CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 23, September 2010


| China Heritage Quarterly

A Calendar of Commemorations: May-June 2010

The four hundredth anniversary of Matteo Ricci's death in Beijing led many organisations around the world to commemorate the missionary, both in terms of what he did but also in the context of the links that could be drawn between him and the relevant commemorative organisation. Thus, academic bodies hosted conferences and published new works on Ricci, while cities that had close or even tenuous associations with aspects of Ricci and his history—places where he had once lived or merely passed a few nights—also held celebratory gatherings. Church agencies and dioceses associated with Ricci and his legacy, or even just with Jesuits and other church figures who worked in China, also held commemorative events, some of which emphasized the association between Chinese Catholic communities and the overseas church.

Fig.1 A commemorative stamp issued in Macau.

Given that Ricci was a Jesuit, and someone who as a boy in Macerata was educated in Jesuit schools, the Society of Jesus was also inevitably involved in many activities throughout the world. One of the Jesuits' international secretariats published the following collection of selected events that occurred both around the time of the Ricci anniversary and throughout the year. Although this small 'calendar' necessarily contains much that pertains to 'the Catholic world', it is produced here to show the way in which Ricci's life has continued to spark interest both among scholars and the broader public.

This following was compiled from Electronic News Service reports issued by the Jesuit Curia, Rome, May-June 2010.—Jeremy Clarke

In Europe

Vatican City: On 29 May, Pope Benedict XVI hosted an audience for the Macerata diocese with the Jesuit Father General, Adolfo Nicolas, together with nearly one thousand Jesuits, and their associates. For an hour prior to the Pope's arrival there was a commemorative celebration of music, songs, and testimonials. Father Nicolas highlighted the fact that Matteo Ricci entered into a world, the Chinese world, rich in culture, and worked in it with flexibility and creativity. The pope, speaking to the nearly eight thousand people in attendance, hoped that the celebrations honouring Matteo Ricci could be a stimulus for a renewed dialogue between the gospel and Chinese culture. The pope continued, 'this is a unique instance of a happy synthesis between the proclamation of the gospel and the dialogue with the culture of a people to whom we bring it, an example of balance between clarity of doctrine and careful pastoral action. Not simply a thorough learning of the language, but also the patient study and acceptance of the life style and customs common to upper echelons of Chinese society were the means used by Matteo Ricci to win the respect and esteem of the Chinese, not as a foreigner but as a master from the west... The choices he made came not from an abstract strategy of inculturation of the faith, but from the whole set of events, encounters, and experiences he had.'

Macerata, Italy: Ricci's hometown celebrated 'Friendship's Days' on 8 and 9 May. More than 250 Chinese working or studying in Italy participated. Thirty years after Ricci's death one of his Jesuit brothers, Giulio Aleni from Brescia (known as Ai Rulüe in Chinese), wrote a biography in Chinese. For the first time, this book has been translated into Italian with Chinese text on the opposite pages; it was introduced in Macerata during the Ricci celebrations. The book is entitled La vita di Matteo Ricci scritta da Giulio Aleni (1630) (The life of Matteo Ricci written by Giulio Aleni—1630). Father Gianni Criveller, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), oversaw the translation and wrote, 'While Ricci and Aleni never met, their lives are deeply connected. Perhaps no one except Aleni is closer to Matteo Ricci in personality, formation, spirituality, brilliance, erudition, zeal, style and missionary method'. In addition to his missionary activities, Aleni published works on astronomy and cartography during his almost forty years in China. The days concluded with a solemn mass in Macerata's cathedral, which was broadcast by Italian television throughout the country. The choir for the mass hailed from the North Church (Beitang) in Beijing and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, was the principal celebrant.

Florence, Italy: On 10 and 11 May, an international conference focussing on the work of Ricci was held in the main hall of the University of Florence. It was organized by the departments of Languages, Literature and Comparative Cultures of the Faculty of Humanity, in collaboration with the chair of Portuguese and Brazilian literature of the University of Florence, Camões Institute in Lisbon, Fundação Macau in Macau and other institutions that study China.

Fig.2 The South Cathedral (Nantang), Beijing. Photograph: Ian Fairhurst

Genoa, Italy: A meeting on 'A Jesuit scientist at the Ming Court' was held at the Palazzo Ducale. A number of scholars offered insights on Matteo Ricci and the challenges facing China today. The Italian Ministry of Economic Development also used this occasion to announce that it will establish a Genoa—Tianjin corridor for merchandise travelling across the Mediterranean Sea and the government intends to name this corridor after Matteo Ricci.

