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  • Friendship and Hospitality: The Jesuit-Confucian Encounter in Late Ming China by Dongfeng Xu
  • Bin Song (bio)
Dongfeng Xu. Friendship and Hospitality: The Jesuit-Confucian Encounter in Late Ming China. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2021. Xi, 276. Paperback $32.95, isbn 9781438484945.

Friendship and Hospitality: The Jesuit-Confucian Encounter in Late Ming China, authored by Dongfeng Xu, focuses upon On Friendship, the first text written by Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) in classical Chinese to procure friendship and hospitality from Confucian literati. All chapters are accordingly tasked to study certain aspects of the text.

Chapter 1 illuminates the Ignatian spirituality underlying the Jesuit missiology of accommodation, and highlights the problematic idea of the human "self" versus God in the Ignatian spirituality. Chapter 2 canvases how Ricci adapted both pagan and Christian writings of friendship to the Confucian culture of the time. Chapters 3 and 6 attend to the Confucian side of the encounter, and analyze respectively the historical, cultural, and textual basis of the so-called Confucian Sino-centrism which Ricci tried to accommodate, and the varying ways in which Confucian literati responded to the Jesuits. Chapters 4 and 5 investigate the impact of Ricci's new world map on the Ming [End Page 232] empire, and present one significant component of Ricci's mission that remains underexplored by the scholarship to date, viz., the auxiliary, yet decisive role of Western science and technology in the mission.

Despite having exhibited such a panoply of historical details surrounding the text of On Friendship, the central argument of the book is not as historical as it appears to be. Hovering over all historical investigations of the encounter are postmodern philosophical theories of "the other" and "the difference" constructed by Levinas and Derrida. Throughout all the chapters of this book, Xu utilizes these postmodern theories as the sword of Damocles to scrutinize, critique, and, in more than a few cases, condemn the absolutist self-concepts of Jesuits and Confucians evidenced by their historical encounter, which concepts the author unrelentingly characterizes as "narcissistic" (p. 47), "Machiavelian" (p. 72), "chauvinistic" (p. 98), or hegemonic (p. 118). The final conclusion of the book is dialectical, and complies with the spirit of deconstruction heralded by those cited postmodern thinkers: on the one hand, Xu argues, notwithstanding the Jesuit accommodation of Confucian culture was undergirded by their narcissistic devotion to the absolute truth of Christian belief, the actual unfolding of Ricci's mission proves the opposite. In other words, for any kind of rapport to take place, Jesuits had to take in the difference of the accommodated alterity, and hence, had to admit that there exists something impossible and unruly beyond the presumed totality of Christendom. On the other hand, Confucians did utilize a variety of intellectual tactics to absorb the evidently advanced Western science and technology brought in by Ricci's mission, and tried to maintain the complete truth of Confucianism. However, the reformation of the calendar mandated by Ming emperors (chapter 5) and the response of some Confucian literati to revive the ancient theistic Confucianism (pp. 167–175) particularly prove that the other takes an equal, if not predominant, role to the self in any hospitality offered by a cultural host. Although the twofold conclusion confirms that the values of the other, as uncovered by postmodern theories, is a de facto result of the historical encounter, Xu highlights that amid the process of the encounter, the absolutist One self-concepts of Jesuits and Confucians have led to "the oppression and repulsion of many deemed to be different and other to the ideal of the One" (p. 178). The author therefore urges readers to take precautions against the seemingly inviting and charming idea of "one history, one culture, or one civilization" which is "completely free from or exclusive of alterity," since the strife that arises from the desire of constructing such an idea is "dangerous and detrimental" (p. 179), and causes "so many troubling moments for the missionary friendship promoted by the Jesuits and the hospitality displayed by the Confucians" (p. 180).

If the postmodern theories are treated as tenable interpretive lenses, I appreciate that the author's consistent utilization of them succeeds...