UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

Xu Guangqi’s Petition

Xu Guangqi’s Petition thumbnail


Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian

Xu Guangqi was Shanghainese and lived during the latter period of the Ming dynasty.… When he was nine years old Xu Guangqi studied at the Longhua Temple in Shanghai and, after ten years of assiduous study, he sat the bachelor’s examination at nineteen years of age. Xu Guangqi passionately loved science and was very knowledgeable in this field. In ancient China he was one of the foremost scientific experts among the scholar class.

In 1596, when Xu Guangqi was thirty-three years old, his countryman Zhao Zhen was sent as a civil administrator to Ying Zhou, in the province of Guangxi. He asked Xu Guangqi to accompany him so that he might take up the responsibility of teaching children…. During his trip from Shaoguan, in the province of Guangdong, he met Father Lazzaro Cattaneo SJ, with whom he had a long conversation. For Xu Guangqi this marked his first contact with a Catholic priest from the West … but he received baptism only at the end of 1603. He had thus studied and seriously researched this doctrine for a full seven years. He arrived at the conclusion that the Christianity preached by the Western missionaries was not contrary to Confucianism, rather, it only added that which is missing from it….

Following the initial missionary progress of the Church, an attempt at persecution began to spread gradually. This exploded in May 1616, due to the work of Shen Que, a civil assistant in Nanjing. Shen Que had presented to the emperor Wanli “A petition on the necessity to expel foreign missionaries”…. Xu Guangqi, upon learning the news, courageously decided to write his own petition during that same year, despite his inferior position to Shen Que.… In the petition, he presented three points:

First, these people had gathered a certain number of Chinese scholars to collaborate on the translation of classical Western works. This task is the result of putting into practice the divine commandment of love, but it is also a means of promoting prosperity and peace in the country. They applied themselves to the accurate study of everything: of the calendar, of medicine, of agriculture, of hydraulics, and so on, with the aim of promoting wellbeing and preventing calamity. The fruit of their studies is being collected in a series of books. We invite His Majesty the Emperor to send court officials to ascertain the truth regarding the contents of these Western scientific texts. If there is anything in these works comparable to subversive, superstitious, or evil teachings, it is given that the missionaries will be expelled immediately. I myself will readily accept to follow them into exile as punishment for my blindness in discerning what is false.

Second, His Majesty the Emperor is invited to gather Buddhist and Daoist experts for an official public debate. When such a debate comes to a conclusion, the Emperor and his Confucian officials will express their verdict. If these Western works have indeed no practical value and I myself will have no more means to defend my arguments, it is given that the missionaries will be expelled immediately. As for me, I am ready to submit to whatever punishment they receive.

Third, if the translation of these books into Chinese is too difficult, and the Buddhist or Daoist experts in the position to do it cannot even be found, His Majesty the Emperor is invited to give orders so that the appropriate offices translate the general content of the Catholic doctrine, its commandments and admonishments, and the stories told in its books. Of these they would make a book, without needing to be too precise. I myself have already translated about thirty books … I present them now for the consideration and scrutiny of His Majesty the Emperor. If there seem to be subversive ideas inside these books, or notions that do not promote good and avoid evil, or that could upset morals, it will lead directly to the missionaries’ expulsion. I am ready to submit to the same punishment.

I hope that the diocese of Shanghai begins a great effort to become familiar with and emulate the example of Xu Guangqi. We are now celebrating more than four hundred years since the arrival of Matteo Ricci in China, and since then the Pope has never canonized a Chinese confessor of the faith. Xu Guangqi can be declared a saint without a shadow of doubt.