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Harmonious Disagreement

Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends


Yu Liu

The fascinating story of Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) changing himself while trying to change the religious faith of the Chinese has been told many times. As a Jesuit, Ricci pushed Christian evangelism by claiming a theistic affinity with Confucianism and by presenting himself as a defender of Confucian orthodoxy from Buddhism. Already in his day, Ricci’s unusual cultural adaptation was controversial; not surprisingly, scholarly studies have hitherto focused almost exclusively on variations of this controversy. Reacting mostly to Ricci’s account of events, this line of research has provided insight, but much more can be learned about the early-modern cross-cultural encounter of Europe and China if the perspective is broadened to include his intricate and intriguing relationships with his Chinese friends. With his distinctively different religiosity, personal charisma, and knowledge of European science and mathematics, Ricci impressed the social and cultural elite of late Ming China, many of whom befriended him and some of whom became Christian converts. However, between him and his Chinese friends there were always disagreements, resulting sometimes from a lack of understanding or misunderstanding, and sometimes even when they apparently understood each other perfectly. Followed closely as the investigative thread of this book, the many kinds of disagreement cast an unusual light on an otherwise long familiar subject and are instructive for the at times tense and even hostile, but in reality always mutually energizing relationship of both competition and complement between China and the West in the early twenty-first century.
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My thanks go first to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Niagara County Community College in upstate New York for a research fellowship and a sabbatical leave in the 2006–2007 academic year and then to the Fulbright program and Niagara County Community College for a lecturing-research fellowship at the City University of Hong Kong and a sabbatical leave in the 2012–2013 academic year. The Guggenheim fellowship and the associated sabbatical leave helped to get this research project off the ground in 2007 and the Fulbright fellowship in Hong Kong and the associated sabbatical leave made it possible for much of the involved Chinese language research to be completed.

In the process of reading and thinking about various strands of ideas and their intricate and intriguing relationships with each other for this book project, I also received the support of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute Fellowship at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and East West Center in 2010 and the support of short-term research fellowships at Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in 2008, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in 2012 and 2013 and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library of the University of California at Los Angeles in 2008 and 2014. For the crucial support of these short-term fellowships, I would like to acknowledge my heart-felt gratitude. ← ix | x →

Many ideas of this book project were initially explored as parts of journal articles...

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