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 6. The Intricacies of Motivation and Benefit: The Catholic Faith of Xu Guangqi


| 127 →



The Catholic Faith of Xu Guangqi

In 1596 Xu Guangqi was thirty-four; for the first time he walked into a Catholic chapel. Nothing came off on that apparently fortuitous trip, but his life seemed to be bound up ever since with the religious calling of Europe. The year after his church visit he passed the provincial exam (xiangshi), and the year after he received baptism in 1603, he succeeded in the metropolitan exam (huishi) and the ensuing palace exam (dianshi). Because of the European science and mathematics he subsequently learned from Ricci and others, he rose eventually to be one of the highest officials in the nation. Because of the authority he commanded, he helped them secure a solid foothold at the imperial court. More than anything, the palpable intertwining of his spiritual journey with his political career explains why he “has been considered the most famous convert to Christianity until today and his name is always associated with Ricci”1 and why he has been viewed as “the first person in the cultural mediation of China and the West.”2 However, many questions still remain. In 1596 he did not seem to know much about Catholicism. Did he know more when he requested baptism in 1603? What motivated his active acceptance of the new faith, and in spite of what he hoped to obtain, what did he actually gain from his many-sided involvement...

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.