A Jesuit in the Forbidden City, by Ronnie Hsia, professor of history at Penn State

March 01, 2011
book cover for A Jesuit in a Forbidden City

Scholar, humanist, and missionary to China, the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci is best known today as a pioneer of cultural and scientific relations between East and West. On the 400th anniversary of Ricci's death, Ronnie Hsia, Edwin Earle Sparks professor of history at Penn State, has written a critical biography of the man and his world.

Ricci's expertise in cartography, mathematics and astronomy—and his eventual mastery of the Chinese language—brought him great favor among the literati of the Ming dynasty. His most famous work, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, was an attempt to synthesize Christianity and Confucianism.

"By his intelligence, charm, and endurance," Hsia writes, "the Italian missionary gained access into the inner realm of Chinese civilization, denied to almost all visitors." When he died in 1610, he was the first foreigner in China, "neither king nor envoy," to be granted an imperial burial.

Ronnie Hsia, Ph.D., is Edwin Earle Sparks professor of history in the College of the Liberal Arts; rxh46@psu.edu.

Last Updated March 01, 2011