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Ricci, Matteo

RICCI, MATTEO

(b. Macerata, Italy, 6 October 1552; d. Peking, China, 11 May 1610)

mathematics, astronomy, geography, sinology.

Ricci was the son of Giovanni Battista Ricci, a pharmacist, and Giovanna Angiolelli. In 1568 he went to Rome to study law, but in 1571 he joined the Jesuits and in 1572 was enrolled at the Collegio Romano, where he studied until 1577. One of his professors was the renowned Clavius. Ricci left Rome in 1577 when he was ordered to the missions in the Orient. He sailed from Lisbon for Goa, and from there moved on to Macao in 1582. In 1583 he entered the Chinese Empire, settling at Ch’ao-ching (Shiuhing), in Kwantung province. This expedition was the beginning of modern Catholic missions in China. After establishing missions in different parts of the empire, in 1601 Ricci finally settled in Peking, where, under the protection of the Emperor Wan-li, he remained until his death.

The success of Ricci’s missionary activity was due not only to his personal high qualities and to his complete adaptation to China, both in customs and in language, but also to his authoritative knowledge of the sciences, especially mathematics, astronomy, and geography. He disseminated Western science by lecturing, publishing books and maps, and making instruments.

Besides his books in Chinese on religious and moral topics (including Basic Treatise on God; Christian Doctrine; Treatise on Friendship; and Ten Paradoxes), Ricci is remembered for his Chinese works in the sciences, generally translations or shortened versions of works of Clavius. His Chinese pupils helped him with the Chinese literary style. These works comprised the Astrolabe, Sphere, Arithmetic, Measures, and Isoperimeters. But especially important was his Chinese version of the first six books of Euclid’s Elements, also from the Latin text of Clavius. Entitled A First Textbook of Geometry, this work assures Ricci an important place in the history of mathematics. Written in collaboration with his pupil Hsu Kuang-ch’i, it was published at Peking in 1607. In about 1672 it was translated into Tatar at the suggestion of the Emperor K’ang Hsi. The work was completed in 1865, with the translation of the remaining books of Euclid, by the English Protestant missionary Alexander Wylie and the Chinese mathematician Li Shan-lan.

Ricci’s map of the world is important in the history of geography. It was published at Ch’ao-ching in 1584 and at Nanking in 1600; later editions, one issued at the special request of the emperor, appeared at Peking. For the first time the Chinese had a complete idea of the distribution of the oceans and landmasses. Very few authentic copies of the map are known today. The copy at the Vatican Library (Peking, 1602) is entitled “Complete Geographical Map of All Kingdoms.” It is an oval planisphere, on a folding screen of six panels, each seventy-and-a-half inches (1.79 meters) high and twenty-seven inches (0.69 meters) wide, with numerous illustrations and legends.

Ricci’s other important contributions to geography were his calculation of the breadth of China in latitude (three-quarters the breadth assumed by Western geographers) and his identification of China and Peking with the Cathay and Cambaluc of Marco Polo. He shares the latter recognition with another Jesuit, Benedetto de Góis, who made a journey from India to China (1602–1605).

Ricci’s life and activities are also documented in his letters, written in Italian and Portuguese, and in an extensive report, Della entrata delta compagnia di Giesù e Christianità nella Cina. He was proposed for beatification in 1963 at the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. For a bibliography of Ricci’s works, see Louis Pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jésuites de l’ancienne mission de Chine 1552–1773, 2 vols. (Shanghai, 1932–1934), 1, 22–42; II, 9*-10*; Henri Bernard, “Les adaptations chinoises d’ouvrages européens: bibliographie chronologique depuis la venue des Portugais à Canton jusqu’à la mission française de Pekin 1514–1688,” in Monumenta serica, 10 (1945), 1–57, 309–388; and Pasquale M. D’Elia, Fonti Ricciane (cited below), esp. III, 239–243.

