Matteo Ricci

  • Born: 1552
  • Died: 1610
  • Chinese: 瑪竇 (Lì Mǎdòu)

Matteo Ricci, also known by his Chinese name Lì Mǎdòu, was a Jesuit scholar and missionary who founded the first Jesuit mission in China, and became a trusted advisor and official within the Ming Court, remaining in Beijing until his death in 1610.

After arriving in China in 1582, he founded the first Jesuit mission in the country the following year. Though he and his compatriots struggled for nearly twenty years to earn the favor of the Ming Court, they were finally permitted in 1601 to officially take up residence in Beijing, becoming the first Europeans ever to do so.

Ricci is famed for his stance - quite controversial back in Rome, but fairly successful in China - on adapting both himself and his Christian teachings to the Chinese circumstances. Where other missionaries might have been expelled (or worse) for taking a hardline Christian stance against certain beliefs and practices (including ancestor worship, idolatry, and certain familial, social, or sexual customs), Ricci famously took a lenient approach towards such things, bringing him comparative success in maintaining his mission and his position within Beijing, and securing some number of converts (who were more willing to practice and espouse Christianity so long as they could continue to observe certain Chinese traditions as well). Ricci further gained favor with the Ming Imperial Court by adopting the robes and manners of a Confucian official, studying Chinese language, Confucian teachings, and so forth, rather than more stubbornly adhering to his own foreign customs.

Earning acceptance at the Ming Court, Ricci introduced to the Court numerous aspects and examples of European science and technology, including astronomy, engraving, firearms, and geography. He produced the first Chinese-language map of the world, and was at one time named to the Ming Imperial Bureau of Astronomy. An essay by Ricci included in the 1604 Chengshi Moyuan was the first ever publication in a romanized form of Chinese language.[1] Among his other works is Tianzhu shiyi ("The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven"), an apologetic work explaining Christianity in classical Chinese.[2]

Copies of Ricci's Chinese-language map of the world began to circulate in Japan in the late 17th century, and became the basis for numerous Japanese world maps.[3]


  1. Soren Edgren, presentation, Chinese & Japanese Woodblock Books symposium, Freer Gallery of Art, July 2011.
  2. Watanabe Hiroshi, A History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600-1901, International House of Japan (2012), 156.
  3. Gallery labels, National Museum of Japanese History.[1]