The lesson of Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi

by on Friday, 21 May 2010 9739 hits Comments
Rate this item
(0 votes)

To mark 400 years of dialogue and cultural exchange set off by Matteo Ricci, on May 11th 2010 Michel Camdessus opened the Inauguration International Forum on the "Dialogue among Civilizations and Global Challenges" held by the new Xu-Ricci Dialogue Research Center at Fudan University Shanghai. He explains to us why he is so delighted that the new institute has been jointly named after Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi and how they are still relevant today.

[dropcap cap="I"] rejoice in the fact that the new Centre organising our forum has been placed under the twin names of Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci. Through this patronage, its founders are inscribing their academic endeavour into the domain of humane friendship – and more specifically of intercultural friendship. For sure, solitude plays a part in scientific research as well as in all human pursuits. But friendship plays a role at least as important, especially in our time where most research endeavours are collective ones. I would say that, besides the quest for pure truth, friendship and rivalry – sometimes associated with one another – is another important driver – if not the most important - for humane and scientific achievements.[/dropcap]

Ricci opened a new world to the curious mind of Xu Guangqi. However, it is also true to say that without Xu Guangqi, without his welcoming kindness, his ardour to study, his questions, his patience in revealing to Ricci the Chinese ways of thought and cultural treasures, there would not have been a Ricci. Their interaction is a fascinating chapter in the history of scientific, cultural and spiritual encounters. The four hundredth anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, is marked by a number of celebrations – including our forum - that show how relevant and inspiring the lives of these two pioneers remain today. This anniversary has implications for the future interaction between China and the rest of the world, it helps one to reflect anew on the role of China in the era of globalisation and on the ways to develop meaningful intercultural exchanges for our times.

Universal in scope, the message given by the life of Ricci also has special implications for the way we can have intercultural encounters and conduct research projects as individuals and as teams of persons dedicated to common objectives. A fellow Jesuit, Nicolas Trigault, kept vivid for us the memory of the last days of the life of Ricci, depicting him joyfully conversing with his fellow Jesuits and the nascent Chinese Christian community.

To one of the priests asking him how they could repay the affection he always showed to his brothers, Ricci replied by asking them to do likewise for the Jesuits coming from Europe, “in such a way that they receive from you, more friendship than they could receive from the ones from outside.” Ricci’s care for his fellow Jesuits had started early, he was known for helping - with particular zeal - foreign Jesuit students arriving in Rome during the time of his studies.

Thus, from the start, the secret of Ricci’s life, spirituality and success is revealed to us: His is a spirituality of friendship, first anchored in the way he experiences his relationship with a God, to whom, according to an expression found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, we are able to speak “as a friend speaks to his friend.” Ricci would extend this sense of friendship to the people he met, making himself the neighbour of the ones he encountered along the way.

[inset side="right" title="MIchel Camdessus"]Ricci and Xu Guangqi’s lesson is still valid today: friendship is both the starting point and the fruit of a dialogue pursued in truth and reciprocal respect[/inset]

Of particular significance, are the subject-matter and the title of the first booklet he published in China, a booklet composed on the basis of his recollections of Greek and Latin authors: “On Friendship.” The fact that this is his first published work makes it resonate like a program; from then on, friendship would be at the root of his communication strategy.

By deliberately choosing this approach, Ricci would also prove to be a peace-builder of particular historical significance. The way he introduced Chinese classics to the West also contributed in this endeavour. Later on, relationships between China and the West would be marred by the rise of imperialisms and cultural misunderstandings. Still, the living memory of Ricci and of the first Jesuits who followed in his steps has continued to reassure the Chinese people that the message and ways of interacting they were bringing with them, could go along with respect for one’s culture and national dignity as well as equality in partnership.

As a peacebuilder, Ricci is also a pioneer of dialogue. “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven” - the work of natural theology he wrote in his later years - is conceived as a dialogue between a Confucian scholar and a sage from the West, and this dialogical form is not only a rhetorical device but also reveals his deep-rooted confidence in Man’s ability to communicate in truth and spirit with the help of reason and of the other qualities he is endowed with. The same confidence in dialogue, communication and reason also explains his commitment to the lifelong study of the Chinese language and classics. It is not the natural gifts of Ricci, his uncanny linguistic abilities, that should draw our attention, but rather the respect for language and serious learning that he displays. In an age where communication seems sometimes oversimplified and globalised, Ricci’s example rings as a reminder: we can never stop immersing ourselves in the language and mindset of the Other, untill these somehow becomes our own. Short cuts in apprenticeship and communication eventually lead to a watering down of the quality of the exchange – sometimes with dangerous misunderstandings.

Ricci and Xu Guangqi’s lesson is still valid today: friendship is both the starting point and the fruit of a dialogue pursued in truth and reciprocal respect. And if we are not able to nurture such a spiritual attitude then we will not be able to tackle the challenges that define our common destiny.


{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/3_thumb.jpg|}images/stories/June_2010_Matteo_Ricci/riccifocus_camdessus.flv{/rokbox}


{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/shanghai_Camdessus/*{/rokbox}



Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:35
Michel Camdessus (康德緒)

Former director general of the International Monetary Fund, and an leading advocate of just and sustainable development, with special concern for water management and for the future of Africa. At the invitation of Renlai he went to Beijing in November 2005, and gave there a series of conferences that you can find on this website.

Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation


Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« April 2021 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

We have 9114 guests and no members online