Home | Macau | “Journey to the Ends of the World: Michele Ruggieri and the Jesuits in China” book launch on Thursday: The man who presented China to the world

“Journey to the Ends of the World: Michele Ruggieri and the Jesuits in China” book launch on Thursday: The man who presented China to the world

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Professor Eugenio Lo Sardo aims to bring Italy closer to Macau, which “is so linked with Italian history”, by introducing the man who, according to him, “made Europe aware of the real dimension of China”: Michele Ruggieri. Mr Lo Sardo is the Director of the National Archives of Rome and curator of the Macau Museum’s soon-to-be-launched exhibition ‘Journey to the Ends of the World: Michele Ruggieri and the Jesuits in China’. “Michele Ruggieri was the first Jesuit to learn Chinese, namely in Macau, and was approved to conduct missionary work in China’s inland cities”, the curator explained yesterday during an introductory seminar on the exhibition.
The Jesuit left Naples, which at that time was part of the Spanish empire, together with another well-known missionary, Matteo Ricci, in 1577. Both were first sent to Goa, and Ruggieri arrived in Macau two years later, when he was 35 years old, “three years earlier than Ricci”. Both of them “revolutionized the then-view of the world”, the professor made clear. “China was thought at that time to be a small area in the known world. Ruggieri and Ricci made observations of lunar eclipses and discovered the exact longitude of China, and the enormous extent of the Chinese empire was revealed to an astonished Europe.” As a result of their discovery, “it then became clear that the ancient texts and maps were full of errors. None of the navigators before had ever mentioned a vast territory.” Ruggieri was the first to describe this land, and the diagrams of China drawn by him and others are the key element of this exhibition, “since it was the first map of China drawn by the West, although never officially printed.” In 1987, the maps were found in the National Archives of Rome in Italy. “These atlases firstly introduced the geographic locations, rivers, agriculture, mining, education and culture of different provinces in China to the Western world, illustrating the importance of the southern region of China.”
Before being able to do so, Ruggieri, however, had to learn Chinese in Macau. “He was helped by a painter who drew a picture next to each ideogram to illustrate what it meant.” But because “in Macau few people knew the language used by the Mandarins, the magistrates”, the Jesuit began to travel to the Canton fairs. “The efforts he made to learn their language were very much appreciated by the Chinese, so he was almost able to consider himself the friend of an important Mandarin.”
Due to this relationship, the missionary obtained permission to reside in Zhaoqing, the then-capital of Guangdong and Guangxi. “He was the first occidental to receive permission to reside in China”, we learn. From there, he travelled further into China with another Jesuit, Almeida. He wrote a book describing many aspects of life in China, such as the “luxury of traveling by boat, high level of sanitary and living conditions.” An enterprise, which was not without dangers for the European missionary: “China was the example showing that it was possible to live without the Pope. A country with 107 million people, that lived longer than in Europe, had different religions, good rivers and cities.” According to the professor, Ruggieri became especially influenced by Buddhism. He also realized that “the Chinese were able to accept foreigners preaching the gospel in their own country”, whereas “it was not allowed to print a description of China in Naples.” Thus he saw that “China was more open.”
The exhibition of the man who revolutionized both the European and his own way of thinking starts next Thursday. It will display the original atlases and other maps of China drawn by the Jesuits, as well as the astronomical instruments they used showing the great significance of Chinese learning spreading to the West and Sino-Western cultural exchange. As to the Macau-Italy connection, the curator promises, “You will see traces of this long relationship in the exhibition.”

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