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Work Of The Christian Missionaries: Converting China To Christianity

1353 words - 5 pages

The Christian missionaries knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Going to China at the time was a one way trip to an unknown land. The task of converting China to Christianity was rife with challenges due to continued resistance to any sort of outside influence that was a tradition of China for many years. Never-the-less the missionaries still went to China and by leveraging what advantages they could find, they were able to find some measure of success over the years.

One of the men who made so much headway in China was a Jesuit named Ricci. Ricci was gifted, and knew the value of the gifts he possessed. As a linguist, Ricci used his western mnemonic techniques that were unfamiliar to the Chinese to impress the literati. The Chinese literati were considered higher members of society, and to be a high member of society it required a person passing a series of examinations. Examinations were the basis of almost all official positions as well. Such a practical tool was valued greatly, and it served Ricci well to gain the good favor of the Chinese when he showed them the technique. Ricci had more to offer though, using European cartography he produced a world map with names in Chinese and China at the center of the map. Accommodating for China as he did by placing it at the center of the map, he secured permission for a missionary residence in the capital of Beijing.

When the Jesuits first came to south China they quickly learned that the best way to fit in and make a connection with the Chinese was to engage with people of Confucianism. The Jesuits came from prominent families in Europe and were highly educated and in the upper levels of society. They found the literati were also the prestigious class in China and were high in the power structure. Both parties benefitted from these similarities they brought to the table. The literati were refined and emphasized learning, just like the Jesuits. The mutual interests and lifestyles acted in favor of more free exchange of ideas. Furthermore, the acceptance from the scholar-officials was necessary for the missionaries to be allowed to remain in China.

In this early time of the missionary work, late Ming China was in a state of being more culturally open. During this period the Jesuits had successes converting prominent scholar-officials. The Jesuits learned they couldn’t convert people to Christianity if it was presented as an independent concept, so they came to blend Confucianism (the religion most popular to the literati) with Christianity. Culturally during this time the Ming dynasty possessed a lesser sense Confucian orthodoxy. They were willing to synthesize various teachings of the different religions into a harmonious unity. The Jesuits used the open spirit of the Ming to blend Christianity with Confucianism. Combining religions gave an advantage to the Jesuits because they could present Christianity as something already familiar in some concepts as the religion already practiced...

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