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Beyond Ricci: Jesuit experiences in China


Jeremy Clarke, S.J., an Australian Jesuit and assistant professor of history at BC, has launched Beyond Ricci, a searchable website that provides scholars and researchers access to books containing historical narratives, maps, correspondence, and musical compositions in five languages that depict life in China in early modern history and the East-West exchanges initiated by the early Jesuit missionaries.

Among the many notable digitized items from the rare book collection of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College are a 1735 translation of a French encyclopedia of China; an extensively detailed 18th century atlas; melody lines from the Chinese Imperial Court that were transcribed by Jesuits in the mid-18th century; and a translation of Confucian texts by the Jesuit missionaries that represented the first introduction of Confucius to the Western world. The website focuses on books from the Burns Library’s Jesuitica Collection by or about Jesuit missionaries including Matteo Ricci, Philippe Couplet and Alvaro Semedo, as well as Roman-based Jesuits Christopher Clavius and Athanasius Kircher, who made use of the information sent back by the missionaries in China.

“This project takes rare books from a shelf in Burns Library and makes them accessible to a wide audience of visitors with either scholarly or casual interest in Chinese history,” said Fr. Clarke. “Professors of Asian history—as well as early modern history in general—can now give assignments to students that will help them to better understand this time period and the significance of the East-West cultural exchange. I am proud of this site and hope that it will help to enhance understanding of Chinese history and the role the Jesuit missionaries played in establishing these important ties to the East.”