<p style='text-align: justify;'>The Jesuit missionaries who came to China in the late sixteenth century tried to accommodate their message as much as possible to the customs of the literati classes which they had identified as the most susceptible for conversion. This included the toleration of certain practices, such as ritual sacrifices to ancestors, which might be construed as incompatible with Catholic teaching.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The urbane manners, linguistic skills and scientific accomplishments of the Jesuits won them the confidence and admiration of the highest circles of society, including the Emperor himself, but also the enmity and jealousy of rival Catholic orders, giving rise to the so-called 'Rites Controversy'.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1704 Pope Clement XI forbade a number of practices permitted by the Jesuits, including 'ancestor worship' and sent a Papal Legate to explain the matter to the Kangxi Emperor in person. The Emperor was confused and annoyed by what he perceived as attempts to interfere with the internal affairs of China. In 1706 he sent Fathers Barros and Bauvolier, Jesuits resident at his court, back to Europe in order to obtain clarification. They perished at sea. Two years later he sent two more Jesuits, Provana and Arxo on a similar mission. In 1716, since nothing more had been heard of his envoys, the Emperor decided to send an open letter, to be given to foreign merchants returning to Europe, enquiring about their fate.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The letter was composed by the Emperor himself (the original draft is preserved in the Imperial Archives) and is in Manchu (the official dynastic language), Chinese and Latin. The style of the Chinese text is colloquial, unusual in an official document, perhaps so it would be more intelligible to foreigners.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The print was carved on three wooden blocks, surrounded by a border decorated with imperial five-clawed dragons chasing pearls, by the Imperial printing house (Wu ying dian). The engravers were able to reproduce the italic script of the Latin text and the individual signatures of the sixteen foreign priests who endorsed it with remarkable fidelity.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>A number of these letters reached Europe and are still preserved in various collections, but none is known to survive in China. Along the top of the print is the following inscription: 'This curious specimen of the stereotype printing of the Chinese was presented by Professor Pallas in the Crimea to Edward Daniel Clarke, and by him to the University Library of Cambridge, A.D. 1815.' Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) was Professor of Mineralogy at the University of Cambridge and also University Librarian. Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), a well-known German naturalist and explorer, was Professor of Natural History in the Imperial Academy of Science, St Petersburg.</p>
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