Show Less
Restricted access

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.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter 3. Arousing Antagonism out of Buddhism: Matteo Ricci’s Deliberate Provocation in Tianzhu Shiyi


| 63 →



Matteo Ricci’s Deliberate Provocation in Tianzhu Shiyi

As much as his ambiguous accommodation to Confucianism, Matteo Ricci’s open and unprovoked hostility toward Buddhism was a conspicuous feature of Tianzhu Shiyi. Closely connected and equally deliberate, these two maneuvers in making foes and friends respectively enacted in combination a three-pronged new evangelical policy which first crystalized around 1595 and which consisted in “rejecting Buddhism as a false religion, distinguishing ancient from modern Confucianism, and allying himself with the literati of ancient Confucianism.”1 Given the exclusive and intolerant nature of his European faith, it is understandable that he rejected the dress and hairstyle which he had adopted since 1583, but it is surprising that he concurrently campaigned publicly to denounce and destroy the one tradition of piety which most resembled Catholicism in its foreign origin, transcendental belief, institutional organization, and ceremonial rituals. Before 1595 Buddhism was not hostile to Christian evangelism, but after 1595, Ricci made it into what another Catholic missionary later called “the greatest Enemy.”2 Prominent and dramatic, Ricci’s reorientation of his proselytizing strategy in 1595 revealed his profound insight into the relationship of both competition and complement among native Chinese philosophical and religious traditions which he sought to utilize for his apostolic purposes, but it also exposed serious limitations of ← 63 | 64 → his cultural understanding because his high-profile acrimony against Buddhism did not and could not lead to the result which he...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.