- Encounters and Dialogues: Changing Perspectives on Chinese-Western Exchanges from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries
The legacy of the Jesuit mission constitutes an important part of the history of China’s encounter with the West, and there has been much progress in the studies of Sino-Western interactions over the last few decades. As Christianity is now emerging as a new force of change in early twenty-first-century China, it is time to take a closer look at the early history of Chinese-Western exchanges, especially the spread of Catholicism, the Chinese reception of Western science and arts, and the Western perception of imperial China.
Encounters and Dialogues: Changing Perspectives on Chinese-Western Exchanges from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries originated from an international symposium in Beijing in October 2001 that featured Chinese and Western scholars doing research on the dynamics of Sino-Western exchanges in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. By covering the full range of Sino-Western interactions, this collection of essays addresses the diplomatic, geopolitical, economic, social, and cultural contexts of the interactions: the transmission, reception, and appropriation of Catholicism; European arts and science in China; and the European Catholic missionaries’ imagination of “the Orient.”
The seventeen chapters are arranged chronologically and thematically and grouped into five major sections. Part 1 is composed of three chapters that examine early Jesuit missionary activities in China within the contexts of Chinese domestic politics, the maritime trade of Macau across the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, and the desire of Portugal to extend its economic and security interests in the Far East.
Timothy Brook, in his essay, examines the perceptions different Chinese officials had of the Jesuit missionaries along the South China coast. He argues that many Chinese officials in the last few decades of the Ming dynasty became concerned primarily with the empire’s security when they encountered the presence of Jesuit missionaries, Portuguese soldiers, and European traders in Macau, which they viewed as a threat to the control of the maritime border. The Chinese officials’ objections to the Catholic mission had little to do with the differences between Catholicism and Confucian teaching. Instead their anxiety resulted from the fact that the Jesuit mission and Portuguese authorities were using Macau as a base to expand into the Chinese interior, a development that might pose a serious security threat if left unchecked. [End Page 270]
By comparison, the Portuguese were eager to safeguard and maximize the profits of Macau’s maritime trade. By studying the structure of Macau’s maritime trade, Zhang Tingmao points out that, faced with the Dutch and British competition, the Portuguese in Macau developed new trade routes to other colonial outposts in India, East Africa, and Brazil, and, later, they turned to the opium trade to sustain the economic livelihood of the city. Closely related to this economic consideration was the diplomatic policy of Portugal in the Far East. António Vasconcelos de Saldanha draws attention to the convergence of the Jesuit mission strategies and Portugal’s China policy. In the midst of the Rites Controversy in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Portuguese authorities aligned with the Jesuits against the Vatican because of the society’s holding of the papal privilege of the patronage in Siam, Tonkin, Cochinchina, and China. While the Jesuits depended on the Portuguese support in Europe to protect their privilege of establishing mission outposts in Asia, the Portuguese had to rely on the Jesuit mission to gain access to the imperial court in Beijing, to obtain Chinese benevolence toward its presence in Macau, and to ensure the continuity of Macau as a Portuguese settlement and an entry to the Roman Catholic mission field in the Far East. It is important to bear in mind that China and the West never interacted with each other in a political vacuum. Their interactions were affected by the political...