Milan, Italy: On 15 May, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) organized an international meeting entitled:

The door to friendship. Bishop John Tong Hon, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong (successor to Cardinal Zen) and founder of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, was among the participants. It was the occasion to officially unveil 'a new intellectual biography', Matteo Ricci: Mission and Understanding by Father Gianni Criveller, a PIME priest based in Hong Kong and organizer of the meeting. The meeting was associated with several exhibitions, including 'Vestments of Good Government', which displayed the uniforms worn by scholars and imperial officials and which were adopted by PIME's missionaries in accord with the 'method of adaptation' (inculturation) put forward by Matteo Ricci.

Vienna, Austria: Vienna University and the missionary office of the Austrian province of the Society of Jesus organized an international symposium in Vienna, on 10 and 11 May. Scholars from China, Austria, Germany and Switzerland presented papers on themes such as the influence of Matteo Ricci in geographical studies in China; Matteo Ricci in the historiography of missionary behaviour in China; four hundred years of Chinese history and the Jesuits. They also touched on contemporary topics such as the role of the Jesuits in present day China and the social work of the church in China.

In China

Beijing: A solemn liturgy was celebrated in the South Cathedral (Nantang) with the performance of a Mass for four voices composed by young Italian Jesuit, Luca Uggias, presently studying in China. The cathedral was built where Matteo Ricci raised a small chapel in 1605. The same Mass was performed on the 10 May in the cathedral in Macau.

Fig.3 Cover of Le Grand Ricci dictionary, digital version.

Shanghai: The DVD version of the Le Grand Ricci, the Chinese-French Encyclopaedic Dictionary, published in 2002 in printed form, was unveiled at the Shanghai Museum, before many civil and religious representatives. The printed edition of this work, which was published in seven volumes comprising over nine thousand pages, was fifty years in the making. Showing the same diligence and academic discipline that enabled Ricci to publish so much in his own lifetime, this dictionary literally involved generations of Jesuits and their lay colleagues working at many different institutions. The Ricci Institute in Taipei was the institution responsible for finally bringing all this work together in a publishable form.

Shanghai's Fudan University launched its Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute on 11 May; the Institute is part of the university's School of Philosophy. According to Jesuit Father Benoit Vermander, co-director of the Institute, it is the first Chinese academic centre to also bear the name of Paul Xu Guangqi, who was Ricci's closest Chinese friend and the first Catholic in Shanghai. (See the Bishop of Shanghai's letter concerning Xu Guangqi also in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly). The new centre aims to promote academic research, the teaching of religious studies, and a comparison of Chinese and Western cultures and philosophies. On opening day, the Institute hosted a colloquium attended by nearly seventy Chinese and foreign scholars in the fields of economics, philosophy and religious studies discussing religious dialogue and the challenges faced by the Chinese and global communities.

The Shanghai diocese was also very active in celebrating the Ricci anniversary, using this as a time to encourage their own communities as well as promote the work of the church to a broader audience. On 11 May it launched the 'Matteo Ricci Year', which continues until 11 December 2010. As reported in the Jesuit electronic news service on 4 June 2010, in the words of Bishop Jin Luxian, 'It aims to boost evangelization work among priests, nuns and laypeople'. The opening ceremony was held at Sheshan Seminary on the outskirts of the city. The Matteo Ricci year is 'not merely a commemoration, but has practical significance for Catholics on how they can continue the priest's work of adapting the faith to Chinese culture' Jin added.

The auxiliary bishop, Joseph Xing Wenzhi, said Father Ricci followed Chinese customs, understood Chinese culture well and treasured his friendship with Chinese intellectuals. 'He deserves to be the model for our diocese in spreading the Gospel in these fast-changing times', he said. Illustrating yet again the way that various academic centres and even national bodies sought to harness Ricci's endeavours for their own ends, the Italian Consul General in Shanghai, Massimo Roscigno, who attended the event, said people should follow Father Ricci's example of forging 'friendship between China and Italy'. He pointed out that if the priest had not had help from his good Chinese friend Paul Xu Guangqi, he could not have completed his writings in Chinese or translated Chinese classics into Latin. The ceremony was held at the conclusion of the diocesan pilgrimage to Shanghai's Sheshan Marian Shrine that same day. About 1,000 Catholics gathered at the hilltop Minor Basilica of St Mary to pray for strength to follow in the footsteps of Father Ricci. After mass, they were given leaflets promoting the cause for sainthood of Father Ricci and Xu Guangqi.

Taipei, Republic of China: The National Central Library in Taiwan organized a long series of events as a mark of respect for Ricci, to remember his contribution to the cultural exchange between East and West and as a way of reinforcing the Library's commitment to public service. On January 30, the National Central Library and the Ricci Institute in Taipei signed an agreement for academic collaboration, which included the Ricci Institute entrusting to the library more than 30,000 volumes that are available to the public for consultation.