Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends
Chapter 5. The Ambiguity of Intimacy and Distance: The Exemplary Friendship of Qu Taisu
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THE AMBIGUITY OF INTIMACY AND DISTANCE
The Exemplary Friendship of Qu Taisu
“My friend,” so stated Ricci at the beginning of Jiaoyou Lun, “is not another person, but half of myself and a second me; I must therefore regard my friend as myself” (wuyou feita, ji wozhiban, nai di’er woye: gudang shiyou ruji yan).1 For the Jesuit father who wrote out these words, this was more than a well-memorized allusion to the mythology of Aristophanes about the futilely nostalgic pining for the other half of the original human body in Plato’s Symposium, because there were indeed people to whom he felt close in every way, but rather than the Chinese friends to whom this axiom and the entire aphorismic collection were addressed, these were his confreres in the Jesuit organization, especially those who grew up and studied with him at Jesuit educational institutions in Macerata and Rome and who were the recipients of most of his extant letters from China. In spite of the intimate relationships he began in the early 1590s to form with the educated elite of the Middle Kingdom, in other words, there were always at the same time subtle distances between them. These could have resulted from what one recent biographer calls “the inevitable barriers of language and culture” and “the need to observe caution when interacting with a foreign people of vastly alien customs,”2 but more often than not, the palpable sense of...
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