Matteo ricci on the innate goodness of human nature: Catholic learning and the subsequent differentiation of "Han Learning" from "Song Learning"

Ping Cheung Lo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Abstract

A large number of contemporary Chinese somehow got the impression that whereas the key tenet of Confucianism is the Thesis of the Innate Goodness of Human Nature, the key tenet of Christianity is the opposite, viz., the Thesis of the Innate Evilness of Human Nature. When Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and his fellow Jesuit missionaries came to China and learnt Chinese culture, Ricci endorses the Thesis of the Innate Goodness of Human Nature in his Chinese book The True Meaning of The Lord of Heaven. Some contemporary Chinese scholars find this endorsement unreasonable and argue that Ricci's endorsement strains the interpretation of Christian doctrine for the appeasement of Confucian literati. This article argues that such contemporary Chinese assessments are based on a misunderstanding of Christian (especially Roman Catholic) thought. A meticulous reading of relevant sections of Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas shows that there is no conflict between Catholic theological anthropology and the theory of human nature according to Menzi. However, Ricci and his company came to China when the thought of Wang Yangming, one major school of neo-Confucianism, was very influential. Ostensibly Wang also endorses the Innate Goodness of Human Nature, but a careful reading of his works indicates that there is a tremendous difference his thesis and that of Menzi. The latter advocates only that there is a "sprout of goodness" in human nature whereas the former advocates the full presence of supreme goodness in human nature. Accordingly, it is legitimate for Ricci to endorse the Thesis of the Innate Goodness of Human Nature in the sense of Menzi and simultaneously reject the Thesis of Uncovering the Supreme Goodness in Human Nature of the neo-Confucians. In fact, Ricci's stance of aligning with Menzi in opposition to Song-Ming neo-Confucianism is a common stance of most Qing Confocian scholars. For example, among his fierce criticisms, one of Dai Zhen's critiques is against the neo-Confucian Thesis of Uncovering the Supreme Goodness in Human Nature. He argues that Mengzi's view of "developing the good inclinations" is conducive to the cultivation of virtues whereas neo-Confucians' view of "uncovering our original supreme goodness," misled by Buddhism and Daoism, is not. Very recent historical scholarship in mainland China articulates a view that Dai Zhen has carefully read Ricci's book The True Meaning of The Lord of Heaven and borrows views from it. In fact, according to these historians, Dai Zhen and a closed circle of court scholars who are in charge of compiling the Siku quanshu have read all the works of the Jesuit missionaries and admire their scholarship. Hence the first encounter between Christian civilization and Confiician civilization helped develop the Han School of Learning in opposition to the Song School of Learning in the early Qing Dynasty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-66
Number of pages26
JournalUniversitas
Volume37
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy

User-Defined Keywords

  • Aquinas
  • Dai Zhen
  • Han School of Learning
  • Innate Goodness of Human Nature
  • Matteo Ricci
  • Mencius
  • Song School of Learning
  • The True Meaning of The Lord of Heaven
  • Wang Yangming

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