Friendship among Literati. Matteo Ricci SJ (1552–1610) in Late Ming China
This article investigates how the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) regarded friendship as an attribute of the Chinese literati and how the importance of this male bonding helped him shape the notion of a "literatus" in Ming China, which he eventually communicated back to his European readership. A first section of the article analyzes Ricci’s treatise on friendship, the Jiaoyou lun (1595), his first work written in Chinese. A genuine interest in the theme of friendship became his first—and well-aimed—approach to the literati elites. The Jiaoyou lun reflects a winding path of literary adaptations of classical western authors juxtaposed with Confucian notions of friendship. A second section of the article is dedicated to the friends Ricci made in different cities and from different intellectual traditions and schools. Ricci experienced different kinds of friendship with different types of literati, which did not, however, prevent him from narrowing the category of "literatus" to that of "Confucian". Ricci defined Confucianism as the "sect" of the literati, which in Ricci’s eyes comprised scholars engaged in literary activities and scholarly debates on the one hand, and a strong sense of duty to contribute to good, stable government on the other. Ricci saw now problem uniting these two major orientations and being embodied in the Confucian literatus. Finally, a third section is dedicated to some concluding remarks on how Ricci exploited the experience—and redefined the notion—of friendship in Ming China. By taking on the task of defining the identity of the Confucian literatus, Ricci became a versatile friend to the Chinese literati, ably adopting “multiple identities” and roles.