This paper argues that Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) designed his aphoristic compilation, Jiaoyou Lun 交友論–On Friendship (1595)–to serve the Jesuit mission of converting the Chinese to Catholicism and express the conflict he may have felt exploiting friends to forward the Jesuit mission. Utilizing friendships to allow for greater social influence was central to the Jesuit proselytization strategy in China. However, Ricci’s moral education from youth taught him to judge utilitarian friendships as immoral. The extant scholarship regarding Ricci’s On Friendship fails to acknowledge the significance of the aphoristic form to this work. To illuminate the value of aphorism to the Jesuit mission and this book, I analyze a selection of the book’s one-hundred maxims. My interpretation emphasizes the tone of authority and universality established through the genre’s concision. This brevity can raise questions about the meaning of the text and spark conversations, strengthening friendships among readers, and arguably furthering the goals of the mission. Additionally, the text’s inconsistent moral portrayal of utilitarian friendship may reveal Ricci’s ambivalence about his own friendships with Chinese literati. Through close reading of On Friendship, I posit that the aphorism's brevity and ambiguity may have allowed Ricci to express his emotional unrest while still crafting a book that could be considered a tool of proselytization.
Weiher, Maximilian Chan, "A Friend Who Does Me No Good: Aphorism in Matteo Ricci’s On Friendship" (2023). Asian Languages and Cultures Honors Projects. 3.
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