Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends
Chapter 2. Reading Theism into Confucianism: Matteo Ricci’s Ambiguous Alliance in Tianzhu Shiyi
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READING THEISM INTO CONFUCIANISM
Matteo Ricci’s Ambiguous Alliance in Tianzhu Shiyi
Along with Jiaoyou Lun (On Friendship), Tianzhu Shiyi (The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven) was one of Matteo Ricci’s earliest works written in Chinese. In the former work, he had utilized a seemingly random collection of European sayings about friendship to describe and emphasize the ideal relationship of two friends as that of a teacher and a pupil. Not surprisingly, he assumed the persona of a teacher in the latter work and put his Chinese friends collectively into the role of a student. Aside from attacking Neo-Confucianism for being corrupted by Buddhism and Daoism, he read Chinese textual antiquity in a way so that ancient Confucianism could sound like a prototype of European theism. Even though it was entirely his idea to try to somehow Christianize the dominant Chinese philosophical tradition, his attempt to “[convert] the Classics”1 was not “a misunderstanding”2 or “a brilliant insight which not only accorded with contemporary reality, but also melded with what little was known of high Chinese antiquity and appealed to the Chinese reverence of antiquity.”3 Even though his Chinese friends provided him with indispensable assistance, they merely indulged rather than accepted his manipulation of “representational legitimacy”4 or his presentation of himself and his confreres as “the legitimate bearers of the Confucian legacy.”5 The composition and reception of Tianzhu Shiyi were complex and often ambiguous, but...
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