Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: xu guangqi
Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00

Celebrating 450 years of Xu Guangqi

Interview first published in Xuhui News (Vol.2, N.9, April 2012), by Guan Xin

What does it mean to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Xu Guangqi? What values should it lead us to promote?

Xu Guangqi was a man of extraordinary stature: a statesman thoroughly familiar with the Chinese philosophical and cultural tradition; a man of practical abilities fascinated by technical and scientific progress; an agriculturist who embarked on this field out of philanthropic concerns; a patriot endowed with military skills… but he was also someone who, in the person of Matteo Ricci and other Jesuit missionaries, discovered Otherness. He was able to challenge himself, to enter into a new understanding of existence, while remaining deeply faithful to the best of his culture and his personality. From the start, he realized a synthesis between different traditions and worldviews. So, when we commemorate his life, we are reminded that a healthy sense of identity goes with a strong capacity to understand and empathize with the other, to put oneself into question, and to creatively invent news ways of thinking and acting.

What has been the contribution of Xu Guangqi in the field of religion?

He is traditionally called “one the three great pillars of the Chinese Catholic Church”, together with the scholars Yang Tingyun and Li Zizhao. These scholars embraced the new faith and were actively promoting the participation of the Western missionaries in fields such as the reform of the Imperial calendar. At the same time, they were deeply anchored into the Confucian tradition, which they wanted to reform and purify, and they found in Catholicism the completion of what they thought was the original moral and theistic Confucian original worldview. Though their relationship with Buddhism was an uneasy and complex one, one can also find elements of Buddhist philosophy in their formation. In that sense, their contribution is also interreligious: in their written works they were offering a new expression of the Chinese religious psyche. Suring the last decade, these works have been republished, and they are object of intense interest for scholars. The complete works of Xu Guangqi have just been published in Shanghai.

The friendship and cooperation between Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci was great and profound. We are now facing a “smaller” planet due to globalization and intense cross culture communication. Doe their ideal and the model they offer keep some significance for us today?

When Xu Guangqi and Ricci were alive, communication among civilizations was minimal. Now, we have sometimes “too much’ of it, in the sense that clichés, superficial communication and conflicts of interests are often perverting our exchanges. Still, Ricci and Xu Guangqi remind us that in-depth communication is always to be grounded into patience, friendship and humility. Patience: it takes time to truly enter into a language and a new system of thought and perception, as there are no shortcuts for being truly “conversant’ with the other; Friendship; empathy and curiosity are the virtues that makes communication among human beings valuable and creative; humility: being able to critically evaluate one’s culture and personality is indispensable for a grateful appreciation of what the cultures and people we encounter may offer to us. In this respect, one can almost say that Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci are still the two pillars on which to build a positive model of globalization!

Photo by Roberto Ribeiro. Xu Guangqi Park, Shanghai.
Bronze statue of Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangxi.
Together, Ricci and Paul Xu Guangxi translated and published some essential works of western science.


Friday, 21 May 2010 00:02

The lesson of Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi

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.


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