Ricci, Matteo

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RICCI, MATTEO (15521610), Jesuit missionary. Born at Macerata, in the Papal States, Ricci studied law at Rome and entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1571. He volunteered for the missions and was sent to Portugal (1577) and then to Goa (1578). He finished his theological studies in Goa and in 1580 was ordained at Cochin, on the Malabar coast. In 1582 he went to Macao to study Chinese language and culture. The next year, with unprecedented permission from Chinese authorities, Ricci and Michele Ruggier (15431607) traveled to Zhaoqing, China. Beardless, with shaven heads, they assumed garb similar to that worn by Buddhist monks. They sought to spread Christian doctrine unobtrusively, attracting educated visitors with their world map, Western clocks, and prisms. Ricci's use of the term tianzhu (lord of Heaven) to refer to God dates from that period. In 1588 Ricci, known in Chinese as Li Madou, took charge of the mission. Ordered by local authorities to leave (1589), the missionaries went to Shaozhou (modern-day Guangdong). There they were advised by Qu Rukui, an early convert who had initially been attracted by rumors of the foreigners' expertise in alchemy. It was probably he who counseled the Jesuits to present themselves as scholars rather than as monks. At Shaozhou Ricci appears to have completed a Latin translation (now lost) of the Confucian Four Books.

After a brief visit to Nanjing (1595), the Jesuits settled in Nanzhang (modern-day Jiangxi), appearing with hair and beards and wearing Confucian robes. At Nanzhang Ricci wrote, in Chinese, Jiaoyou lun (On friendship), dedicated to an imperial prince he had met, and also completed his catechism (Tianzhu shiyi). In 1598 the Jesuits went to Beijing, but they stayed only two months, as people feared to associate with them at the time of the Chinese involvement in Japan's invasion of Korea. They settled in Nanjing (1599), where the atmosphere had improved; there Ricci met many scholars, including Li Zhi and Jiao Hong, and published a revised edition of his world map (1600). That same year the Jesuits left once more for Beijing, reinforced with presents for the emperor, including clocks, clavichords, statues, and crucifixes. At Tianjin a eunuch confiscated some articles and held the party for nearly six months.

When the Jesuits finally reached Beijing in January 1601, their gifts so pleased the emperor that he allowed them to stay on and even granted them a monthly stipend. Ricci associated there with scholar-officials including grand secretary Shen Yiguan, minister of rites Feng Qi, and minister of personnel Li Dai, with whom Ricci discussed science and religion. Feng Yingjing, editor of an encyclopedia, was prevented from receiving baptism by his untimely death. Another convert, Li Zhizao, helped Ricci publish his world map, his catechism, and his treatise on friendship. By 1604 Ricci had also published a short treatise, Ershiwu yan (Twenty-five sayings), and became sole superior of the China mission, now independent of Macao. In 1608 he also published a work on ethics, Qiren shipian (Ten dialogues of a nonconformist). With Xu Guangqi, another collaborator baptized at Nanjing, who would rise to the position of grand secretary, Ricci translated the first six chapters of Euclid's Elements (1607) and other texts on astronomy, trigonometry, geometry, and arithmetic. He prepared a special copy of the world map for the emperor, as well as various polemics directed against Buddhism, especially the Bianxue yidu. By this time the Jesuits had bought a compound inside the Xuanwu Gate, later known as Nantang (South Church). There they met Ai Tian, a Chinese Jew from Kaifeng, who told them about the Nestorian presence in China. By then also, their suspicion that China was identical with the legendary land of Cathay had been confirmed. Ricci died of illness at age fifty-seven. He was buried outside the western city-gate of Beijing, in Zhala'er. His grave, destroyed by the Boxers in 1900, was desecrated again in 1966 but was subsequently repaired; it has been open to the public since 1980.

Ricci's gentle personality, his expertise in Western science and philosophy, and his knowledge of Chinese culture made him one of the great cultural mediators of all time. He was venerated posthumously by Chinese clockmakers as their patron. His method of cultural accommodation in the China mission left its legacy of controversy. Whether Chinese converts to Christianity should still be permitted to participate in Chinese rites was a question long debated in China and Europe by missionaries and philosophers, Chinese emperors, and papal legates. Such participation was condemned as intrinsically evil by popes Clement XI (1704) and Benedict XIV (1742). Even a later papal decision in 1939 to allow a measure of "Chinese rites" did not fully rehabilitate Ricci's institutional position. His ideas were ahead of his time, although his exclusive preferences for early Confucian morals as an ally of Christianity and his opposition to neo-Confucian philosophy and to Buddhism is not entirely acceptable to even more ecumenically minded modern missionaries.


No satisfactory book-length biography of Ricci is available in English. Vincent Cronin's The Wise Man from the West (New York, 1955) is a popular work. Wolfgang Franke's scholarly entry in Dictionary of Ming Biography, 13691644, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), is short but full. R. P. Bernard's Le Père Matthieu Ricci et la société chinoise de son temps, 2 vols. (Tianjin, 1937), is still useful. Ricci's diary has been translated into English by Louis Gallagher as China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci, 15831610 (New York, 1953).

Serious scholars must still consult Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci, 2 vols., edited by Pietro Tacchi Venturi (Macerata, 19111913); Fonti Ricciane, 3 vols., edited by Pasquale Maria d'Elia (Rome, 19421949); and the Jesuit Archives in Rome. There are two chronological biographies available in Chinese, by Li'ou and by Fang Hao, collected in Li Madou yanjiu lunji, edited by Zhou Kangxie (n.p., 1971).

Julia Ching (1987)