Ricci, Matteo

views updated May 23 2018


(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.


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

Matteo Ricci

views updated May 21 2018

Matteo Ricci


Jesuit missionary


Confucian Scholar. Born at Ancona, Italy, in 1552, Matteo Ricci quickly showed his scholastic aptitude and attractive character. At the age of sixteen he moved to Rome to study law. While there he joined the Society of Jesus in 1570, where he showed a talent for arithmetic and geography. In 1577 he decided to practice his missionary career in Asia, and he arrived in Goa (on the western coast of India) in 1578. Goa was under Portuguese rule. After finishing his spiritual education he lectured in the college there until 1582, when he was called to Macao to prepare himself to visit China. He studied written and spoken Chinese, and in 1583 he became the first Jesuit to enter into China, near Guangzhou in the South although at first he was regarded as only a guest. He began to study Confucianism, and in 1589 he used a Chinese architectural design to build a church. He adopted the clothing, as well as the behavior and learning, of a Confucian scholar.

Characteristics. Ricci was a forceful, energetic person with blue eyes, a booming voice, and a curly beard, which he used to assure the Chinese of his sagacity. The Chinese called him Li Matou. He also impressed the Chinese with his extraordinary knowledge of current Western accomplishments as well as his command of classical Chinese learning. Furthermore, he had an extraordinary, almost photographic, memory and used a variety of mnemonic devices to improve it. This method was a wonderful assistance to an intellectual, particularly for studying the difficult Chinese language. At that time some scholars, who desired to do well in the national examinations or see their sons succeed in the tests, sought out Ricci’s assistance, since he got along well with the Chinese. For this reason he was accepted by the Confucian scholars, as he had been at Macao after separating himself totally from the Portuguese dealers. In 1595 he and his missionary fellows were allowed to move north to the Yangzi valley and in 1601 founded their permanent base in Beijing.

Court. By the end of the sixteenth century the Emperor Wanli had become useless and was interested only in chasing pleasures; the government was corrupt and crammed with devious groups. The emperor’s fancy was caught ultimately by Ricci’s gifts—two clocks, a clavichord, and a pre-cursor of the piano. Before performing on these instruments, Ricci composed some enlightening songs for the ruler to sing. Afterward, the emperor employed him at court as an excellent and helpful scholar. Since Ricci was the first Jesuit missionary to enter China and he knew how the hierarchical Chinese society functioned, he focused his attention on the court, avoiding any conversation of Christian theology. To keep from isolating the Chinese and to make it more comprehensible and attractive, he represented Christianity as a scheme of morals comparable to Confucianism. He excluded such potentially offensive elements as the act of crucifixion, the virgin birth, and equal opportunity for all men.

Evaluation. Staying away from sermonizing or obvious efforts at evangelization, Ricci and his fellows won few converts, but they claimed that their efforts had laid the groundwork for later conversions. They knew how to make the Chinese accept the less-controversial aspects of Christianity and to pretend to be Confucian scholars. With his sharp mind and vast education Ricci was the perfect man for such a position. His selective description of Christian theology, however, landed Ricci in trouble with Rome, but he argued that his goal was to interest Chinese in the faith. After he died in 1610, his body was buried in Beijing in a special area awarded by the emperor.


Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People, translated by Maurice Freedman (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975).

Charles O. Hucker, Chinas Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese His-tory and Culture (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1975).

D. Howard Smith, Chinese Religions (New York: Holt, Rinehart Sc Winston, 1968).

Matteo Ricci

views updated Jun 11 2018

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. □

Ricci, Matteo

views updated May 21 2018

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.

Matteo Ricci

views updated May 18 2018

Matteo Ricci


Italian Jesuit missionary who brought European mathematics, geography and Christian teachings to the Chinese, who called him Li Ma-tou. After attending a Jesuit college, Ricci volunteered for missionary work in the Far East and voyaged to the Portuguese colonies at Goa (1578) and the island of Macao near Canton (1582), before being chosen to establish a Christian mission in mainland China. He settled in Chao-ch'ing in 1583, studying the Chinese language and culture and introducing the locals to the culture of Europe. Ricci also introduced the Chinese to Western geography, creating several influential maps, including a large world map with extensive geographical annotations (1584). From 1601, when he established a new mission in Peking, until his death in 1610, Ricci published several books in Chinese and conducted explorations of China's interiors.