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Martino Martini

Austrian Jesuit missionary to the Chinese, in the seventeenth century

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Martini, MARTINO (Chinese name: Wei), distinguished Austrian Jesuit missionary to the Chinese, in the seventeenth century. He was born at Trent in 1614; and on October 8, 1631, entered the Austrian province of his order; where he studied mathematics under Athanasius Kircher (q.v.) in the Roman College, probably with the intention of being sent to China. He set out for China in 1640, and arrived in 1643. While there he made great use of his talents as missionary, scholar, writer, and superior. In 1650 he was sent to Rome as procurator for the Chinese Mission, and took advantage of the long, adventurous voyage (going first to the Philippines, from thence on a Dutch privateer to Batavia, he reached Bergen in Norway, August 31, 1653), to sift his valuable historical and cartographical data on China. During his sojourn in Europe the works were printed that made his name so famous. In 1658 he returned with provisionally favorable instructions on the question of ritual to China, where he labored until his death in Hangtscheu, June 6, 1661. According to the attestation of P. Prosper Intorcetta (“Litt. annum”, 1681), his body was found undecayed twenty years after. Richthofen calls Martini “the leading geographer of the Chinese mission, one who was unexcelled, and hardly equalled, during the eighteenth century. There was no other missionary, either before or after, who made such diligent use of his time in acquiring information about the country” (China, I, 674 sq.).

Martini’s most important work is his “Novus Atlas Sinensis” (Vienna, 1653), with 17 maps and 171 pages of text, a work which is, according to Richthofen, “the most complete geographical description of China that we possess, and through which Martini has become the father of geographical learning on China“. Of the great chronological work which Martini had planned, and which was to comprise the whole Chinese history from the earliest age, only the first part appeared: “Sinicae Historiae, Decas I” (Munich, 1658). His “De Bello Tartarico Historiae” (Cologne, 1654) is also important as Chinese history, for Martini himself had lived through the frightful occurrences which brought about the overthrow of the ancient Ming dynasty. The works have been repeatedly published and translated into different languages (cf. Sommervogel, “Bibliotheque”. etc.). Interesting as missionary history is his “Brevis relatio de numero et qualitate Christianorum apud Sinae” (Rome, 1654; Cologne, 1655; Ger. ed., 1654). Besides these, Martini wrote a series of theological and apologetical works in Chinese. Several works, among them a Chinese translation of the theological works of Suarez, still exist in his handwriting (cf. Sommervogel and H. Cardier, “Essai d’une bibliographic des ouvrages publics en Chine par les Europeens”, Paris, 1882).


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