Men on a mission

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-25 10:24

Men on a mission

Jesuit missionaries to China Ferdinand Verbiest (Belgium). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhang Xiping, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, has spent most of his academic life researching the cultural exchanges between China and the West and has published books on the Jesuit mission in the country's history.

"From the very beginning they realized that in recruiting in the name of God they had to be very flexible, to 'become all things to all,' to use the words of Loyola himself," Zhang says.

Ricci, the Italian who, in the eyes of Emperor Kangxi set an example for all missionaries who wished to stay in China, understood these words. Having learned Chinese language in Macao, he went on to stay in Guangdong province, where Buddhism had a strong tradition, for more than a decade, before moving north to the cities of Nanchang and Nanjing, and ultimately to Beijing.

"Before reaching Nanchang, where he would acquaint himself with members of the local literati, Ricci slipped out of his monk's gown and into an official robe," Zhang says. "If nothing else, this provides a metaphor for his entire career in China, and for those who considered themselves his followers."

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