- Matteo Ricci, Psychoanalysis, and Face in Chinese Culture and Diplomacy
Intolerance of minor insults will ruin great projects.— Analects of Confucius
The past is never dead. It’s not even past . . . The present, you know, began 10,000 years ago, but the past began one minute ago.— William Faulkner
How to penetrate the covert level of an alien culture is still one of the most difficult problems which confront the investigator. Since most of any society’s attitudes operate at the unconscious level, they can rarely be ascertained by direct questioning . . . The investigator . . . must be able to perceive the emotional context of situations and to understand much that is left unsaid.— Ralph Linton
Carl Schorske, Matteo Ricci, and Psychoanalysis in China
When I told Carl Schorske of beginning my work teaching psychoanalysis in China, he said: “It occurs to me that western scholars like you seem to walk in the footsteps of the Jesuit fathers of the late sixteenth century who brought western science to the Celestial Empire. (One of them served, I seem to remember, as Astronomer Royal) . . . To think that you will educate the Chinese analysts! I wonder what my good friend Joseph Levinson [I took two of Levinson’s courses on China as a graduate student. PL] would have said to that turn in the Confucian tradition . . .” (personal communications, April 30 and December 28, 2007). With his unfailing sense of [End Page 689] the dialectical irony between orthodoxy and adaptation and wonderful historical resonance, Carl with assurance pointed to Father Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) and the early Jesuits as relevant forerunners and precedents for the current work of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) China Committee.
Ricci authored the first Chinese-Portuguese dictionary; he founded the Jesuit houses in Nan-ch’ang, Shao-chow, Shanghai, Nanking and Peking. His policy was to adapt to the special conditions of the country and avoid unnecessary attacks on traditional Chinese customs and habits. He was sensitive to issues of face, urging missionaries to avoid anything that “clashed with Chinese pride, which would not admit that China had anything to learn from foreigners.” Personally, he chose to dress as a mandarin. He encouraged a broad toleration of rites and ceremonies in honor of family ancestors and Confucius.
These practices resulted in controversies with the Dominicans and Franciscans and appeals to the Holy See leading to the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition condemning toleration of the ancestral rites. Ricci’s writings were censured for “too favorable references to the ancient Chinese philosophers.” Ricci was found to be “in error” by the Papal Bull “Ex quo singulari” (1742) of Pope Clement XII. Christians were forbidden to participate or assist in “sacrifices or solemn oblations” in honor of Confucius or the dead (Brucker, 1912).
Ricci stressed the necessary mutual identification and adaptation in foreign work when he wrote about his friend Feng Yinging, a civic official and scholar who was imprisoned in Beijing, “he treated the affairs of our fathers as if they were his own and our fathers in turn treated his as if they were ours.”1 Carl has a special capacity for human empathy that would have endeared him to Matteo Ricci.
Face in Chinese Culture
We in the West have much to learn from China in the important realms of interpersonal relations and public tact and sensibility. The concept of face, wrote Lin Yutang (1939): “abstract and intangible, it is yet the most delicate standard by [End Page 690] which Chinese social intercourse is regulated . . . it is prized above all earthly possessions. It is more powerful than fate and favor, and more respected than the constitution” (p. 200). Face is an ancient Chinese concept of protocol and social behavior that is relevant for the understanding of Chinese perceptions of each other, of interaction with foreigners, and of foreign policy and international behavior. By face in Chinese culture I mean the self as presented to, or revealed to, others. Chinese culture has a highly developed sensibility to preserving, not humiliating the face of others. Face, may be conferred, saved, or lost. A person or group may “save” or “leave” face to another by not exposing a lapse, slip, or...