Dialogo è accettare l'altro come è e come egli stesso si definisce e si presenta a noi, di non cessare di essere se stessi mentre ci si confronta con il diverso, di essere consapevoli che la nostra identità esce arricchita e non sminuita da chi di questa identità non accetta alcuni elementi, magari anche quelli che noi riteniamo fondamentali. La riconciliazione è possibile, tra i cristiani e nella compagnia degli uomini. (Enzo Bianchi, priore della Comunità di Bose)

Whispering Preacher Set Diplomatic Course

di James T. Areddy

Some 300 years after Marco Polo’s legendary visit to China, another Italian – Matteo Ricci – arrived in 1583, where he deployed a strategy for engaging the nation’s leadership that endures today.

Tuesday marked the 400th anniversary of the Jesuit Roman Catholic priest’s death in Beijing in 1610, and his memory was feted at a cocktail event and book launch in Shanghai.

Ricci went to China to convert souls. As a missionary, his long-term success is questionable in a country that today isn’t considered very Catholic, with worshipers estimated at 12 million.
(Read more about Catholicism in China and a contrasting Chinese view and in Chinese here and here. Also, here is a 2007 letter to China’s Catholics from Pope Benedict XVI.

But the scientist, philosopher and statesman in Ricci made a big impression. He confirmed, for instance, that the kingdom of Cathay Marco Polo wrote about was indeed China. He introduced maps to Chinese and reported to Europe about the use of chopsticks.
Ricci’s most enduring legacy may be his strategy in engaging with a culture so different from his own. “He was very determined in how he pursued the dialogue,” Claude Haberer, chairman of Association Ricci, said Tuesday.

Frustrated with his attempts to win individual Chinese as converts — sometimes disguised in local costume — Ricci adopted a top-down approach. He determined he would have more success with quiet consultation and cautious steps, whispering to powerbrokers rather than preaching to masses. Considering his methods, Haberer said, “The emphasis will be on the breadth of the interaction of Matteo Ricci and the elite.”

Today’s Ricci’s methods are considered textbook negotiating strategy in China by foreign diplomats and businesspeople.

Yale University historian Jonathan Spence has written extensively about Ricci’s time in China, including his book “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,” which described how the Jesuit taught the Chinese elite powerful mnemonic techniques as a way to demonstrate the attractivensess of Christianity.

In another book, the 1980 volume “To Change China: Western Advisers in China,” Spence summed up Ricci’s broader approach: “In 1601 Ricci was granted the exceptional favor of being permitted to live in Peking; Ricci discussed Roman Catholicism with Chinese scholars, and subtly pointed out many of its main tenants could be found in the Confucian Classics; is great learning, and his personal probity, finally allowed him to convert several high-ranking officials to Christianity, and he secured permission to bring some more Jesuits to Peking.”

After Ricci died in 1610, according to Spence, his China journals were taken to Europe and were “the first to give a carefully written and reasoned description of the attainments of the great civilization on the other side of the earth.”

The journals spoke of Ricci’s efforts to win good will “little by little,” leading by example and recognizing how, while Chinese “find themselves far superior to the barbarous nations by which they are surrounded,” their pride “arises from an ignorance of the existence of higher things,” including Christianity and the foreign technology Ricci himself introduced, like clocks.

On Tuesday evening, Haberer, joined by French and Italian diplomats, raised their glasses to Ricci at an event in the Shanghai Museum, which is kicking off a Ricci exhibition. Also launched Tuesday was a 120 euro CD edition of Grand Ricci (see a video presentation in French here, a compressed version of a 9,000, seven-volume French-Chinese encyclopedia that took decades to complete and the publishers said represents a successor to Ricci’s own China’s scholarship.

The toast to Ricci was on the sidelines of Shanghai’s ongoing broader celebration of things foreign: the World Expo, a fair where – it has been observed – that despite slowly warming Sino-Vatican ties, the Holy See doesn’t have an exhibit.


Wall Street Journal

12 maggio 2010