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Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724.

Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724. By Liam Matthew Brockey. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Pp. 496. $35.00.)

In this new book, the author brings to light the complexities of the Jesuit enterprise in China by focusing on the activities of the missionaries in the provinces, which he refers to as the "centers of proselytizing activity," rather than those stationed at the court, as most studies on the Jesuits in China have done (19). He places the Jesuit mission in China within the larger political, religious, and intellectual contexts of European expansion and early modern Catholicism in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

This well-written and carefully researched narrative makes use of a wealth of both primary and secondary Western-language sources, drawing heavily from the archives of the Biblioteca da Ajuda in Lisbon, and the Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu in Rome. Liam Matthew Brockey has done the scholarly community a great service by bringing attention to this important yet little-known resource. Housed at the Biblioteca are eighteenth-century handwritten transcriptions of documents that were once held in the society's archives in Macau and are now lost. These missionary texts are central to a proper exploration of Jesuit intentions and motivations. Although the book contains detailed footnotes, it lacks a separate bibliography of the sources used, and this would be a useful addition.

This book is divided into two main sections. Part one, "Charting the Course," offers a chronological look at the history of the mission and its development. Its five chapters consider the founding of the society and its history in China. But in setting the stage for a larger discussion of the internal workings of the mission, Brockey looks to the Chinese provinces and, in so doing, brings "marginal Jesuits" to light, elevating them to a status that traditionally has been reserved for such Jesuit luminaries as Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall (19). This section presents the complex picture of missionary strategy that sent priests to both large urban centers, such as Shanghai, and more remote rural areas, like North Zhili in northern Shanxi Province.

Part two, entitled "Building the Church," answers the question of how the mission was able to sustain itself in such a foreign cultural context through an analysis of Jesuit education--particularly Chinese-language instruction--in both Europe and Asia, and by examining how Jesuit-Chinese interaction affected the formation and maintenance of the church within this Chinese context. This section also analyzes the interactions the Jesuits had with the Chinese, other missionary groups, and secular European groups in their efforts to establish the church on Chinese soil.

Enhancing Brockey's narrative is a well-selected group of illustrations. Of particular interest are an early seventeenth-century bird's-eye view drawing of Macau clearly showing the Jesuit College of Macau and the Church of Sao Paulo, and a fine drawing made in 1617 of Nicolas Trigault dressed in Chinese robes by the great Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (38, 39, 72).

In his focus on Jesuit activity outside the Chinese court circle and his use of underutilized missionary documents, Brockey offers a refreshing and immensely readable look into the activities of Jesuits little considered, but who were instrumental in ensuring the church's presence in China for nearly 150 years.

Catherine Pagani

University of Alabama
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Author:Pagani, Catherine
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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