2012-06-25   Book Review   -  John W

Mary Laven: Mission to China - Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East  (Faber & Faber, 2011)

I've eagerly read many, many books and articles about Ricci.
This one I had to force myself to read

I found some things interesting - e.g. new information about Ricci's companion Michele Ruggieri

But from the beginning of the book I had two headaches:

1. Dr Laven's roaming service, jumping to and from century to century, topic to topic, theme to theme, all in the space of one page

2. Dr Laven's overly critical approach. She sets the scene for this by her first page description of Soviet mapping and description of Cambridge published in 1989.
She then goes on to imply that Ricci's description of China is faulty, inaccurate, misleading etc
...just as the Soviet description is unlikely to be used by Lonely Planet for an accurate account of Cambridge

Dr Laven's work reminds me of polemical productions by various Christian denominations, including RC, from the last century
....not much good to say about the other...keen to score points

e.g. .

p.20: ...there are many ways of spinning Ricci's slippery image

p. 21:  ...Garnett concludes that Ricci's mission was none other than "an exercise in seduction"

p.169:  Exaggerated, prejudiced and rhetorical as Ricci's account surely was.....

p.179: Lest we are tempted to take Ricci's account as face value, we must realise that he borrowed and manipulated discourses and stereotypes from contemporary political debate to serve his own purposes. His was anything but a dispassionate analysis

p.229: Matteo Ricci and his colleagues were so doggedly cerebral in their approach to evangelisation, that it is easy to forget that they belonged to an order whose trademark was emotive devotion

p.234: Guarino's interpretation echoes Ricci's elitist approach to mission and his determination to impose polarities on Chinese culture

p.239: The death of Matteo Ricci .... was an elaborately choreographed affair..


Anyone who has read Ricci's own Journals and other books
and items displayed on this page  and  on this page
will find Dr Laven's work to be, in her own words,
"anything but a dispassionate analysis"


Dr Lavin's biog. details

For other, more favorable reviews with outline of content, 

Faber & Faber

Review in The Independent

Amazon reviews



History Extra

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