history of the Ming period, the class will simulate a hearing from 1715, when the Qing emperor Kangxi decided whether or not to expel the Jesuit missionaries who had been staying in Beijing for over a century. Despite their usefulness as providers of technological, mathematical, and astronomical information, the Jesuits maintained that pesky habit of trying to convert good Chinese people (followers of Confucianism, Taoism, and/or Buddhism) to Roman Catholicism. In this imagined simulation, students will portray a fictional hearing in which Kangxi hears from Confucian scholars on one side and Jesuit representatives on the other as he decides whether or not to expel the proselytizing guests.

The simulation involves a twist: halfway into the debate, the Jesuit defense becomes imperiled by an announcement from Pope Clement XI that Chinese Catholics must abandon all Confucian practices and give themselves fully to Catholic beliefs and rituals. It's important that this pronouncement be handled carefully by the teacher: most students should not know that it is coming. Only a small group of 2-3 students will be given this assignment, and when they disrupt the hearing, all other students should be surprised by its content.

Time Needed: 2 class periods, at least one of which should be a long block if possible; 1-2 homework nights of reading; 1 additional homework night for reflection/assessment piece.

Materials: On the day of the simulation, the classroom should be set up with the Emperor and his advisors at the front of the room, and rows of desks or tables arranged on either side for Jesuits and Mandarins.

Readings:

* Background coverage from your class's world history textbook

* "Chinese Rites Controversy, 1715": available online at http://www. …

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