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Ricci, Matteo


Italian Jesuit, eminent missionary scientist, founder of the modern Chinese Church, and pioneer of cultural relations between Europe and China; b. Macerata, March of Ancona, Oct. 6, 1552; d. Beijing, China, May 11, 1610. When 16 he was sent to Rome for higher studies, but instead of embracing the legal profession as intended by his father, he entered Sant' Andrea novitiate on Aug. 15, 1571, and a year later began university courses at the Roman College, where his professor of mathematics was the celebrated Christopher clavius. Having had his mind long set on the order's expanding Asian missions, he set out for Portugal on May 18, 1577, and the following spring sailed from Lisbon with the annual fleet to the East Indies, reaching Goa on Sept. 13, 1578. There he applied himself to theology until the early months of 1582 and was ordained at midpoint of his studies (at Cochin on July 25, 1580).

Conquest through Learning. By this time there was in process a radical change in mission policy respecting the Middle Kingdom, hermetically sealed off to outsiders beyond a periodic mercantile fair at Canton. Alessandro valignano, the Jesuit visitator in the Far East, had matured a bold, farsighted plan to break through China's isolationism by engaging the Chinese intelligentsia on its own level of language, social customs, and superior talent. To prepare himself for this master enterprise, Ricci's fellow Jesuit in Rome and Goa, Pompilio (Michele) Ruggieri, was summoned to Macao in 1579. After intensive language study, he conducted several exploratory conversations in nearby Guangdong Sheng cities. No sooner had Ricci completed his theology than he too was ordered to Macao to help Ruggieri. He reached the Portuguese colonial outpost on Aug. 7, 1582, and the following year, on September 10a date thereafter memorable in China mission annalsthe two pioneer missionaries settled at Chaoking (Chao-ch'ing), seat of

the friendly Tsung-tu or viceroy of the two provinces of Guangdong Sheng and Guangxi, who had in fact welcomed them there. It was at the prefect's insistence that, to lessen suspicions of their intent, the foreign immigrants adopted the garb of Buddhist monks. Two years later, in May 1585, they dedicated a small church and residence.

Honored Scientist. "Blue-eyed and with a voice melodious like a bell," as a Chinese gazette of the day described him, Ricci instantly made his reputation as a scientist of astonishing versatility. Demonstration of such novelties as Venetian prisms, European books, paintings and engravings, sundials, clocks, and projection of maps attracted a steady stream of the educated. Further, designed and displayed there for the first time, his remarkable World Map, "Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries," perfected by later retouches, effected a revolution in traditional Chinese cosmography by delineating China's proper area relative to global dimensions. It was the first of a series of what became Ricci's major contribution to China, namely, the composition of works in Chinese on various subjectsmathematics, apologetics, literature, catetheticscomprising altogether more than 20 during his years of fruitful activity. Of his many works, the treatise T'ien-chu shih-i (The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven) stands out as his magnum opus and a lasting contribution to Confucian-Christian dialogue.

Thus was set the pattern of evangelization that Ricci would unfalteringly pursue to the end. His vision was to win the intellectual masters of Confucian society, using the ascendancy of learning as a magnet. To critics at home who clung to old-fashioned concepts of mission objectives, Ricci wrote that the scientific apostolate he and his associates had initiated in China was worth far more than making thousands of piecemeal converts, for it was the means that would eventually lead to the "universal conversion of the whole kingdom en bloc "mighty China as a Christian unit. His role in the reciprocal transmission of European-Chinese cultures, praised by all students of history, must be viewed in this spiritual perspective.

Western Mandarin. Ousted from Zhaoqing through a replacement of viceroys, the two fathers settled at Shaochow, farther north in Guangdong Sheng (Aug. 26, 1589). There Ricci made his most significant move to that date. Discarding Buddhist attire, which had proved a hindrance in his dealings with Confucian students, he moved directly into the social stratum of the professional literati. From then on he was "Doctor from the Great West Ocean," wearing the ceremonial square bonnet and the silk robes of the Confucian scholar. Ricci could accordingly lecture authoritatively to his numerous clientele from a position of equality and receive for himself and the Christian culture he represented the amenities of the mandarin bureaucracy. The timing of this move was providential. Valignano, the ever-vigilant strategist, had all along been urging his protégé to strike out to the chief administrative and scholastic centers of the country, the southern capital of Nanjing, and after that, imperial Beijing itself, the residence of the Ming court. Greater responsibility, as well as freedom of action, was accorded Ricci by his appointment on Aug. 4, 1597, as superior and director of Jesuit personnel and works in China, which thus were freed from links with Macau that had become undesirable. At last, with considerable personal fame, influential contacts, and a singular mastery of Chinese thought and action, Ricci felt himself equipped for the high adventure Valignano wanted him to undertake. His determined march northward to the seat of empire and the decade of impressive service he there rendered Church and adopted country under the shadow of the appreciative Wan-li sovereign constitute China mission history's most dramatic chapter.

