- Opera Omnia
This third of the planned five volumes of Martino Martini's complete works, edited by Giuliano Bertuccioli, is a fully annotated and multi-indexed edition of Martini's well-known geographical description of China, the Novus Atlas Sinensis, published in Amsterdam in 1655.1 The work is based on about fifty Chinese books that Martini brought with him on his long journey back to Europe, as he informs us, so as to "trick the annoying sea-sickness and the boredom of such a long navigation." The Atlas is thus the first description of China based on original Chinese sources: the Guangyu tu 廣輿圖 (published in the mid-sixteenth century) as well as a number of other Ming geographical works (for a list of Martini's most likely sources, see tome 1, pp. 10-12). The Atlas considerably refined European knowledge of China; having also been translated into a number of vernaculars (Dutch, French, German, and Spanish), it may have very well been the most influential of Martini's contributions to the shaping of early European sinology.
Indeed, the Atlas provided much more than cartographic renditions of the Chinese empire, as it also included extensive commentaries not only on its geographical features, but also on historical events, monuments, trade, local customs, and so on, for each of the empire's fifteen provinces. After all, the sources Martini relied upon did not limit themselves to the physical description of lands and their products either. Or, at least, we could say they took "products" in a broad sense, so as to include, for example, intellectual or moral products as well, such as the percentage of winners in the civil examinations or the number of chaste widows in a given region. Many of these sources might also frequently include references to the local character (whether people were studious, rustic, lustful, and so on) as [End Page 194] well as fantastic folklore and mythological accounts. Martini reproduces all this in his work, yet his own voice is never lost in the process. He often comes up with personal observations and experiences from his traveling, or digresses so as to provide short monographs on things, ideas, or customs that his European reader might never have heard of. For example, he informs us on tea (not so bad if one can get over that "greenish color"), musk, artificial amber, fish raising, the uses of bamboo, pet "goldfish," and local alcohol. The latter Martini praises to the sky, and his brethren must have fully agreed with him, since he adds, "here not even the Europeans look for grape-wine, except for celebrating the Mass sacrifice."
The process by which Martini introduces China to his European readers systematically involves comparing the two lands and cultures. In some cases his intention is obviously that of emphasizing differences, and he may at times even indulge his intended readers' taste for exotica and mirabilia. However, all in all, he appears to be far more interested in achieving rather the opposite effect: to make China look familiar rather than strange-if anything, an equal, if not a better version of, Europe. In this sense Martini's China is not a stable ("orientalistic") Other, always and inevitably exotic. Indeed, to begin with, for Martini China represents at least two things: the ancient empire and superior civilization of East Asia and the country presently under the capable (if barbarian), promisingly pro-Christian Manchus. Accordingly, the "half-Italian and half-German" author (as he once described himself) appears on the one hand to identify with a Chinese literatus, thereby adopting a sinocentric gaze that perceives China as the superior culture surrounded by barbarians. On the other, he welcomes the Manchus and their rule over China, which he sees as a key to the latter's Christianization.
In the first mode, China is like the great Rome, sadly conquered by less civilized people. Martini laments the tragic fall of the Ming empire to the Manchus, and even displays nostalgia...