Jonathan D. Spence, Ph. D., one of the foremost Western historians of China, to speak at Fairfield University about the great Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci


Image: Jonathan D. SpenceFather Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit who was vital in the early attempts to make Christianity known to the Chinese, will forever be known as one of the greatest missionaries. On Tuesday April 6 at 8 p.m., Jonathan D. Spence, Ph. D., one of the foremost Western historians of China, will deliver a lecture at Fairfield University marking the 400th anniversary of the death of this remarkable priest.

Dr. Spence, the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, will give a talk entitled, "Matteo Ricci: The Perils of Success." Sponsored by Fairfield's Center for Catholic Studies, the event, free and open to the public, will take place in the Dolan School of Business Dining Room.

Nearly four centuries ago, Father Ricci's enthusiasm for cultural exchange won the trust and admiration of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Wanli. The relationship the priest cultivated ensured that he and his Jesuit brothers would have the freedom to evangelize throughout the region. He is honored and remembered for his missionary work and for introducing the map of Europe to the curious Chinese - who at the time had little knowledge of the rest of the world.

His impact is still felt today.

Pope John Paul II described Father Ricci as "a precious connecting link between West and East, between European Renaissance culture and Chinese culture, and between the ancient and magnificent Chinese civilization and the world of Europe."

Dr. Spence, author of "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci" and "The Search for Modern China," has a vast background in Chinese history. His budding talent as a historian was recognized while he was studying at Yale by Professor Mary Wright, who arranged for him to go to Australia to study under Fang Chao-ying, a great historian of the Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty. He later became the first scholar in the West to use the Qing secret memorials, collected in the Palace Museum in Taiwan. With them, he wrote his award-winning doctoral dissertation on Qing history.

Like many great historians, Dr. Spence combines narrative description and critical analysis in his writing. Drawing upon imagination, his words are vivid and precise. He has devoted much of his life to bringing the Chinese dynasties to life. He is currently at work on a new book on the historian, essayist and connoisseur Zhang Dai (1597-1684), long considered one of the most elusive writers of his time.

The author of 10 books, Dr. Spence has received numerous honorary degrees, including one from Oxford University. Among his many other honors are being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and being named a MacArthur Fellow.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 18, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 241