- Missioni, saperi e adattamento tra Europa e imperi non cristiani eds. by Vincenzo Lavenia and Sabina Pavone
In 1552, a future Jesuit was born in the provincial Italian town of Macerata on the Adriatic side of the Apennines. He lived there for eighteen years before traveling westward over the mountains to Rome for his novitiate. But his destiny lay in the East and, by the time he was twenty-five years old, he would leave Europe on a one-way trip that would take him all the way to Beijing. Matteo Ricci (d. 1610) was the most famous early Jesuit to visit the Ming Empire, and a man whose shadow still colors popular and academic considerations of Christianity in China. It is therefore not surprising that the four hundredth anniversary of his death would [End Page 807] be commemorated around the world, and especially in his place of birth. This slim volume represents some of the contributions to a conference organized by the University of Macerata marking not only the famed Jesuit's death, but also the 2012 Italian translation of Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia's biography of Ricci, Jesuit in the Forbidden City (Oxford, 2010).
The volume's editors have cast their net wide with their title, "Missions, Knowledge, and Accommodation between Europe and non-Christian Empires," seeking to encompass their book's disparate contents. For while Matteo Ricci clearly dominates some of the contributions, other chapters stray far from China and concern later periods. The seven articles fall into three groups: a first dedicated to Ricci in his Chinese and Jesuit milieux; a second concerned with Christian and/or Western texts translated into Chinese; and a third dealing with empires, broadly, in Europe and Asia. These topics, and the way that the different scholars approach them, are all useful contributions to the growing field of extra-European Jesuit studies, as well as Sinology and European intellectual history. But together they do not have the coherence that one expects from an edited volume, and make no new argument as a whole.
The first set of articles includes a contribution by R. Po-Chia Hsia on Ricci's efforts to publish in Chinese, an analysis by Girolamo Imbruglia of the mission strategies developed by Ricci and Alessandro Valignano (1539–1606) in light of the Spanish experiences in Peru and Mexico, and a chapter by Ana Carolina Hosne on the "geo-strategic" considerations of Jesuit missionary activities in South America and East Asia. The second group contains an essay by Elisabetta Corsi on the introductory physics text written by Giulio Aleni (1582–1649) in 1623, and an analysis by Xie Mingguang of the Chinese collaborators of Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628) in the writing of his language manual for missionaries in 1626. The final set includes the editors' contributions: a chapter by Sabina Pavone on the attempts to maintain a French presence at Beijing after the suppression of the Society of Jesus in the late eighteenth century, and an analysis by Vincenzo Lavenia of the publishing history of and Jesuit influence on Lazzaro Soranzo's Ottomano (first ed. 1598), a text which prescribed strategies for defeating the Turks. While some of these texts deal with the history of books, and others take on questions of imperial politics, the articles in this volume do not dialogue with each other. While it would be too much to call for an end to the entire genre of "conference volumes," it is evident that those whose contributors speak in concert and reformulate their texts under firm editorial guidance are the only ones which merit widespread distribution. For the others which strain for coherence, like this one, the publication of articles separately in academic journals is preferable. [End Page 808]