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  • A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci, 1552-1610
  • Jeremy Clarke S.J.
A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci, 1552-1610. By R. Po-Chia Hsia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 386 pp. $57.50 (cloth).

Matteo Ricci, the famous Jesuit subject of this excellent work by Penn State Edwin Earle Sparks Professor of History Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, died in 1610. The present work has thus rightly and cleverly sought to connect with the four-hundredth anniversary of that event, which was commemorated from Ricci's birthplace, Macerata, through to his final resting place in Beijing. An Italian Catholic priest and missionary, Ricci first entered China in 1583 and worked in the fields of mathematics, cartography, music, horology, and theology, among many others. Since Ricci's death each new significant anniversary has seen a further round of commemorative conferences, books, and articles. Such occasions have not just been connected to the celebration of his arrival in a certain city or town but also have reflected anew upon the work that was done by Ricci and his Chinese mentors in these places.

At each anniversary, not only has the reflection about Ricci's life and work deepened, but at the same time there has also been marked development in the historiography of this period of East-West cultural exchange. In his epilogue, Hsia outlines the publications since the time of the tercentenary of Ricci's death, one hundred years ago. This is one of the strengths of Hsia's new book, as the comprehensive summation of these works shows how the research moved—and continues to move—from publishing "monuments to the memory of Ricci" to entering the field of critical scholarship. Hsia's work lies clearly within the ambit of such scholarship, drawing as it does on extensive multilingual primary sources from archives and libraries throughout the world as well as covering the vast domain of secondary literature on this topic.

Another great contribution of the present work, especially for a nonspecialist audience, is the fact that the sources also include materials originally written in Chinese. For too long, as Hsia and others note, authors have written about Chinese Christianity without considering or including the voice of Chinese actors themselves. Hsia judiciously corrects this imbalance and in so doing not only expands the present field of scholarship but also enables those readers without Chinese language literacy to engage with these resources.

It may seem strange to review Hsia's work by first praising the end of his book but, with T. S. Eliot, given the extent to which Ricci's life journey has been mapped and explored, "the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first [End Page 181] time." Even attempting to write about Ricci now is to engage in an active and at times vigorous conversation with scholars across time and across continents. Hsia's conclusion thus not only represents a terminus ad quem of these previous conversations, but will now also be the point of departure for future academic musings. The epilogue stands as both a testament to endeavors already completed and to the work that Hsia himself has done in advancing this field. It is thus an excellent and important summary of the exploration by Hsia (and others before him) into the life of the first Jesuit in the Forbidden City.

So, what path does Hsia take toward his goal and what are some of the highlights of this new journey?

Hsia does stick to a relatively well-used schema. He employs chronological divisions, dealing with everything from Ricci's early years in Macerata, to his academic studies at the Jesuit-run Roman College and later in a Jesuit college in India, to the various periods of the twenty-seven years he spent in China. For the nonspecialist this will immediately be useful. He also advances the narrative geographically toward the imperial city—the familiar ascent to Beijing motif. Thus, as the book develops, one is drawn ever further into Ricci's life and into his travels ever deeper into the heart of Chinese culture. This is a...


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pp. 181-184
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