Chinese priest and artist; b. district of Changshu, Jiangsu, 1631; d. Shanghai, 1718. In his early days he studied painting, and soon won fame as both an artist and a poet. His native district was one of the centers of missionary activity and he must have had frequent communication with the Jesuit missionaries. He was baptized Simon Xavier shortly after 1675, and in 1688 adopted the surname A Cunha. After his mother and his wife had died, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Macau in 1682 at the age of 50. He was ordained six years later by the first Chinese bishop, Mgr. Lo Wentsao, OP (1614–91), known to Westerners as Gregory Lopez. Wu Li had 30 years of fruitful ministry before his death.
Wu Li was one of the greatest painters in the Ch'ing period, and is said to have grasped the spirit of his Sung and Yüan masters. He has left a number of paintings that are still treasured by collectors. His poetic work, Moching shih-ch'ao, was published (1719) by a disciple, together with a collection of his colophons on paintings.
His poems are graceful and limpid, especially those of his later years, which couch Catholic thought in exquisite style; he was perhaps the first in China to find a poetic vehicle for Christian doctrine. His poems manifest his devout life and his admiration of the scientific achievements of the early Jesuits. His religious and philosophical sayings were recorded under the title K'ou-to. Only the second series, dealing with the years 1695 to 1697, is extant. It was published in 1909, together with the Mo-ching shih–ch'ao and the San-pachi, another collection of poems. The San-yü-chi (90 additional poems) were first published in the Shang-chiao tsa-chih (Revue Catholique Shanghai ) in 1937 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of his ordination.
Bibliography: fang chao–ying, Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644–1912 ), ed. a. w. hummel, 2 v. (Washington 1943) v.2. m. chang and p. de prunelÉ, Le Père Simon A Cunha, SJ (Variétés sinologiques 37; Shanghai 1914). l. pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jésuites de l'ancienne mission de la Chine 1552–1773, 2 v. (Variétés sinologiques 59–60; Shanghai 1932) v.1. j. and a. h. burling, "Wu Li: The Great Chinese Christian Painter," China Journal 34 (1941) 161–167. g. dunne, Generation of Giants (Notre Dame, Ind, 1962). ch'en yÜan, "In Commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of Wu Li's Ordination to the Priesthood," in Fu–jen hsüleh–chin 5.1–2 (Peiping 1939), in Chinese.