Racci, Matteo

Racci, Matteo a noted Jesuit missionary of the 16th century, is closely identified with the Romanizing work of that aera in the Chinese empire. The very year which marks the death of Xavier (1552), marks the occurrence of an event which opened China to the Europeans. A party of Jesuit missionaries, at whose head was Racci, in that year landed stealthily at Macao. These missionaries of Rome had determined to win over the Chinese to Christianity by stratagem. They had studied mathematics and natural science, with a view to astonish the natives by their exhibitions. Some objects, common enough in Europe, but unheard of in China, were prepared as presents for the mandarins and others. A clock that showed the rising and setting of the sun and moon; a prism that by the emission of its rainbow-rays was mistaken for a fragment of the celestial hemisphere, and maps which exhibited the world of barbarians, with China filling the east and Europe in the remote west, produced sensations of wonder such as had never before stirred the placid spirit of the viceroy of Canton. Instead of driving them away from the country, as they feared, he actually detained the Jesuits to exhibit and explain their wonders; for only they had the secret of keeping that curious machine in action, and only they could manage the spectrum, and expound the new system of geography. Literary men crowded the palace to see the Jesuits and to hear their wisdom, and the missionaries thus gained an influence which they knew well how to utilize. The popularity thus acquired by Racci, Ruggiero, and others was truly astonishing; and by virtue of an imperial edict, Racci took up his residence near the royal palace. and enjoyed the highest reputation for learning. He courted the literati; withheld from their knowledge such parts of the sacred history and doctrine as were likely to offend their prejudices or wound their pride; by his influence at court secured the protection of his brethren in the provinces; and by extreme sagacity surrounded himself with a considerable number of persons who might be variously described as pupils, partisans, converts, or novices. In a secret chapel he disclosed to the more favored symbols of his worship, yet so shaped as not to be repugnant to their heathen notions, and intermingled with other symbols from the religion of Confucius. Racci died in 1610, and was honored with a solemn funeral. The remains of a foreigner never before had such a distinction. It is said that both mandarins and the people saluted with a mournful admiration the corpse of the Jesuit as it was taken to the grave by a company of Christians, with a splendid cross going before it; and that it was interred, by the order of the emperor, in a temple dedicated to the true God.

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