Padre Matteo Ricci
 

Tenggong Zhalan - The Cemetery of Matteo Ricci

1610-2010: The 400 year history recorded by the stones

 
 
Padre Matteo Ricci's gravestone
Padre Matteo Ricci's gravestone
 
 
 
 
Aerial view
Aerial view
 
 
 
 
The entrance to the cemetery
The entrance to the cemetery
 
 
 
 
The cemetery from inside
The cemetery from inside
 
 
 
 
The tomb of the Jesuit
The tomb of the Jesuit
 


Centrally located on the campus of Beijing Administrative College is a tranquil park with lush foliage, consisting of towering green trees, bamboo, various grasses and flower gardens. Within the midst of this peaceful setting stand 63 weather-beaten gravestones. Magpies often come and linger, flying about amongst the tall stones. A wall surrounds the small cemetery, and just inside the entrance gate stands a commemorative stele, which reads, "the State Council declares that the Cemetery of Matteo Ricci and other foreign missionaries is a key cultural relic site under state protection".

When walking through the park, visitors often stop to ask, "Who is Matteo Ricci? When were these gravestones erected, and why are the gravestones of foreign missionaries located and preserved on the campus?".

The history recorded by the stones dates back 400 years. In 1610, Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci died in Beijing. The ruling Emperor Wanli, who seldom bothered to attend to state affairs, made an exception. He approved a proposal to grant a parcel of land for Matteo Ricci's burial place called Tenggong Zhalan. The site was located outside the Beijing city walls, 1000 meters from the Fuchengmen Gate. This was the first piece of Beijing land designated for the burial site of a foreigner in 200 years of Ming. Following the burial of Matteo Ricci, Tenggong Zhalan became the cemetery for foreign missionaries who died in Beijing. This small parcel of land became well known.

Tenggong Zhalan weathered the storms of time through periods of honor and disgrace. It often aroused criticism or reflection. After 400 years of travail, the small cemetery now enjoys serenity within the peaceful park surroundings. Today is a time when we can observe the past with understandings, knowledge and appreciation.

Who was Matteo Ricci? This pioneer of the Christian faith blazed a trial for foreign missionaries coming to China. His dedicated efforts to share knowledge bridged two great civilizations. During the late 17th century and early 18th century, Ricci and other missionaries constantly introduced western culture and knowledge within China, and Chinese culture and knowledge to the West. This became an all-dimensional cultural exchange with Western knowledge and inventiveness extending to the west. A mutual relationship of learning and appreciation developed.

Western knowledge had a monumental impact on the development of Chinese sciences in astronomy, mathematics, geography, topography, meteorology, water conservation, mechanics, physics, optics, architecture, chemistry and military engineering. Also, papermaking, printing, human sciences, western pharmaceuticals, zoology, botany, and oenology were investigated. In the arts oil painting, sculpture, music instruments, music theory and music were explored. Garden art, glass manufacturing, enamel and even the use of snuffboxes were mastered. For the study of humanity, ethics, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and logic were pondered. These Western disciplines were completely new to the Chinese scholars. This introduction of Western knowledge to China, and vice versa, led Europeans to a greater appreciation of their neighbours to the East. It became a fountainhead of Sinology and also impacted the Enlightenment of Europe.

Just like bees spread pollen unintentionally while searching for food, the scholarly Matteo Ricci and other foreign missionaries brought Western culture, science and knowledge to China. Their goal was to share their faith in God and their Catholic religion, but they provided much more. As a result, their historic contribution should be recognized both objectively and accurately.

Former Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference Mr. Li Ruihuan said, "Matteo Ricci and other foreign missionaries brought knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and geology to China, which infused new life into our Chinese culture". President Hu Jintao spoke highly of Adam Schall von Bell during his visit to Germany in 2005, when he said, "in 1622, Adam Schall von Bell arrived in China from Cologne and lived in China for 43 years. He made significant contributions to the implementation of the New Calendar in China by participating in the calendar reform in the late Ming Dinasty, compiling Chongzhen Lishu in the early Qing Dinasty". Chinese leaders acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of these dedicated early missionaries.

The inscription on the circular relief in the Century Hall at the China Millennium Monument, lists Matteo Ricci as one of the people who made outstanding contributions to the development of Chinese civilization. It is fair to say that Matteo Ricci set a precedent for countries and cultures seeking peaceful coexistence, equal treatment, mutual exchange, respect and communication with other nations.

Therefore, let us up back into history through the words recorded by the missionaries gravestones.




Preface to "History Recorded by the Stones - The 400 Year Story of the Cemetery of Matteo Ricci and Other Foreign Missionaries" (edited by Beijing Administrative College)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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