Not many foreign events have managed to influence Chinese culture, characterized by its "in house" building. Nevertheless, foreigners succeeded in entering the country and had a great influence on what culture used to be in such a country. It was the case of the Jesuits. It is true that in the past _ and it may still be true nowadays _ China was more a series of different cultures, but all of them seemed to be bound by some values. By values, Hofstede meant a "broad tendencies for preferences of certain state of affairs to others" (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). It actually means that values are states that are considered to be preferable, personally as well as socially speaking. Values are unconscious most of the times and it is not directly on values that an influence can be identified, but more on the behavior that convey this exact value we want to study. I will keep this definition in mind throughout this essay and it will be my guiding principle.
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In China, it seems that some values are more important than others, and I will focus on those. Chinese values are greatly influenced by the Confucian principles. Loyalty, virtue, self-restraint, morality, achievement and filial piety appeared to be the most important.
Jesuits had some trouble entering China after their forfeit in Japan. The Jesuit Mission recognizes itself that it could not be achieved until 1582 with the arrival of the most famous of the Jesuits who went there. Matteo Ricci and Adam Shall von Bell actually succeeded in introducing Christianity in China. Matteo Ricci was especially appreciated in China. He was considered as a great scientist and thinker. His knowledge and his wisdom enabled him to enter the emperor's court and be considered as a mandarin. He succeeded in making Europe and Christianity well known in China, as well as China well known in Europe. He created, along with his colleagues, an important communication and ways to exchange knowledge at their time.
Even if Matteo Ricci carried his mission without that many issues, it does not necessarily mean that his action had any influence on Chinese culture and consequently on Chinese values. It is not because you succeed in creating a relationship that you can have an impact on someone's way of thinking and considering the world. At the time in which he led this mission, it looked rather impossible to influence Chinese values. Indeed, at that time, great issues were created by communication. Social interaction could be accomplished, but it could not be followed by a real exchange of information because very rare were the people able to speak Chinese in foreign countries. Without this communication, it seems impossible to build a relationship as there is no possible trust between the two parties. One of Ricci's qualities was to consider others' needs and he managed to understand that without communication, no conversion was even conceivable. His first idea before he came to China was consequently to learn Chinese. In doing so, he was able to be considered a little bit more as a true Chinese mandarin. He also chose to have a Chinese name and to dress up according to Chinese standards. But this only could not help him to establish Christianity as a religion in China. What really made Chinese consider his religious theories was his scientific knowledge. Indeed, the Jesuits had learnt from their past mistakes and tried not to perpetuate them, so they never tried to force Christianity into China. To convince Chinese mandarins that what they said was accurate, Jesuits tried to impress them with their scientific discoveries. Two of the facts that got the Chinese into accepting Christianity were that Ricci predicted the exact time of an eclipse and repaired a ticking clock. In fact, the emperor was impressed because none of his scientists had had such a precision and had all mistaken in their predictions of the eclipse and none could repair the clock.
With time, Chinese people believed that Jesuits knew what was true, because if their scientific thinking was right, why would the rest be wrong? Thanks to them, they discovered the real world with a map representing the world as it really was, and they also discovered what it was to be a Christian. Christianity was in fact something that could fit Chinese values. Christianity was about loyalty to God, filial piety in the Ten Commandments and good morality in order to build one's way to Heaven. The Christian behavior was built according to Confucian principles, in others words according to Chinese values. This thinking leads us into believing that verifiable science is a good way to establish trust. Moreover, in order to get Chinese attention, Ricci tried to adapt Christianity to cultural Chinese values, to Chinese sensitiveness. He taught that Christianity was not exclusive or the property of a certain race, but on the contrary, it was something that everyone could share. Christianity succeeded in China and the emperor was said to be the one person to be able to communicate with God and Heaven. In doing so, Chinese accepted an influence on their values. Now that this influence has been found, how this influence expressed itself is what is interesting.
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With the Confucian principles, none of the advised behaviors was mandatory. With Christianity, it became compulsory to behave according to morality. It changed the way people felt when they behave. They used to be free, but since then they would fear a punishment if they misbehave. Having said that, did Chinese people choose a good behavior or did they feel that they had no choice but choosing it? Christianity here distorted Chinese moral value. Filial piety exists in both cultures. In China, filial piety is one the most important thing and in Christianity, the Ten Commandments compel daughters and sons to respect their parents. In this way, it is possible that Christianity reinforced this pre-existent value. As to achievement, it appears that the existence of a God challenged Chinese way of thinking. Since then, they had to work and only their work could bring them success. But with an all-powerful God, it depended less on us, on our work, and more on God's goodwill and our behavior. Loyalty is finally one other value on which Christianity had an influence, but this influence was ambiguous and conducted to the failure of a great expansion of Christianity in China.
As loyalty was of a great importance in China, loyalty to the emperor was something no one could diminish. This new allegiance to God did not prevent an allegiance to the emperor because the emperor was in fact the only one who could communicate with God. So both allegiances were somehow allegiance to a unique entity. But Christianity is led by a Pope and the Pope is considered to be God's representative. That being said, people had to formulate oath of allegiance to the Pope too, but it was not the emperor's cup of tea. Frightened to lose his people loyalty, he decided to split up with Christianity. By challenging people's loyalty to the emperor, Jesuits did what was necessary to get a refusal from China. This movement of reject from Chinese people can show that the influence of the arrival of Jesuits is not so extensive.
Historical events always influence a nation's culture. But the impact on values is not always so important. The arrival of Jesuits in China has for instance created a rethinking of ancient values, but not a revolution. The only thing that has changed in people's mind might be the introduction of a religious thinking. Indeed, before this event, people looked after their ancestors, but it was only because they would do the same thing if they were alive. They used not to expect anything from a superior force, but to get what they needed and behave according to what they thought was right. Christianity and the Jesuits enabled them to understand the rest of the world better and to develop Chinese curiosity for science. However, it also created mixed feelings and left Chinese people disoriented: were they free to behave according to their values or were they watched by a superior force? As value is a social and personal preference, is it preferable to be watched and guided or to be free? Personal freedom is likely to be chosen, but socially, is it not better if we have a superior force who can punish those who misbehave and succeed because of their thins? Today, China presents all kinds of beliefs. People believe in a single God or in Gods, or in entities. It shows that the event that happened a really long time ago might still have some influence on Chinese values. It also illustrates the fact that this influence is rather limited. It might as well confirm the fact that Chinese culture really has an "in house" cultural building and that external or foreign events might not be of such an importance for Chinese values.
References used :
Gloucestershire County Council, Chinese Values, retrieved from http://www.irespect.net/Untold%20Stories/Chinese/Chinese%20Values.htm, 09/20/2010
Hofstede, Geert, GH, 2001, Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations
Knight K. (2009). Matteo Ricci, retrieved from
Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit, Missionaries and mandarins, retrieved from
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Mathematics Department Fairfield University, Matteo Ricci, S.J. (1552 to 1610) and his contributions to science in China, retrieved from