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《The Bones of Matteo Ricci in Beijing》__Paul Lee (62)

I visited the tomb of Matteo Ricci in Beijing. 

He was buried in Zhalan cemetery (柵欄墓地)at the ground of the present Beijing Administrative  College.  It is not something easy to find by the casual visitor.  The concierge at my hotel was not helpful.  After a search among books on Beijing, I found a phone number that might be useful.  When I called  (86 10 68007011), and asked about Ricci’s grave, I was ecstatic when the woman said Matteo Ricci. I knew that I had finally made the connection.  I made an appointment to see her the next day at 6 Chegongzhuang Street ( 車公莊大街 ).  When I realized that I had a conflict the next day, I called back but there was no answer.  I took a risk and went there right away.  The official name of the site is “Graveyard of Matteo Ricci and Foreign Missionaries During Ming and Qing Dynasty” and is near the Second Ring Road.  The numbering system is a little strange and it took a good ten minutes to walk from the corner to Number 6.

There was a guard house at the gate and the guard would not let me in.  I asked him to call the number I had.  He called and a man answer saying that the lady I spoke to had left.  I asked him whether there is any way I could visit the gravesite.  He kindly agreed to let me in.

 My savior turned out to be Prof. Yu Sanle who taught history in the Beijing Administrative College.  He came out and he escorted me to the locked gravesite.  The stone gate was old, possibly dating from the time of the Qing emperor Kangxi.  Coming through the gate there was a path flanked by flower beds.  In the middle was the stela of Matteo Ricci.  There was a sarcophagus behind the stela.  The inscription on the stela was in both Chinese and Latin.  As with all the other stelae, the Latin side is headed by D.O.M which stands for Deo Optimo Maximo, (to the greatest and best god.)  To the right is the stela of Ferdinand Verbiest ( 南懷仁 ); to the left is Adam Schall von Bell (湯若望).

These three Jesuits held the most honored spots.  Next to this site is the resting place of the others.  There are a total of sixty-three missionaries of different nationalities, including fourteen Chinese, being commemorated here.  At the first row to the right as you entered this second courtyard was the stela for the famous painter Castiglione (郎世寧).  At the fourth row to the right  was Terrenz (鄧玉函), who was the second Jesuit buried here.
After I had paid my respect to the Jesuit, I went to Prof. Yu’s office and he filled me in with the history of the gravesite.

Zhalan cemetery (柵欄墓地)
After Matteo Ricci died in Beijing in 1610, one of his colleagues, Father de Pantoja, petitioned the Ming emperor, (明神宗) to grant the permission for Ricci to be buried in Beijing.  There was no precedent of  a foreigner permitted to be buried in China.  After the petition had gone through different channels, it got to the emperor who was infamously negligent in his duties.  Surprisingly he acted immediately and wrote just one word “possible” (可) on the document. This started the search for a suitable site.  After some rather dramatic turns of event they obtained the present site which was originally Master Tang Residence (滕公柵欄).  It took almost a year before the site was ready to receive the body of Ricci.  The person who made it possible to subsequently enlarge the site was Adam Schall von Bell (湯若望).  He was working to reform the calendar under the Ming emperor when the Qing army entered Beijing.  The Qing general ordered everyone in the inner city to move out in three days.  Schall, in great disregard for his own safety, argued that the move would damage the astronomical instruments and ruin the on-going work on the calendar.  The new ruler (順治 ) was enlightened enough to let the Jesuits stay without disturbance.  At this the Jesuits switched their allegiance from the Ming to the Qing rulers.

The Jesuits’ work on the calendar angered some of the mandarins and they were persecuted.  Schall died during the time he was at house arrest and the Zhalan was confiscated.  It was not until the young emperor Kang Xi came of age that the Jesuits were reinstalled in good grace.  After several successes in astronomical prediction, Verbiest ( 南懷仁 ) was put in charge of the Bureau to produce the calendar.  The Jesuits were in charge of the Bureau until 1826.  The present Chinese calendar followed the rule of the last calendar reform in 1645 under the Jesuit missionaries.

Zhalan cemetery (柵欄墓地)was returned to the Jesuits and at Schall’s burial service, Kangxi was there with his high official and bowed!  This was an unprecedented and hard to believe honor.  The cemetery was expanded to double its size at that time.  Over the years, the area was greatly expanded and became the cemetery for many missionaries, not just Jesuits and there were chapels, dormitories and convents built nearby.

In the early years of the People’s Republic of China, the cemetery was untouched.  In 1954, the Beijing Municipal Cadre School purchased some of the building and moved most of the gravesites to other areas.  But the gravesites for the seventy or so missionaries who had made contributions to cultural exchange during the Ming and Qing dynasties were allowed to stay at the original site.

In 1966, red guards from a nearby school came and gave the School three days to destroy the stelae of the missionaries.  In the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the school leaders were not able to get help from the government.  When the red guards came after three days, they were angry that the stelae were not destroyed.  One worker from the school explained that they were waiting for the red guards to dig some holes to bury the stelae so that they would forever be under Chinese soil.  The red guards were satisfied that this was a meaningful revolutionary act and worked to bury the stelae.  This single stroke from one worker had saved the stelae from destruction.

In 1979, a social science delegation from China visited Europe and was asked about Ricci and the other missionaries.  The delegate related to the authority the high regard that Ricci was being held and suggested to re-establish the cemetery.  The stelae were dug up and restored.  In 1984, the present gravesite was built.  In 1993, the Cadre School was renamed Beijing Administrative College.

Afterthought
I left Prof. Yu with several books, including 歷史遺痕, a historical record of Zhalan with reproduction of all the stelae.  (There is an English edition of this book: “Departed, yet Present: Zhalan,” by Malatesta S.J. and Gao Zhiyu.  Ricci had left a full record of his twenty-seven year stay in China.  He had befriended several Chinese intellectual and together translated several classics into Chinese, including the first six books of Euclid’s elements.  The early Jesuits’ contribution to Mathematics, Astronomy, Cartography, Art, Instrumentation and Weaponry is astounding.  Their erudition and personal sacrifice was truly inspiring even to the non-believers.  Not all of our Wah Yan Jesuits were as accomplished as their pioneers.  But they shared the same lofty values and dedication.  I feel very lucky to have received the Jesuit education.

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