- Harmonious Disagreement: Matteo Ricci and His Closest Chinese Friends by Yu Liu
This is another addition to the large pool of scholarship on Matteo Ricci, the most famous European missionary in Chinese history. The author focuses on the friendship between Ricci and his closest Chinese friends, most notably Qu Taisu, Xu Guangqi, Li Zhizao, and Yang Tingyun. Liu argues that these friendships were “at times tense and even hostile but in reality always mutually energizing” (p. 2). While the argument is convincing, this is not the first book that deals with this subject. The major contribution of this book is thus not the subject matter but rather the unique insight the author offers due to his expertise in comparative literature.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 includes chapters 1–4, concentrating on the publication and reception of Ricci’s works Jiaoyou Lun (On friendship), Tianzhu Shiyi (The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven), and Ershiwu Yan (Twenty-five paragraphs). Part 2 includes chapters 5–8, each detailing Ricci’s friendship with one of his closest Chinese friends.
Liu points out that Ricci’s first work, Jiaoyou Lun, failed to result in any doctrinal achievement in China due to the lack of larger philosophical framework. Ricci’s next work, Tianzhu Shiyi, did not bring him fame either. In this work, Ricci acted as a defender of Confucianism against the bad influence of Buddhism. Liu argues that Ricci’s attack on Buddhism did not bring the expected result because the majority of Ricci’s friends were followers of Wang Yangming. Those people, though they disdained Buddhism, were heavily influenced by Chan Buddhism. Thus Ricci’s attacking Buddhism alienated himself and other Jesuit missionaries not only from Buddhism but also from their Confucian-scholar friends. Only after the publication of his third major work, Ershiwu Yan, did Ricci gain popular approval and doctrinal satisfaction (p. 85). Liu provides detailed background information surrounding the publication of these works, emphasizing the help Ricci received from his Chinese friends. Liu maintains that despite the tremendous help Ricci received from his Chinese friends, there was always a certain distance between them. On the one hand, Ricci informed his friends neither of the institutional difficulties he faced in order to publish in China nor his true purpose in coming to China. On the other hand, his Chinese friends did not always agree with him on Chinese philosophy and religions.
Liu further analyzes Ricci’s friendship with several individuals in order to prove his point. Qu Taisu, Xu Guangqi, Li Zhizao, and Yang Tingyun all were close friends of Ricci, and all eventually converted to Catholicism. These were highly influential scholar-officials in the late Ming dynasty. Each was attracted to Ricci for different reasons, but all greatly helped Ricci in his mission endeavor in China. Nonetheless, Liu claims that these Chinese friends “never received Ricci’s Works in [End Page 181] the way he wanted them to do” (p. 194). Yet those friends helped Ricci to have a better understanding of the three main native spiritual traditions.
This is not the first book that deals with Ricci’s publications and his friendship with Chinese. Several books have dealt with this subject before. For example, Huang Yinong, Liangtou she: Mingmo qingchu de diyidai tianzhujiaotu (A two-headed snake: The first generation of Catholic disciples in the Ming-Qing transition) (Xinzhu: Qinghua University Press, 2005), and R. Po-chia Hsia, A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci, 1552–1610 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). Both books examine Ricci’s interactions with his Chinese friends from cultural and philosophical perspectives. Thus, much that is discussed in this book can be found in other writings on the subject. Nonetheless, Liu’s literary analysis of Ricci’s publications in China provides refreshing ideas for the reader. Its comparison of philosophical, religious, and literary similarities and differences between the West and China undoubtedly enriches our understanding of Ricci’s interactions with his Chinese friends. Therefore...