Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends
Conclusion: The Enduring Lesson of History
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The Enduring Lesson of History
More than four hundred years after his death, Ricci is today celebrated both in China and in the West as a great hero of peaceful cross-cultural encounter. Ricci richly deserves all the praise we can give him, but it is important for us to realize and remember that he turned out to be such a person largely because the colonial powers of Portugal and Spain which backed the evangelical endeavors of his religious order did not then have the necessary coercive power to impose the religious faith of Europe on China as they did in Africa, America, and other parts of Asia. The most important part of the cultural accommodation Ricci adopted out of necessity was his deliberately chosen and carefully cultivated friendship with the well-educated elite of the nation who were mostly Confucian scholar-officials. Without his close association with them who served in different ways as his chaperons and teachers of Chinese culture, he could not have understood as well as he did the gradual evolution of Confucian metaphysics or the complex relationship of both competition and complement among the three main native traditions of spirituality. However, when he claimed a monotheistic affinity of Catholicism with ancient Confucianism and presented himself as a defender of Confucian orthodoxy against the moral and spiritual corruption of Buddhism and Daoism, he was not doing what his closest Chinese friends taught or could have taught him. ← 193 | 194 →
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