chapter  7
11 Pages

Matteo Ricci (1552–1610)

Chinese name Li Madou 利瑪竇, honorific, Li Xitai 利西泰,24 Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit missionary who came to China in 1582. At first he studied Chinese in Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province, and wore a Buddhist-style robe and a shaven head. He also had a chapel built to preach his religion, but he met with considerable resistance. Later, upon the advice of his friend, the Ruist scholar Qu Rukui 瞿汝夔 (b. 1549), he dressed as a Chinese scholar and called himself a “Ruist from the West” (xīrú 西儒). With his scientific knowledge, his maps of the world, and his models of the globe and of the heavenly bodies, he soon gained the trust and friendship of the literati, and won recognition as a great astronomer. He came to realize that, if he succeeded in spreading knowledge of Western science, his mission would go more smoothly. This approach was adopted by many subsequent missionaries to China. Apart from his missionary work, Ricci was considered a leading figure in the movement that took place at the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to introduce to China modern scientific and technological knowledge of the West. His main collaborators were the scholars Xu Guangqi and Li Zhizao, and his translations included Elements of Mathematics 幾何原本 (Jihe yuanben), Treatise on Isoperimetric Figures 圓容較義 (Yuanrong jiaoyi), Guide to Calculation in the Same Script 同文算指 (Tongwen suanzhi), Essentials of Surveying 測 量法義 (Celiang fayi), and Diagrams and Explanations concerning the Sphere and the Astrolabe 渾蓋通憲圖說 (Hungai tongxian tushuo), as well as other books on science. Although he did, here and there, intentionally or otherwise, infuse Roman Catholic ideas and ideology into his work, the significance of his role in bringing Western learning to the East is generally recognized. Many of the missionaries who worked in China benefited from his success formula and, willingly or otherwise, translated some scientific texts.