A Jesuit in the Forbidden City
Father Thomas McCoog, S.J. reviews R. Po-chia Hsia's new book about this blog's namesake's "slow geographical, spiritual and intellectual journey from Portuguese Goa to the Beijing of the Ming dynasty" — Book review - A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552-1610. An excerpt:
- Hsia explores and, because of his linguistic abilities, explains better than previous scholars Ricci’s grasp and appreciation of Confucianism as it was understood and appreciated within the late Ming intellectual world. Ricci’s knowledge of classic Confucian texts, Western mathematics and science, along with his fabled memory, opened many doors.
His esteem for Chinese culture, especially the role played by the mandarins, did not prevent him from believing in the general superiority of Western culture.
Ricci did indeed appreciate Confucianism, seeing in it many parallels with Christianity. Buddhism’s arrival, he believed, had corrupted Chinese belief and practice.
A well-known Buddhist scholar, Huang Hui, who had refused to meet Ricci personally, had obtained a pre-publication copy of the Jesuit’s most famous treatise, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven. Angered by Ricci’s attack on Buddhism, he returned the manuscript now covered with criticism and rebuttals.
Ricci incorporated his replies in the published version. He wrote the True Meaning for Confucians in the familiar Platonic style of a dialogue between a Western and a Chinese scholar. Subsequent scholars praise the treatise as a magnificent synthesis of Confucianism and Christianity.
At the time, however, as Hsia stresses, the book ‘amounted to a declaration of war against Buddhism’.