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The Jesuits at the Chinese Imperial Court

The Jesuits in China

A Franciscan mission settled in China in the thirteenth century, during the Mongolian Yuan dynasty.

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When that dynasty was overthrown (1368), the missionaries had to leave the country.

The oldest traces of Christianity in Chinese civilization are those of the Nestorian Christians in the seventh century.

“D’Anville’s maps of China were based on a survey of the Chinese empire that was ordered by the emperor in 1708 and carried out by the Chinese, but under the supervision of Jesuit priests resident in China. The detail about the interior of China was far superior to any previous Western map or atlas. D’Anville’s work remained a standard Western source for the geography of China and adjacent regions until well into the 19th century, when it finally was superseded by more accurate maps.”

The Jesuits first entered China through the Portuguese possession of Macau where they founded St. Paul’s College of Macau.

In 1582, Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci were the first Jesuits to obtain permission to enter China. The mission work in China introduced Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and visual arts to the Chinese imperial court, and carried on a significant inter-cultural and philosophical dialogue with Chinese scholars, particularly with representatives of Confucianism.

At the time of their peak influence, members of the Jesuit delegation were considered some of the emperor’s most valued and trusted advisors, holding prestigious posts in the imperial government.

The church was originally established by the Jesuits in 1703 near Zhongnanhai, on land bestowed by the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty to the Jesuits in 1694, following his recovery from illness thanks to medical expertise of Fathers Jean-François Gerbillon and Joachim Bouvet. In 1887 the church was moved and rebuilt at its current location, at the request of the Guangxu Emperor, who needed the original space near the Forbidden City to create the Zhongnanhai Park.

The Jesuits were very active in transmitting Chinese philosophy to Europe. Confucius’s works were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China.

Jesuits were expelled from China after 1721 after the Chinese Rites controversy, a dispute among Roman Catholic missionaries over the religiosity of Confucianism and Chinese rituals. The Jesuits argued that these Chinese rites were secular rituals that were compatible with Christianity, within certain limits, and should thus be tolerated. The Dominicans and Franciscans, however, disagreed and reported the issue to Rome.

Matteo Ricci

In August 1582, Matteo Ricci ((born in Macerata, October 6, 1552 – May 11, 1610)) arrived at Macau, a Portuguese trading post on the South China Sea.

At the time, Christian missionary activity in China was almost completely limited to Macau.

No Christian missionary had attempted seriously to learn the Chinese language until 1579 (three years before Ricci’s arrival), when Michele Ruggieri was invited from Portuguese India expressly to study Chinese, by Alessandro Valignano, founder of St. Paul Jesuit College (Macau), and to prepare for the Jesuits’ mission from Macau into Mainland China.

Painted in 1610 by the Chinese brother Emmanuel Pereira (born Yu Wen-hui), who had learned his art from the Italian Jesuit, Giovanni Nicolao. The portrait was taken to Rome in 1616 and displayed at the Jesuit house together with paintings of Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier.

Once in Macau, Ricci studied the Chinese language and customs. It was the beginning of a long project that made him one of the first Western scholars to master Chinese script and Classical Chinese. With Ruggieri, he traveled to Guangdong’s major cities, Canton and Zhaoqing (then the residence of the Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi), seeking to establish a permanent Jesuit mission outside Macau.

During their time in Zhaoqing, Ricci and Ruggieri compiled a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary, the first in any European language, for which they developed a system for transcribing Chinese words in the Latin alphabet. The dictionary re-emerged only in 1934 and published in 2001.

In 1601, Ricci was invited to become an adviser to the imperial court of the Wanli Emperor, the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City.

Once established in Beijing, Ricci was able to meet important officials and leading members of the Beijing cultural scene and convert a number of them to Christianity. One conversion, which he called “extraordinary”, occurred in 1602, when Li Yingshi, a decorated veteran of the Japanese/Korean War and a well-known astrologer and feng shui expert, became a Christian and provided the Jesuits with a wealth of information.

Ricci was also the first European to learn about the Kaifeng Jews, being contacted by a member of that community who was visiting Beijing in 1605.

Related: 44 old beautiful maps of China

Map of East Asia by Matteo Ricci in 1602.

Kunyu Wanguo Quantu, A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World

His 1602 map of the world in Chinese characters introduced the findings of European exploration to East Asia.

Along with other missionaries, like Ferdinand Verbiest, Johann Adam Schall von Bell, his remains were transferred to the Zhalan Cemetery.

The tomb of Matteo Ricci

Michele Ruggieri

Michele Ruggieri (1543, Spinazzola, Bari – 11 May 1607, Salerno, Italy; Chinese: 羅明堅; pinyin: Luó Míngjiān) was one of the founding fathers of the Jesuit China missions, and a co-author of the first European-Chinese dictionary, he can be described as the first European sinologist.

In 1584 Ruggieri published the first Chinese catechism. Visiting villages in the region he baptized several families that formed the nucleus of further Christian communities in mainland China.

