Matteo Ricci: Chinese Connection

The art of diplomacy in the Middle Kingdom

The year 2020 marks the 410th anniversary of the death of father Matteo Ricci, a notable Jesuit and Italian priest (1552-1610), who is credited for the diffusion of Catholicism in China. The places and monuments related to Ricci’s 28-year stay in China are numerous, from Beijing’s old Summer Palace, designed for the Qing Dinasty, to Macau’s churches, to the astronomic observatories with the armillary spheres and the instruments for celestial observation which fascinated the Emperor, an astronomy enthusiast, and which Ricci, an astronomer himself, helped build, thus winning the sovereign’s heart and mind. The Italian missionary’s most significant heritage, however, is the practice of Catholicism which, despite the difficulties, is constantly growing in the Country.

Ricci is the most beloved and respected European in China: kids learn about him in primary school, along with Marco Polo. The Emperor himself tributed him the same honors reserved for Mandarins, something that had never happened before with a foreigner, and ordered him buried in Beijing with a state funeral. Ricci’s mission sparked genuine diplomatic and commercial relations between the West and the Middle Empire, actually opening China’s doors to the world for the first time.