How Matteo Ricci became Li Madou
Matteo Ricci was born in Macerata near Ancona (Italy) on Oct-6, 1552. His father, a member of an aristocratic family, served for a time as governor of the city, which was at that time a part of the Papal States; his mother was known for her deep religious feelings. After receiving some education by a tutor at home,in 1561 he entered the Jesuit school of Macerata, where he completed his classical studies.In 1568 he was sent by his parents to Rome where he attended the law faculty .On Aug. 15,1571 he asked for permission to join the Society of Jesus and entered ,as a novice, the college of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale.
Between 1572 and 1576 he studied mathematics and geography at the Roman College under Cristoforo Clavio. Having voluntereed for missionary work in the Far East, he set off in may 1577 for Portugal, where he studied for a short time at the University of Coimbra, while waiting for a ship.
On March 24, 1578 he embarked at Lisbon and arrived on September 13 at Goa, on the West Coast of India,where he completed his religious formation at the St. Paul’s College, founded by Francis Xavier. He was ordained a priest in 1580 at Cochin, on the Malabar Coast, where he had been sent for reasons of health.
He later acted as a teacher at the St. Paul’s College at Goa until April 1582, when he left for Macau, a Portuguese trade center on the South Coast of China.
On his arrival at Macau on August 1582, he met Father Alessandro Valignano, who was then organising a mission to China. Already Francis Xavier, one of the first companions of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, had tried to do missionary work in China, but his efforts had proved useless, and he had died in 1552 on the island of Shangchuan, without having managed to enter mainland China.
No further attempts at evangelisation had been done during a number of years. In the meantime,the Jesuits had deeply modified their missionary strategy by adopting an approach far more respectuous of national customs and culture. Anyway, it was only after Alessandro Valignano had become “Visitor” i.e. official supervisor of the Jesuits missions in the Far East that the evangelisation of China was resumed. While staying in Macau Ricci began to study the Chinese language. Matteo Ricci and another Jesuit, Michele Ruggeri, disguised as Buddhist monks, reached Zhaoqing in Guandong in September 1583. They proceeded very cautiously and did not at first engage in proselitism, contenting themselves with exciting the interest of the more educated people with clocks, maps, european paintings and books as well as with their vast erudition. As in 1589 the new viceroy of Guandong-Guanxi forced the european missionaries to leave Zhaoqing, Ricci was authorized to settle in Shaoguan, after having sold the mission’s property at a low price. At Shaoguan Ricci became a close friend of the Confucian scholar Qu Taisu.
In november 1588 Ruggeri returned to Italy, leaving to his younger compatriot the entire responsability of the mission in China. Between 1583 and 1589 Ricci had founded new missions in Shaoguan, where a church had been built in chinese style, Nanchang and Nanjing. By this time, he had dismissed his bonze’s attire and begun to dress as a Chinese scholar. During this period, he had worked, with Ruggeri, at the “Pu-Han Cidian” ( 葡漢辭典 ), a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary. The manuscript of this work, the first known attempt at transcribing the Chinese ideograms into the latin alphabet and at translating their meaning into an european language, was misplaced in the Jesuit Archives in Rome and was re-discovered only in 1934. It was finally published in 2001.
Matteo Ricci thought that he would be successful in his plan of evangelising China only if he could settle in Beijing. In 1595 the occasion presented itself of travelling to the capital in company of a high official, but, upon his arrival at Nanjing, he found out that all foreigners had become suspects because of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea and that it would be unwise to proceed further northwards. He therefore stopped at Nanchang in Guangxi. During his stay at Nanchang, from 1595 to 1598,he became acquainted with two princes of the imperial family. At the request of one of them, he wrote his first book in Chinese :“Jiayou Lun”(交友論, “On Friendship”). In 1597 he was appointed by Father Valignano superior of the catholic mission in China. That same year he tried, a second time,to reach Beijing. An official of the Tribunal of Rites, Kuang by name, had indeed invited Ricci to accompany him and to help him to compose the calendar.But , this time also, suspicions arising against foreigners from the conflict with the Japanese in Korea, obliged him to withdraw south, after waiting two months at the gates of Beijing without being allowed to enter the city.