During 1583-88, Michele Ruggieri, with Matteo Ricci as co-author, created a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary – the first ever European-Chinese dictionary, for which they developed a consistent system for transcribing Chinese words in the Latin alphabet. The dictionary’s Romanisation was Ruggieri’s.

Portuguese-Chinese dictionary created by Ruggieri
A page from the manuscript Portuguese-Chinese dictionary created by Ruggieri, Ricci, and Fernandez (between 1583-88)

Ruggieri was accused by Ts’ai I-lung of adultery with the wife of Lo Hung in October 1587. After trial, the judge ordered Ts’ai to be severely punished and he died of his wounds.

Jean Denis Attiret

Jean Denis Attiret (Dole, France. 31 July 1702 – 8 December 1768; Chinese: 王致誠; Wáng Zhì Chéng) was a French Jesuit painter and missionary to China. Attiret went to China in 1737 and was given the title Painter to the Emperor by the Qianlong Emperor. Because the emperor insisted on the use of Chinese painting methods and styles, Attiret’s painting eventually became entirely Chinese in style. After successful military campaigns in Central Asia, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned depictions of the battles. The work was carried out by four Jesuit artists, among them Attiret. The group produced 16 tableaux, which were engraved in France in 1774, 6 years after Attiret’s death in Beijing.


Ferdinand Verbiest

Ferdinand Verbiest (Pittern, 9 October 1623 – 28 January 1688; Chinese: 南懷仁, Nan Huairen) was an accomplished mathematician and astronomer and proved to the court of the Kangxi Emperor that European astronomy was more accurate than Chinese astronomy. He then corrected the Chinese calendar and was later asked to rebuild and re-equip the Beijing Ancient Observatory, being given the role of Head of the Mathematical Board and Director of the Observatory.

Johann Adam Schall von Bell

Johann Adam Schall von Bell (born in Cologne, Germany 1 May 1592 – 15 August 1666; Chinese name: 汤若望, Tang Ruowang) became an adviser to the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty.

Adam Schall dressed as a mandarin of the Department of Astronomy

In 1618 he left for China on a Portuguese ship with a group of missionaries.

Schall von Bell was sent to Beijing in 1630. With Xu Guangqi, he participated in modifying the Chinese calendar and compiling what is known as the Chongzhen calendar, named after the Chongzhen Emperor, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644).

The modified calendar provided more accurate predictions of eclipses of the sun and the moon.

After the Ming-Qing Transition in China, Schall von Bell gained access to the newly installed Shunzhi Emperor and became one of his trusted counselors.

He was made a mandarin and held an important post in connection with the mathematical school: Director of the Imperial Observatory and the Tribunal of Mathematics.

Giuseppe Castiglione

Giuseppe Castiglione (19 July 1688 – 17 July 1766), was an Italian Jesuit missionary and an artist at the imperial court of three emperors – the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors. Castiglione spent 51 years as a court painter painting various subjects. Giuseppe Castiglione died in Beijing on July 17, 1766. Emperor Qianlong, his great friend, and admirer ordered an imperial funeral to be celebrated in his honor.

Related: the amazing art of Giuseppe Castiglione at the Chinese Imperial Court

Ignatius Sichelbart

Ignatius Sichelbart (or Sickelbart, Sickelpart; Chinese 艾啓蒙 / 艾启蒙 Ài Qǐměng or Ai Ch’i-meng ; born September 26, 1708, in Nejdek – October 6, 1780, Beijing), was a German-Bohemian Jesuit missionary and painter.

“The Submission of the Ili”) : This refers to the first submission of the Ili in 1755. The Chinese troops marched in spring and, upon reaching Kouldja, encountered no resistance. Drawn by Ignatius Sichelbart, 1765; engraved by Benoît-Louis Prévost, 1769 (First of the 16 commissionned for Les Conquêtes de L’Empereur de la Chine)

He was assigned as a missionary to China’s Provincial Government in 1745. He was joined on the mission by two other painters Giuseppe Castiglione and Jean Denis Attiret. Together while in China, the artists combined their European techniques with traditional Chinese painting to create new styles.

After successful military campaigns known as the Ten Great Campaigns in Central Asia, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned depictions of the battles. The work was carried out by the Jesuit artists, among them Sichelbart. The group produced 16 tableaux, which were engraved in France in 1774. As a reward for his service and work, he was promoted to director of the Imperial Painting Academy and court painter to the Emperor. Sichelbart died in Beijing in 1780.

Nicolas Trigault

Nicolas Trigault (Douai, Spanish Netherlands 1577–1628; Chinese: 金尼阁, Jīn Nígé) produced one of the first systems of Chinese Romanisation (based mostly on Ricci’s earlier work) in 1626. Aided by a converted Chinese, he also produced the first Chinese version of Aesop’s Fables (況義 “Analogy”), published in 1625.

Sources: Wikipedia 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ; WikiMedia

Topic: Jesuits China,Jesuits in china,Jesuit missionaries in China, missionaries in China, what did Christian missionaries bring to China, missionary to China, catholic missionaries in China, Christian missionaries in China 19th century, Christian missionaries in China, missionary China

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