Accommodating the other: Lessons from encounters between Christianity and Confucianism in early modern China Chapter uri icon


  • This chapters focus is on the encounter between Jesuit missionaries and the Chinese Literati in the late sixteenth century. Of particular concern within this broad focus is the life and work of Matteo Ricci, who was co-founder of the Jesuits China mission and the main representative of the Society of Jesus and, by implication, the Catholic Church in the region.1 Matteo Ricci was not the first european, or even the first Jesuit who came to China; however, he was undoubtedly the first european who felt the need to understand the Chinese on their own terms and devised an elaborate method of accommodation of Christianity to the Chinese culture.2 Because of his remarkable scholarly ability and his innovative missionary approach, Ricci is often called the carrier of Euclid and Copernicus to China and an introducer of Confucian thought to Europe.3 This characterization is not incorrect, but some recent studies have raised questions about the usefulness and success of Riccis Chinese enterprise.4 This chapter, however, is not so concerned with the success or failure of Riccis approach as it is with his conviction that Christianity should enter China implicitly by way of the Chinese Literati and his reasoning to adopt an integrated, interwoven missionary method to realize that conviction.5 Such an approach required Ricci to invoke and amplify his training as a mathematician, logician, geographer, and cartographer over his status of being a Jesuit missionary. It also demanded that Ricci and his colleagues learn Chinese and master the spirit as well as the content of Confucian thought. This, as history tells us, was a monumental task which Ricci and his associates accomplished to near perfection. In light of these facts it is worth acknowledging that Riccis life, works, and experiences deserve much more detailed treatment than can be accomplished in a single chapter. For this reason I have intentionally limited the scope of this chapter to those elements of Riccis approach which, in his opinion, would have softened Chinese minds for the acceptance of Western Christian ideas, on the one hand, and prepared religious authorities in Europe to accept his version of the non-idolatrous nature of the Chinese, on the other.

author list (cited authors)

  • Bashir, H.

complete list of authors

  • Bashir, H

editor list (cited editors)

  • Dyck, J., Rowe, P. S., & Zimmermann, J.

Book Title

  • Politics and the Religious Imagination

publication date

  • June 2010