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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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Chapter 1. Preparing the Ground for Evangelism: Matteo Ricci’s Terms of Endearment in Jiaoyou Lun


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Matteo Ricci’s Terms of Endearment in Jiaoyou Lun

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Matteo Ricci has been celebrated as one of the greatest “cultural brokers”1 or “a veritable ‘bridge’ between the two civilizations, European and Chinese.”2 Back in the late sixteenth century Ricci himself gave us reasons for viewing him posthumously as such, the most conspicuous of these being his famous Chinese translation of European sayings on friendship. Entitled You Lun (On Friends) at first but changed later to Jiaoyou Lun (On Friendship) at the suggestion of his Chinese friends, this work was composed in 1595 and made up initially of seventy-six axioms. Circulated in manuscript before being published in 1596 by a Chinese friend without his permission, it was then augmented to one hundred maxims and published in 1599 and 1601 by two different Chinese friends who once again acted on their own initiatives. In addition to Andreas Eborensis (1498–1573)’s Sententiae et exempla (Wise Sayings and Illustrative Anecdotes), Ricci drew on memories of classical and patristic writers he had studied at Jesuit colleges and universities and on his newly acquired awareness of Chinese ideas on the topic. Frequently anthologized by Chinese scholars in the first half of the seventeenth century, it became in time “the most widely influential of his Chinese translation works.”3 The success, however, came about because Ricci and his Chinese friends read different...

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