Entrance to Imperial Beijing. There were two milestones in Ricci's progress. Starting out from Nanchang, metropolis of Jiangxi, where three years earlier he had founded a permanent midway post, Ricci reached the walls of Beijing for the first time on Sept. 7, 1598, but, his entrance blocked by intriguing officials, he was forced back to Nanjing, his new headquarters; then, two years later, accompanied by the youthful Spaniard Diego Pantoja, he was again at the gates seeking admission. Spectacularly, and armed with an imperial summons, the two pilgrims from the West Ocean rode into the capital on Jan. 24, 1601, presented their gifts to the throne, were granted right of residence, and were allotted a subsidy for their avowed exploration of mathematics and astronomy. Helped by these natural aids, they would bring the Gospel to the highest non-Christian civilization in that age.

Last Years. Once securely established in Beijing and hard at his academic work, Ricci had only a brief span of life left to pursue his transcendent objective of a China turned Christian vertically, from the top down. Despite his mounting prestige at court, the noble friendships he formed, and the undeniable authority he commanded in the circles of the learned, these terminal years were burdened with toil and tensions that undermined his constitution and, as he himself confessed, made him old and white-haired before his time. Forewarned by this condition, he reflected on how best to secure permanency for the project on which he had so long concentrated his moral and intellectual energies. Shortly before the fatal decline of 1610, he confided to the fathers that he felt that his death at the height of his career would be the greatest benefit he could render the fledgling China Church. He meant, it seems, that he envisioned his tomb standing forever visible to the Chinese people he loved. It was a prophetic sentiment. His grave outside the city walls was the gift of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, and was honored with imperial consecration. Known throughout the realm as Li Mat'ou, this missionary scholar from the West became and has remained one of the most respected foreign figures in Chinese history.

Western students of Chinese science and civilization acknowledge in Matteo Ricci a rare combination of endowments: Renaissance humanism brought to its finest and illumined by unusual qualities of mind and heart, a rich Italian temperament in which the disciples of Confucius admired their own ideal of suavity and tact, profound appreciation of Chinese cultural and moral values and the possibility of their integration with the European heritage under the aegis of Catholic philosophy, and an exemplary priestly and apostolic commitment that inspired unbounded zeal. This combination was the key to his life's splendid vocation and ranks him as "one of the most remarkable and brilliant men in history" [J. Needham, Science and Civilization in China (2d ed. Cambridge 1961) 1:148].

See Also: chinese rites controversy.

Bibliography: For a Chinese-English critical edition of Matteo Ricci's T'ien-chu shih-i (True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven) see: The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, tr. d. lancashire and p. hu kuo-chen, ed. e. j. malatesta (St. Louis 1985). For other collections of his writings, see: Opere storiche , ed. p. tacchi-venturi, 2 v. (Macerata, Italy 191113), memoirs and extant correspondence; Fonti Ricciane, ed. with notes by the sinologist p. m. d'elia 3 v. (Rome 194249), lacks the correspondence; before these works the memoirs were known through the Latin, De christiana expeditione apud Sinas , tr. n. trigault (Augsburg 1615) or later vernacular versions. Eng. from Trigault's Latin, China in the 16th Century, tr. For studies of his life and work, see:l. j. gallagher (New York 1953). g. h. dunne, Generation of Giants (Notre Dame, Ind. 1962) e. ducornet, Matteo Ricci (Paris 1992). d. e. mungello, The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning (Nettetal 1994). j. d. spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (New York 1984). j. d. young, East-West Synthesis: Matteo Ricci and Confucianism (Hong Kong 1980).

[f. a. rouleau/eds.]

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