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Matteo Ricci, bridge between Italy, China

2010-01-15 13:36 BJT

by Silvia Marchetti

ROME, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- To Italians, he is known as Matteo Ricci, SJ (1552-1610), but the Chinese call him Li Madou or Taixi.

Although almost 400 years have passed since his death, people in Italy and China still remember him on various occasions and commemorate him with various events. The ongoing exhibition on Saint Peter's Square in Rome is a case in point.

The exhibition curator has concluded that Italian visitors, especially the young, have come to realize that they are in fact appreciating a part of Chinese culture.

"Thanks to this event, Italians have discovered that China is more than just an economic power undergoing an incredible development," said Professor Giovanni Morello, who is serving as the curator.

"China has cultural traditions which in many ways are linked to the West, as Ricci has demonstrated through his life," Morello added.

In China, Ricci is remembered as the first Westerner who created the first map of the world in the Chinese language (now known as the "Impossible Black Tulip" for its rarity). Ricci also made a name for himself by compiling the first Portuguese-Chinese dictionary.

Not surprisingly, he also became the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City by a Chinese emperor and the first to be buried in China.

Ricci earned these honors because he was the first to have translated the Confucian classics into Latin and Euclid's "Elements of Geometry" into Chinese.

Morello describes the unconventional Italian Jesuit priest as a "Chinese among Chinese," a scholar whose scientific contributions to the imperial Chinese intellectual society covered fields such as astronomy, mathematics and navigation.

Upon his arrival in Macau in 1582, Ricci started to assimilate himself to the surrounding society -- not only by donning Chinese clothing but also by speaking and writing Chinese.

The exotic-looking foreigner astonished Ming Dynasty Emperor Wanli (1573-1620) by precisely predicting an eclipse.

When asked why the emperor was making an exception by having Ricci buried in Beijing upon his death in 1610, then Prime Minister Ye Wenzhong explained: "Have you ever seen a foreigner as learned as Ricci? His translation of the "Elements of Geometry" (into Chinese) alone has earned him the honor of being buried in China."

The Italians are opening an open-air Matteo Ricci museum at his home town Macerata near the Adriatic, as part of their preparations for celebrating the Year of Chinese Culture in 2010.

From the curator's point of view, the exhibition "Between Rome and Peking, to the Heights of History" is helping to dispel the notion that "Ricci is better known in China than in Italy."

Renato Rita, who comes from Ricci's Macerata, sighed with relief after visiting the exhibition: now, Italians can finally find out more about Ricci, his life, and his startling links with the Chinese and Chinese culture.

"I would love to go to China myself," Rita exclaimed. "And who knows? Maybe one day I will."

Editor: Du Xiaodan | Source: Xinhua