On Matteo Ricci’s Interpretations of Chinese Culture

Hong Chen


On the contribution to introducing Western learning to China by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the 16th -century Italian Jesuit missionary to the Ming Dynasty, abundant research has been done; however, not so on his contribution to introducing Chinese learning to the West, and if so, not profoundly. Though Ricci‟s understandings of Chinese culture were found in every aspect of Ming Dynasty lives, this essay focuses on four important and representative aspects, and analyzes the political system of a government guided by philosophers, the confused outlooks of religious sects, Chinese ethics compared to Christian tenets, and the unique qualities of the Chinese language. It discloses Ricci‟s moderate (middle-of-the-road) attitude toward Chinese culture, especially his efforts to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity as well as his prejudice against Buddhism and Taoism, which shows on the one hand his broad-mindedness as a humanistic missionary, and on the other the historical or rather religious limitations of his absolute faith as a pious Catholic. Narrow-minded or broad-minded, Ricci‟s role as the first scholar who introduced Chinese learning to the West should not be neglected. One should bear in mind that it is Ricci who laid the foundation for European sinology.


Matteo Ricci; introducing Chinese learning to the West; understandings of Chinese culture

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co20151687-100


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