Modern eds. of Ricci’s works are Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci S.I., 2 vols.: I. I commentarj della Cina, II. Le lettere dalla Cina (Macerata, 1911–1913), with intros., notes, tables, and a bibliography of Ricci’s Chinese works compiled by Giovanni Vacca, II, 544–548; Pasquale M. D’Elia, II mappamondo cinese del P. Matteo Ricci S.I. (Vatican City, 1938), a facs. ed. based on the 3rd ed. of the map (Peking, 1602), with trans., intro., and commentary; and Pasquale M. D’Elia, Fonti Ricciane (Rome, 1942–1949), the first three vols. of the planned national ed. of Ricci’s works, which contain Storia dell’ introduzione del cristianesimo in Cina.

Tacchi Venturi’s ed. of the Commentarj and the Storia in D’Elia’s ed. reproduce the autograph text of Dell’ entrata …, cited in the text of the article. This MS discovered by Tacchi Venturi in 1910 (Archivio Romano della Compagnia di Gesù, Jap.-Sin., n. 106a), was known in the Latin trans. of Nicolas Trigault, De Christiana expeditions apud Sinas a Societate Iesu suscepta (Augsburg, 1615). There are several eds. and trans. of this work, including L. J. Gallagher, The China That Was: China As Discovered by the Jesuits at the Close of the Sixteenth Century (Milwaukee, Wis., 1942).

D’Elia has edited other works by Ricci: “II trattato sull’amicizia. Primo libro scritto in cinese da Matteo Ricci S.I. (1595),” in Studia missionalia, 7 (1952), 449–515, contains Ricci’s Chinese text, an Italian trans., and commentary; “Musica e canti italiani a Pechino,” in Rivista degli studi orientali, 30 (1955), 131–145, includes the Chinese text of eight songs by Ricci with Italian trans. and commentary; and “Presentazione della prima traduzione cinese di Euclide,” in Monumenta serica, 15 (1956), 161–202, which gives an Italian trans., with commentary, of Chinese texts of Ricci and Hsu Kuang-ch’i.

II. Secondary Literature. One of the most prolific writers on Ricci and his work was Pasquale D’Elia; see the bibliography of his publications (1913–1959), in Studia missionalia, 10 (1960), 90–112. In his Fonti Ricciane D’Elia collected a rich bibliography on Ricci. See also Giovanni Vacca, “L’opera di Matteo Ricci,” in Nuova antologia, 5th ser., 149 (1910), 265–275; and “Sull’opera geografica del P. Matteo Ricci,” in Rivista geografica italiana, 48 (1941), 66–74.

Other sources are Arnaldo Masotti, “Sull’opera scientifica di Matteo Ricci,” in Rendiconti dell’ Istituto lombardo di scienze e lettere, 85 (1952), 415–445; Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, 4 vols. (Cambridge, 1954–1971); and Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West (Cambridge, 1970), 21, 205, 397. Two recent biographies are Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (Glasgow, 1961); and Fernando Bortone, P. Matteo Ricci S.I., it “Saggio d’Occidente” (Rome, 1965).

Arnaldo Masotti

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Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was an Italian Jesuit missionary who opened China to evangelization. He was the best-known Jesuit and European in China prior to the 20th century.

Born at Macerata on Oct. 6, 1552, Matteo Ricci went to Rome in 1568 to study law. In 1571 he entered the Society of Jesus. 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.

Soon after the Jesuits established themselves at Chaoch'ing west of Canton, Ricci and a fellow Jesuit, Michele Ruggieri, went there on Sept. 10, 1583. When the Chinese governor general ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1589, Ricci managed to acquire a place in Shaochou, north of Kwangtung, where he soon established amicable relations with the officials and with members of the educated elite.

Ricci's ambition, however, was to go to Peking and establish himself in the imperial capital. Early in 1595 he set out to the north but was halted in Nanking, as all foreigners were held under suspicion following the Japanese invasion of Korea; hence he retreated to Nanchang, Kiangsi. In 1598 he found another opportunity to go north when the Nanking minister of rites, Wang Hunghui, expressed willingness to escort him. They reached the gates of Peking but were again turned back due to the Sino-Japanese conflict. Ricci thereafter settled in Nanking, where he received warm welcome from the literate as a result of his broad knowledge of the Western sciences and deep understanding of the Chinese classics.