He settled in Nanjing. Here he was engaged chiefly in astronomy and geography. In his journals he remembers that the clear and lucid explanations he gave to Chinese scholars on these matters were so appreciated that “thenceforth they did not dare to describe (us) as barbarians, a word they were accostumed to use in describing countries other than China”. In 1601 he traveled once more to Beijing, accompanied by two other Jesuits, one of whom was the young Spaniard Diego Pantoja.The intrigues of the eunuch Ma Tang, who tried to get hold of the presents they had brought for the Wanli Emperor, delayed their entrance into the capital. Eventually, the Emperor himself, who had already heard about Ricci, granted him the permission to enter the city and to deliver the presents on Jan 25, 1601. The arrival of Matteo Ricci at Beijing is recorded in the “Ming Shi” (“Annals of the Ming Dinasty”).
The missionaries obtained a settlement with an allowance for subsistence. Beside his missionary and scientific work, Ricci acted also as superior of the mission, which in 1605 numbered 17 members. As he died on May 11,1610, he was a well known person in China and the Jesuits were granted , by imperial order, a place for his burial in Zhalan. His efforts to attract and convert the Chinese intelligentsia brought him into contact with outstanding personalities such as Xu Kuangchi, Li Zhizao and Yang Tingyun, who later became known as “the three pillars of the catholic church in China” and assisted him especially in his litterary efforts which include about 20 works ranging from religious and scientific works to treatises on friendship and local memory. Another of his friends was Feng Yingching. The most famous of his works are the” Kunyu Wanguo Quantu”(坤與萬國全圖, “The great map of ten thousand countries” ) , the first Chinese world map to take into account North and South America, excepting presumably the two prior maps drawn by him in 1584 and in 1600 , which were lost, and the “Tian Zhu Shi Lu” (天主實錄,“A true account of God”), in which Ricci exposes a very controversial attempt at syncretism between Christianism and Confucianism. Other works are the translation into chinese of christian prayers and tenets ( Pater, Ave, Credo,The Decalogue), of mathematical treatises, of philosophical writings.
Ricci’s journals, written in Italian, were found in his study after his death, translated into Latin by Nicolas Trigaut and published in 1615 at Augsburg under the title “De Christiana expeditione ad Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesus (“About the mission of the Jesuits to China) . It was this work that, for the first time, diffused throughout Europe precise and correct information about China. Curiously enough, the Italian original manuscript was published only at the beginning of the 20th century by Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi S.J. under the title “ Commentarj della Cina ” as a part of the book “Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci S.J.”, 2 volumes, Macerata, 1911 and 1913. Ricci’s “accomodation method” was the foundation of the success of the Roman Chatolic Church in China. Later on, the Pope’s refusal to allow Chinese converts to practice “ancestor worship” caused howewer the so called “rites controversy”, which brought the mission close to ruin.
Ricci is actually known in China by his chinese name: Li Madou (利瑪竇). His grave in the Jesuit cemetery of Zhalan (柵欄) ( which lies now in the campus of the Beijing Administrative College) was damaged by the Boxers in 1900, but his tombstone was set up again after the end of the rebellion. During the Cultural Revolution some Red Guards digged a hole in the ground and buried therein the tombstones of Ricci and other Jesuit Fathers. However, at the end of 1978, the policy of the Chinese governement began to change gradually and a little bit later Den Xiaoping ordered to restore the old cemetery. Ricci’s tombstone was among the first ones to be set up again. Today Matteo Ricci is remembered both by the Chinese and by the Europeans as a man who mediated successfully between different cultures with an extraordinary willingness and an exceptional open-mindedness.