Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends
Chapter 7. The Attractions of Science and Spirituality: The Independent Journey of Li Zhizao into Catholicism
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THE ATTRACTIONS OF SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY
The Independent Journey of Li Zhizao into Catholicism
In the early history of Chinese Christianity, no one is more illustrious than Xu Guangqi, but while Ricci was alive, Xu was only a junior official in the imperial academy. Rather than Xu, the foremost Chinese convert Ricci valued then was Li Zhizao. In fact, as Chinese historian Zhu Weizheng points out, “Ricci appreciated the talent of Li Zhizao even more than that of Xu Guangqi.”1 Li first met Ricci in Beijing in 1601 soon after the latter’s venture into the capital city. A friendship quickly developed; Li eventually became “Father Matthew’s last convert.”2 All this has long been known, but much still needs to be scrutinized. In spite of his early and over time growing admiration for what Wolfgang Franke calls “the unique personality of Ricci”3 or what Pasquale M. D’Elia terms “the science and virtue of Ricci,”4 for instance, Li swore to the Christian faith only two months before Ricci’s death, but was his long holdout really due to “an impediment of polygamy” (l’impedimento della poligamia)?5 Li was converted right after Ricci nursed him back to health from a seemingly mortal illness; since he understandably felt obliged to the Jesuit father, was his conversion “the emotional kind” (“ganqingxing guiyi” or “qingganxing guiyi”)?6 Long before his conversion, Li already resembled Xu Guangqi in considering the teaching of Ricci as...
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