Ruggieri and Ricci began to write about it with great enthusiasm. It was Ricci who gave Confucius to the west by translating what in China are called the Classics and by romanizing the name of the central teacher of the tradition, Kongfuzi (551-479 BCE), as Confucius.
What then was 'the School of the Literati'? It has been defined as an intellectual tradition drawing upon the ongoing interpretation of those Chinese writings that have been generally accepted as the 'Classics'. There has been much discussion over the centuries as to whether it was a religion or a philosophy, but it is best perhaps to point out it was defined centuries before words for 'religion' or 'philosophy' existed in Chinese. Ricci believed what he called 'original Confucianism' had a clear monotheistic core but agreed that what he called 'neo-Confucianism', the Confucianism as defined by the commentators of the Sung dynasty which had become official state Confucianism, was fundamentally atheistic. He was not alone then or now in believing this. What was important was that for Ricci, Confucian morality in both its ancient and contemporary forms was compatible with the moral concerns of the Christian faith. Indeed he insisted it was more readily compatible than the classical culture of the west of which Christianity had absorbed so much. This compatibility was such that he was able to use Confucian Classical texts to help explain and justify Christian thought in his book, Tianzhu shiyi ('The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven'). This important book played a role in the foundations of Christianity in Korea as well as in China.
As a result of Ricci's study of the Classics, which initially had been at the insistence of Alessandro Valignano, both men agreed that all European Jesuit recruits would learn Mandarin (i.e., Classical Chinese, the language of literature and government) by studying the Chinese Classics. They would thus not only learn a language but also enter the mental world of the literati, the intellectual meritocracy who effectively ran China for a thousand years up until 1900. They would thus be able to continue the development of the Confucian-Christian dialogue, which by 1660 had produced a Catholic Christianity in China that conformed to many Confucian norms.
This development in China was significantly different from the accommodation to Japanese culture which the Jesuits had also spearheaded. In Japan the missionaries had conformed to Japanese norms in terms of dress, diet, and forms of politeness and behaviour, as well as in the architecture of their buildings. The relationship of Christianity and Confucianism in China that was initiated and fundamentally shaped by Ricci reached a much more profound level. Christianity in its intellectual articulation and in its practices absorbed elements of Confucianism much as the early church had interacted with
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