Matteo Ricci SJ featured on Radio 4

Ricci and Guangqi
Ricci and Guangqi

This week BBC Radio 4 launched a new history series.  Called Chinese Characters it is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of 20 key personalities, one of whom is the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, who travelled as a missionary to China in the sixteenth century.

Trained in theology  and philosophy as well as mathematics and cosmology, Ricci had a brilliant mind. He was one of the first westerners to master fully the Chinese language. “Ricci was dedicated to intellectual development as part of spiritual growth” observed presenter historian Rana Mitter, “he crossed cultures, both East and West, and Faith and Science”.

Ricci dressed as a Confucian mandarin, aiming to adapt to the customs of China to make his Christian message more accessible to local people. Ricci also brought with him Western clocks, musical instruments, mathematical and astronomical instruments, and cosmological, geographical, and architectural works with maps and diagrams. These, along with his mathematical and astronomical skills, attracted an important audience among the Chinese elite.

During his time at the court of Emperor K’ang-Hsi in Beijing Ricci created an accurate map of the world using European and Chinese sources.  He translated Euclid into Chinese and Confucius into Latin, and set Gregorian chants to Chineses tunes. 

His collaborator in these projects was a Catholic convert, "Paolo" Xu Guangqi, who was beatified by Pope Benedict in 2011.  Ricci left around 2500 converts on his death in 1610.

Chinese Characters airs each weekday at 1.45pm. The Matteo Ricci episode is available on BBC Radio iplayer.