Matteo Ricci: “Religious Sects among the Chinese”

(1615)

“Religious Sects among the Chinese” was written by Matteo (Matthew) Ricci (1552–1610), an Italian Roman Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus, who was among the first Europeans to travel to China in the premodern period. Although Europeans had interacted with Chinese officials and traders since the early decades of the sixteenth century, their comprehension of Chinese culture, political thought, religion, and society was impeded by a formidable language barrier. When Ricci was sent to southern China in 1582 to join a fledgling Jesuit mission, he made the mastery of spoken and written Mandarin his primary task. He was the first European to study the canon of classical Chinese thought and one of the first Westerners to communicate what he had learned back to Europe.

Ricci's description of the different forms of indigenous religious practice found in China comes from an unfinished memoir, The Journals of Matthew Ricci, that he wrote at the end of his life in...