Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends
Chapter 6. The Intricacies of Motivation and Benefit: The Catholic Faith of Xu Guangqi
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THE INTRICACIES OF MOTIVATION AND BENEFIT
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...
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