Books published by the Catholic missionaries in China from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century circulated in East Asia long into the nineteenth century. These books were transmitted through the Sinosphere, the inter-Asia Chinese cultural sphere, and missionary links. My presentation will focus on the Shengjiao mingzheng by Francisco Varo (1627-87) as a precious sample of these books and examine the characteristics of its text originally composed in seventeenth century China. It will then discuss its reappearance in several places in East Asia up until the nineteenth century.
Varo was a Dominican missionary who stayed in Qing China during the Kangxi period. Among his writings, the Arte de la lengua Mandarina, a grammar of the mandarin language has greatly attracted attention. Varo’s Shengjiao mingzheng is a detailed catechism written in Chinese. As previous generations of historians and religion studies scholars treated it as a kind of derivative from some preceding catechism books, especially Matteo Ricci’s Tianzhu shiyi, the characteristics of the text have been rarely analyzed. In fact in the course of the nineteenth century, Shengjiao mingzheng was not only reprinted and translated in Fuzhou, Hongkong, Korea and Vietnam, but also introduced to Meiji Japan by missionaries of the Missions Étrangères de Paris. There it circulated among the politicians and intellectuals including Takashi Hara (1856-1921). This shows that traditional inter-Asia networks and missionary links connected both East Asian spaces and times.