- Jesuits & Matriarchs: Domestic Worship in Early Modern China by Nadine Amsler
Nadine Amsler has accomplished something quite remarkable for an emerging scholar; she has written a first monograph that equals in style and quality a work produced by an already established and well-published senior in her field. Amsler's new study, Jesuits & Matriarchs, is a welcome contribution to the study of Sino-Western/Sino-Missionary history, not only because she offers important information about the role and influences of women within China's late-imperial Catholic community, but also because she has exhumed long buried archival materials that few, if any, have thought to access, namely, the accounts of women under the Jesuit mission during the early Qing (1644–1911). As she puts it, her book asks how women organized "their religious piety, and how did they perceive the 'teachings of the Lord of Heaven' (Tianzhujiao) propagated by the Jesuits," a question which is "illuminated by analysis of the significance of gendered special relations in the Jesuits' mission to seventeenth- century China" (p. 4). Amsler is not the first to analyze the lives of women under the sway of the Western Christian mission to China; her study follows [End Page 282] in the footstep of other significant monographs such as Ji Li's God's Little Daughters, published in 2015, and Jane Hunter's earlier The Gospel of Gentility, published in 1989.1 What sets Amsler's work apart is that it sets the lives of Chinese Christian women more precisely within the larger context of Jesuit notions of masculinity, namely, Confucian learning vis-à-vis female virtue. That is, Amsler confronts how European Jesuits of China's seventeenth-century "adapted their masculinity to Chinese Confucian gender norms and how Chinese women connected with the Catholic religion spread by the missionaries" (p. 12).
In Chapter 1, Amsler rehearses much that has already been written about, such as the 1595 decision of Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) and Lazzaro Cattaneo (1560–1640) to stop wearing Buddhist robes and begin donning the regalia of the Confucian literati. Despite such redundancies, this chapter offers several novel areas of analysis; most notably, she frames the sartorial and cultural decision to adopt the persona of China's literati within a framework of Jesuit masculinity. Here I would have recommended that the uniquely Jesuit practice of only admitting males to their order be better explored. Other Roman Catholic missionary orders and congregations, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Lazarists, freely admit women into their ranks, while the Jesuit fraternity of priests and brothers is entirely male, a reality that influenced the atmosphere of Jesuit areas in China. Along the lines of sartorial strategies, Amsler makes the important point that the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), had refused to create a specific Jesuit habit, but had instead requested that Jesuit attire should "conform to the usage of the region" (p. 16). This important decision allowed missionary Jesuits to dress not only according to their region, but also according to their social status; Jesuits in the service of the emperor dressed quite differently from those who served small remote Chinese parishes. This chapter effectively underscores that the Jesuit decision to conform to China's Confucian aesthetic and intellectual propensities filtered down to inform how they envisioned and directed the lives of Chinese Catholic women.
Chapters 2 and 3 confront traditional Chinese expectations of morality and gender distinction, especially how those expectations were interpreted by and re-presented by Jesuit missionaries. As Amsler suggests, Confucian literati were convinced that "disorder began to reign whenever sexes mixed," and the Catholic mission was obliged to highlight its own moral consensus with this view both in the public and private spheres (p. 34). One way in which the Jesuit "literati" distinguished themselves as paragons of Confucian morality was to set themselves against Buddhist clergy, who they characterized as lewd and promiscuous. The Jesuit mission thus stressed its agreement with the traditional Chinese sense that "Female...