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Matteo Ricci in Chinese Culture

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With today’s technology, the world has become increasingly small.  However, five hundred years ago this was not the case.  The curiosity and desire to spread Christianity by many men, including Matteo Ricci,  reopened China to continued discovery and shared knowledge of its people and processes.  At the time of his writings he was likely unaware of the impact his literature would have on a slow, successful merging of cultures in the years to come.  Europe had created its own ideologies and cultures that differed greatly from an isolated China.  The world in early modern times was often disconnected and was long over-due discovery and necessary confrontation.  The confrontation was often physical, but most importantly social.  (Davis, 246)

Early modern Chinese Mongolian rulers were ruthless and violent, often resulting in mass executions.  This behavior was to keep control of such a large empire with such few numbers of Mongols.  (Guisepi, 20)  While violent, these rulers allowed for cultural and intellectual sharing of information and opened China up to Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world.  Mongol religious tolerance brought priest from Europe to share information between the different continents.  Marco Polo was a personal assistant Kublai Khan.  (Guisepi, 22)  While hope for religious alliance against the Muslims, Europeans would learn that conversion of the Mongols would not occur.  (Guisepi, 22)  However, Khan’s tolerance of information sharing lead to many other Europeans traveling to China, including Matteo Ricci.  Mongol domination would be short-lived as it had absorbed many of the cultures it came to rule.  The benefit mostly came to Europe who ultimately received a better understanding of China and was able to effectively communicate the processes of a previously isolated country by its massive mountainous barriers.  

Matteo Ricci was often presently surprised by the difference in Chinese culture from that of his European homeland.  He felt the Chinese had a religious tolerance that he had never experienced.  (Hong, 91)  Previous Christian missionaries had been unsuccessful in converting the Mongols that ruled China during the early modern times.  (Guisepi, 22)  Therefore, Ricci used a combination of Christianity and Confucianism to fight against the pagans.  (Hong, 93)  Ricci had a great love and appreciation of China and is considered to be the father of European sinology.  (Hong, 87)  The Diary of Matthew Ricci examines the detailed way of life of the Chinese people.  Their way of thinking and practices in religion, medicine and printing.  (Davis, 39)  Ricci sent his writings back to friends and scholars so they could understand his first-hand experiences and learnings.  (Hong, 88)  In another book, Reading Notes about China, he described geography, products, language, politics, customs, law, and religion in great detail from his direct observations.  (Hong, 89)

 Research shows that the most successful way to gain knowledge and to share knowledge is to assimilate within the culture.  Multiple past theologians were able to introduce and gain understandings and practices of other cultures in this manner.  The most successful was Matteo Ricci.  (Fu, 2016)  By studying the language and culture of the Chinese prior moving to the country he was able to integrate within the people and learn about their society.  (Fu, 569)  Ricci adhered to the policy of dress by the ruling class of China and was not deterred when only able to speak with lower-class citizens.  (Fu, 571)  He followed his mentor, although ultimately he knew that the literati were the upper class and they studied Confucius and could be placed into office upon successful understanding of these studies.  (Fu, 571)  With his previous studies as support and an assistant from China, Ricci taught him mathematics and science.  He used the previous two studies to gain trust among the Chinese so he could then spread the word of Christianity.  (Fu, 571)  Ricci was ultimately able to change his clothing to represent the upper class and gained much respect.  (Fu, 2016)  He also learned that public meetings were unfavorable in China  due to violence, and realized that writing was the most popular way of communication.  (Fu, 2016)    He then studied their art of printing and had his advisors in China translate his teachings about Christianity.  (Davis, 243)

Ricci was able to foresee a bright future for Christianity before his death.  Almost one hundred years later, the Chinese Emperor Kangxi issued the Edict of Toleration of Christianity.  (Fu, 573)  The annual increase in Christians in China was never surpassed by any other missionaries in Chinese history.  (Fu, 573)  Sadly, for Ricci the Chinese elite felt challenged and vulnerable by Christianity.  The Chinese Gentry, or literati as Ricci referred the upper class; rejected Christianity to protect themselves and their position in Chinese society.  (Deeks, 2006)  Several historians view the Chinese as ethnocentric and that they believed their culture was superior to other cultures.  (Deeks, 2006)  Deeks reports that Christianity was viewed as anti-Confucian and went against the political fabric of Chinese society.  

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