Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

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What role did Matteo Ricci play in Christian-Confucian Relations?

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was an Italian missionary who opened China to Roman Catholic evangelization. He was the best-known Jesuit and European in China prior to the twentieth century. Born at Macerata in 1552, Ricci went to Rome in 1568 to study law. In 1571 he entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuit). After studying mathematics and geography at a Roman college, he set out for Goa in 1577 and was ordained there in 1580. In 1582 he was dispatched to Macao and started to learn Chinese. In 1601, Ricci made his way to Beijing and received a warm welcome from the Emperor. This imperial favor provided Ricci with an opportunity to meet the leading officials and Literati in Beijing, some of whom later became Christian converts. Ricci obtained a settlement with an allowance for subsistence in Beijing, after which his reputation among the Chinese increased. Besides the missionary and scientific work, from 1596 on he was also superior of the missions, which in 1605 numbered seventeen. When he died in 1610, he was granted a burial place in Beijing. Some of the outstanding Chinese Literati with whom Ricci had contact later became his converts, including the famous scholar-officials Hsu Kuang-ch’i, Li Chih-ts’ao, and Yang T’ing-yun. Ricci’s writings include about twenty titles, mostly in Chinese, ranging from religious and scientific works to treatises on friendship and local memory. The most famous of these are the Mappamondo and the True Idea of God.


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