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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Books and Documents in the Jesuit Archives in Rome. A Descriptive Catalogue: Japonica-Sinica I–IV
  • John W. Witek
Chinese Books and Documents in the Jesuit Archives in Rome. A Descriptive Catalogue: Japonica-Sinica I–IV. By Albert Chan, S.J. (Armonk, New York and London: M. E. Sharpe. 2002. Pp. xliii, 626. $145.00.)

After the death of Francis Xavier on the island of Shangchuan off the southern coast of China in 1552, his confreres in the Society of Jesus continued to develop the mission in Japan that he had begun, but were also eagerly trying to enter China, which remained closed to foreigners. It was not until 1583 that Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) successfully [End Page 586] opened the first mission station in Zhaoqing, China, during the modern era. Although a few of their letters were printed shortly after their receipt in Europe, most remained as manuscripts which became the initial part of the collection that spanned the continuing presence of the Jesuits in China until the suppression of the Order there in 1775. The multivolume Western-language correspondence from China and Japan is known as the Japonica-Sinica collection and is divided by Arabic numbers. The Japanese and Chinese books written by Jesuits or collected by them as well as their reports from these missions are assembled under the title Japonica-Sinica I-IV. This latter collection in the Jesuit Archives in Rome is the focal point of the book under review.

In 1970 at the request of Father Edmond Lamalle, S.J. (1900-1989), then the Director of the Archives, Father Albert Chan began to compile this descriptive catalogue of the Japanese and Chinese section. The only guide until then was a list taken from the Latin short titles on the covers of the books and document folders, but at times lacking the identity of the authors. At best this was a preliminary list with only a vague overview of the contents of the materials. As Chan indicates, these Chinese books and documents (there are only a few Japanese works) are "not numerous" and some of the sets are "incomplete." The suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773, its restoration in 1814, and the subsequent political turmoil in late nineteenth-century Italy that led to the forced closure of Jesuit houses affected the physical condition of the Archives. For the sake of preservation the Archives were sent to Holland but were returned to Rome in 1939 at the order of Father General Wladimir Ledochowski (1866-1942), who foresaw a possible invasion of The Netherlands by the German army.

For each of the 451 separately numbered items, the Chinese characters of the title, Wade-Giles romanization, the author, type and measurements of the paper, etc. are presented. The collection also includes some Chinese books by Dominicans and Franciscans as well as Manchu translations of several of the Jesuit works. The descriptions offer a summary of the contents of the book or document and in some cases an English translation of the preface or the postscript. Also discussed are comparative data of different editions in the collection and in the collections of Chinese books in the Vatican Library or the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The descriptions provide valuable information about Christian and non-Christian Chinese who wrote about the missionaries' apostolic methods and also their interpretations of Chinese classical literature and history. In addition, there are separate indexes of book titles, printing houses and publishers, places, subjects, and persons. This erudite descriptive catalogue is an indispensable reference guide for all scholars pursuing research on the history of the Jesuit mission in China from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

John W. Witek
Georgetown University


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