Ricci, Matteo 1552–1610 Italian Missionary to China

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Ricci, Matteo
1552–1610 Italian missionary to China

Matteo Ricci was the first Jesuit* missionary to promote the Roman Catholic faith in China. During his 28 years there, Ricci introduced Chinese scholars to European technology and learning. At the same time, he launched the European study of Chinese culture.

Born in Macerata, Italy, Ricci began his Jesuit training in 1571. He studied law, philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy before volunteering to serve as a missionary in Asia. Ricci became a priest in India in 1580, and a few years later Chinese officials invited him to settle in a province of southern China. He eventually settled in the capital city of Peking (now known as Beijing), where his residence became the center of the growing Christian community. He also became acquainted with many Chinese scholars and government officials.

Ricci learned to speak Chinese and had a deep appreciation for Chinese culture. He became the bridge connecting China to the Europe of the late Renaissance. Ricci introduced the culture of China to the West by translating the major works of Chinese philosophy into Latin. He also developed a system for spelling Chinese names and words in the European alphabet. In addition, he carried Western ideas into China by writing Chinese books based on classical* sources. Ricci also translated a world map into Chinese, which he presented as a gift to the emperor of China.

Ricci argued that Christianity and Confucianism, one of China's traditional belief systems, could exist side by side. China's prime minister shared this view and became a Christian. Together the two men translated European books on mathematics, astronomy, and geography into Chinese. Upon Ricci's death, the emperor of China granted him a burial place near Beijing. Known today as the Matteo Ricci cemetery, it holds the tombstones of more than 60 Jesuits and other missionaries.

(See alsoMissions, Christian .)

* Jesuit

refers to a Roman Catholic religious order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and approved in 1540

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome