Jesuit Transmission

The Qing dynasty began in the middle of the 17th century with the Manchu Conquest from the north. Its Golden Age began with Emperor Kangxi, who ruled from 1661 to 1722, and continued through his son, Yongzheng (1722-1735), and his grandson, Qianlong (1735-1796). During this period of territorial expansion, the Qing furthered the integration of polity and culture. Imperial power was retained through ritual, ceremony, authority, militarism, and civil administration.


Adoration of the Magi Portraits of Emperor Qianlong
Adoration of the Magi
Jerome Nadal
Antwerp, 1596
Portraits of Emperor Qianlong,
the Empress, and Eleven
Imperial Consorts
Qing Dynasty, 1736


The Jesuits, including Jean-Joseph Marie Amiot, were allowed to stay in Beijing under strict supervision of the Imperial household. The Qing wanted to learn from the Jesuits about western sciences and technology: mathematics, cartography, and astronomy and their application to practical military concerns like weaponry, scientific instruments, and mapmaking. Simultaneously, the Jesuits were exposed to the music at the imperial court. The qin, an instrument associated with the music of scholar-officials, is shown in Amiot’s Memoire and under "Music in China."


Kircher, China illustrata Amiot, Memoir sur la Musique des Chinois du Halde, General History of China
China Illustrata
Athanasius Kircher
Amsterdam, 1667
Memoire sur la Musique des Chinois
Jean-Joseph Marie Amiot
Paris, 1779
General History of China
Jean-Baptiste du Halde
London, 1741


Early European understandings of China relied heavily on Jesuit accounts and organized compilations of these accounts in books like Athanasius Kircher’s China illustrata (1667) and Jean-Baptiste du Halde’s Description de la Chine (1735). The prevalent western image of China at that time was one of a deeply moral and cultured nation which practiced a form of monotheism similar to Judeo-Christianity. The Jesuits sought to link China with a biblical past, as a colony peopled by the offspring of Noah’s son Ham, while Enlightenment philosophers, including Voltaire, saw in China a moral, intelligent, and well-governed society that was not Christian. Either way, European society was intensely sympathetic toward China during this time.


Mappa Mundi Transcriptions of Chinese Melodies Rameau, Les Cyclopes
Mappa Mundi
Shanghai, 1921 (facs)
Transcriptions of Chinese Melodies
from General History of China
Jean-Baptiste du Halde
London, 1741
Les Cyclopes
Jean-Phillipe Rameau
Paris, 1729-30


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