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Portrait of Matteo Ricci by Emmanuel Pereira (born Yu Wen-Hui). Jesuit House, Rome.
Emannuel Pereira (born Yu Wen-Hui). Portrait of Matteo Ricci. Jesuit House, Rome.

Born in October 1552, in the central Italian town of Macerata, Matteo Ricci (mät-tā'ō rēt'chē) spent nearly all of his adult life engaged in a struggle to bring Christianity to the people of China. He received a classical education, first at the Jesuit school in his home town, and then at Jesuit colleges in Florence and Rome. He was fortunate to study mathematics, cosmology, and astronomy with renowned astronomer Christopher Clavius, a German-born Jesuit who was the primary architect of the Gregorian calendar.

In 1582, he joined fellow Jesuit Michele Ruggieri at Macau, a bustling commercial center and enclave for Europeans and, from 1583, a Roman Catholic archdiocese. At this time, Macau was an island off the coast of Guangdong province (later, in the 17th century, land reclamation turned it into a peninsula, although it shares only .19 miles of coastline with the mainland).

Travel from Macau to the mainland was strictly regulated, and the Jesuits followed European merchants into the Chinese interior for commercial fairs twice a year. The goal of the missionaries was to establish themselves on the mainland, and this they accomplished, after several failed attempts, in 1583. Ruggieri and Ricci received permission to construct a mission at Zhaoqing, an important administrative center and seat of the viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi—the first Christian mission on mainland China.

In 1601, after being forced to move his missionary activities to several different sites within China, Ricci finally was allowed to establish residency in Beijing. It was here that his skill with Mandarin Chinese, his translations and original works in that language, and his introduction of scientific knowledge and instrumentation from the West were most appreciated and most helpful in supporting his missionary activity. It is his work here, in collaboration with Chinese scholars, that is most remembered—both in China and in the West. It was here, as part of this collaboration, that the 1602 “Map of 10,000 Countries of the Earth,” was created. Upon his death in 1610, Li-ma-teu, as he was known in China, had led approximately 2,500 Chinese to Catholicism, and established the foundations of a Chinese-Christian culture.

Student TranslatorsU of M Grad Students Translating the Ricci Map with the guidance of Professor Ann Waltner are members of her Chinese reading group. Their translation work contributed to the Library's 2010 exhibition, "Matteo Ricci and the Jesuits in China."

View the Matteo Ricci 1602 World Map

Chronicle of Foreign Lands: a book that explains the map, produced by Ricci's fellow Jesuits

Ricci Timeline

Chinese Paper Making


Links to More Information

The University of Scranton - Matteo Ricci, S.J.

THE USF RICCI INSTITUTE for Chinese-Western Cultural History

The Ricci 21st Century Roundtable on the History of Christianity in China

The Macau Ricci Institute

Jesuits' Journeys in Chinese Studies

Incontro di civiltà nella Cina dei Ming

Padre Matteo Ricci - Committee of the Celebrations of the Fourth Centenary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci

17th century Jesuit influence on Chinese maps

Google Scholar Search on "Matteo Ricci"

Google Timeline Search on "Matteo Ricci" 1550-2010