Ricci and his escort made another effort to go to Peking in 1600, but their entrance was delayed by the intrigue of the eunuch Ma T'ang, who had tried to take possession of the gifts brought for the Ming emperor. Eventually they arrived at the capital on Jan. 24, 1601, and subsequently received a warm welcome from the Emperor. This imperial favor provided Ricci with an opportunity to meet the leading officials and literati in Peking, some of whom later became Christian converts.

Finally, Ricci obtained a settlement with an allowance for subsistence in Peking, 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 17. When he died on May 11, 1610, he was granted a place for burial in Peking. Some of the outstanding Chinese literati with whom Ricci had contact later became his converts, including the famous scholar-officials Hsü Kuang-ch'i, Li Chih-ts'ao, and Yang T'ing-yün. Ricci's writings include about 20 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 (World Map) and the True Idea of God.

Ricci owed his success, apart from his personality and learning, largely to his "accommodation method"—an attempt to harmonize the Christian doctrine with the Chinese tradition, which laid the foundation of the subsequent success of the Roman Catholic Church in China. Though the unhappy rites controversy (ca. 1635-1742) brought the mission to near ruin, the name of Ricci and his work left an indelible imprint on subsequent Chinese history.

Further Reading

Ricci's China journal was translated by Louis J. Gallagher as China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci, 1583-1610 (1953), which unfortunately contains a number of errors. The standard biography of Ricci in English is Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (1955). For a scholarly estimation of Ricci's scientific contribution see Henri Bernard, Matteo Ricci's Scientific Contribution to China (trans. 1935). Recommended for general historical background are G. F. Hudson, Europe and China (1931), and George H. Dunne, Generation of Giants (1962).

Additional Sources

Spence, Jonathan D., The memory palace of Matteo Ricci, New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1985, 1984. □

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Ricci, Matteo

Matteo Ricci (mät-tā´ō rēt´chē), 1552–1610, Italian missionary to China. He entered the Society of Jesus, and in Rome he studied under Clavius. Ricci was sent to the Indies (1578), and he worked at Goa and Cochin until 1582, when he was called to Macao to enter China. In 1583 he and his companion, Father Michele Ruggieri settled in Guangdong prov., studying the language and culture. They found ready acceptance among some officials, for the Chinese took an intense interest in their possessions, such as clocks and Western paintings. The missionaries wrote tracts on Christianity, including a dialogue. Father Ricci's aptitude for languages and his respect for the Chinese classics increased his standing among the officials; by 1589 he had adopted the dress of the literati. In 1595, Father Ricci, now alone, moved to Nanchang, a center of erudition, where he stayed until 1597, when he went to Nanjing. He was twice turned away from Beijing, but in 1601 he was allowed entrance to the capital. There he became a court mathematician and astronomer; he made few converts, but he brought Christianity into good repute. He helped translate many Western works on mathematics and the sciences into Chinese. His maps were eagerly perused by the Chinese, who gained from him their first notion of modern Europe. In return, Ricci sent back to Europe the first modern detailed report on China. He composed a number of treatises, the principal being a catechism, True Doctrine of God, which was widely printed in China.

See H. Bernard, Matteo Ricci's Scientific Contribution to China (1937, repr. 1973); L. J. Gallagher, China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci (1953); V. Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (1955).

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Ricci, Matteo

Ricci, Matteo (1552–1610). Jesuit missionary in China. He gained the attention of Chinese intellectuals by displaying and explaining to them European clocks, a map of the world, etc., planning thereby to bridge the difference in cultures and convert the country from the official classes downwards. His missionary success also owed much to his accommodation of Christianity to Chinese religion (cf. de Nobili). In 1603, he prescribed the observance of traditional honours to Confucius and the cult of ancestors in Jesuit churches in China. These rites, however, gave rise to a protracted controversy after his death, and were pronounced by the Holy See in 1704 and 1715 to be incompatible with Christianity.

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