News / Asia

Exhibition Celebrates Early Catholic Missionary in China

Macau Museum of Art Exhibit of Matteo Ricci's Life, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010
Macau Museum of Art Exhibit of Matteo Ricci's Life, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010

An exhibition at the Macau Museum of Art this month celebrates the 400th anniversary of the death of an Italian missionary who became the first Westerner to enter the Forbidden City. Some hope that renewed interest in Matteo Ricci's contributions to China will help ease differences between Beijing and the Catholic Church.

First Westerner in Forbidden City

Matteo Ricci arrived in China in 1583 as a missionary of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order. By 1601, Ricci, a scientist, had captivated many Chinese intellectuals in the Ming dynasty capital, Beijing, and became the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City.

His mission in China is the subject of an exhibition in Macau, which showcases his works - philosophical texts written in Chinese, a large Chinese-style painting and a 1603 annotated world map, measuring two meters by half a meter.

World map drawn by Matteo Ricci in 1603, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010
World map drawn by Matteo Ricci in 1603, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010

Shocking world map

Weng Chiao, a curator at the Macau Museum of Art, says when the world map was completed the literati in China were very shocked. She says it was their first time to discover how big the world was.

The exhibition, which has already toured three cities in the mainland, is aimed at raising awareness of Ricci's scientific and cultural contributions to China. It comes at a time when there are signs of cooperation between the Vatican and Beijing on the controversial issue of ordination of bishops.

Before being welcomed in Beijing, Ricci encountered a closed Chinese society, suspicious of foreigners. He was expelled by hostile aristocrats in Zhaoqing and his house in Shaozhou, in southern China, was attacked.

Friendship strategy

Father Artur Wardega, director of the Matteo Ricci Institute in Macau, explains that Ricci eventually found a winning strategy.

"With his dealings with intellectuals and literati men, he put himself to another platform, that he's not coming from a barbarian country," said Wardega. "He dealt on the same level with Chinese and on the level of friendship and he discovered friendship as a very powerful instrument to deal and to be accepted by the Chinese people. After that he was treated not as a barbarian, but like the Chinese."

Able to speak and write Chinese, Ricci began to dress like the Chinese literati and introduced them to Western astronomy and mathematics. Known in Chinese as Li Madou, he also composed music for the emperor Wan Li and sent gifts, although he never met the emperor.

Adapting Christianity

Ricci also adapted Christianity to Chinese culture, such as by officiating rites in Chinese. One of Ricci's converts was Xu Guangqi, a Shanghai-born bureaucrat, mathematician, astronomer and agriculturist. Together they translated Euclid's mathematical masterpiece, Elements.

Xu applied Western farming methods and was tasked by the emperor to reform the Chinese calendar, after he successfully predicted two eclipses. He became known as one of the three pillars of Chinese Catholicism. Xu's calligraphies are also on display in Macau.

Weng says Ricci tried to use a cultural strategy to spread Catholicism, but his cultural legacy in China left a greater mark than his missionary legacy.

Calligraphies by Matteo Ricci Chinese friends including Xu Guangqi, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010
Calligraphies by Matteo Ricci Chinese friends including Xu Guangqi, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China, 22 Oct 2010

Catholics in mainland China today are only allowed to worship in state-sanctioned churches. The Vatican broke off diplomatic ties with China in 1951, after the communist party took over. In July, both the Vatican and Beijing approved the appointment of Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of Yan'an diocese, a rare event because China and Rome do not normally accept bishops appointed by the other.

Modern day

Yet curbs on Christian activities continue. Last week, about 200 Chinese Christians were reportedly blocked from traveling to South Africa for the Lausanne Congress - one of the biggest gatherings for evangelical Christians worldwide. Many Chinese Christians worship in so-called "house churches" or underground churches.

Father Wardega, a Jesuit, says there are hopes that renewed interest in Ricci in China could help bring about greater understanding between Beijing and the Catholic Church.

"For the people and the Chinese government, Ricci is an important man. For the Vatican, Ricci is an important man," he said. "But Ricci is not enough either for China or for Western countries. Ricci has to be linked with his friends and one of his important friends is Xu Guangqi. For the Chinese Catholics and Western Catholics to have two people, which are the key people from two civilizations is something wonderful and full of hope."

He says efforts have been underway for several years to seek sainthood for Ricci and Xu.

When Ricci died in Beijing in 1610, the emperor gave special consideration for him to be buried there. His grave is on the grounds of the Beijing Administrative College.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More