Author(s): Mary Laven
In the sixteenth century, the vast and sophisticated empire of China lay almost entirely unknown to Western travellers. As global trade expanded, this land of reputedly boundless wealth, pale-faced women, and indecipherable tongues began to feed the fantasies of European merchants and adventurers. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, saw in this great people millions of souls who would be damned unless the Christian message could be brought to them.
In this book, Mary Laven tells the extraordinary story of the first Jesuit mission to China. Confronting enormous challenges, the Italian priest Matteo Ricci and a tiny handful of learned companions gained permission from the notoriously xenophobic Wanli emperor to settle in the fabled Forbidden City.
Living among eunuchs and mandarins, wearing the clothes of Confucian scholars, Ricci and his associates strove to master the language and culture of their hosts. At the same time, they energetically preached the virtues of Western art and science.
In Mission to China Mary Laven brings this remote world vividly to life.
Mary Laven lectures in History at the University of Cambridge, and is a Fellow of Jesus College. She grew up in Canterbury, and apart from interludes in Venice and York, has spent most of her subsequent life in Cambridge.
She loves Italy, archives, beer and walking around the suburbs of unfamiliar cities.
Her first book, Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Convent, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize.