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Why did China which invented block printing, compass, and gunpowdernot use these inventions to jump-start a scientific and industrial revolution? Why were the inventions not revolutiona

art I

In the chapter titled “China, Technology, and Change,” Lynda Shaffer analyzes the following questions: why did China—which invented block printing, compass, and gunpowder—not use these inventions to jump-start a scientific and industrial revolution? Why were the inventions not revolutionary at home? Shaffer argues these questions are based on the false assumption that China did not change as a result of these inventions. In reality, China changed a great deal, but Eurocentric histories often ignore this fact.

Write a brief paragraph analyzing Matteo Ricci and Père du Halde’s perspectives on technology in China. Which reading corroborates Shaffer’s argument? How are Matteo and Père’s accounts different? More importantly, why are they different? Using this week’s lectures (and, if you’re feeling ambitious, your textbook) provide historical context and speculate what changed for China or Europe in the 80-year interval between these two accounts. In your response include at least 1 in-text citation per primary source and at least 1 in-text citation referencing one or more of Dr. Wood’s lectures from this week.

Part II

Connect Will Adam’s account and the Sakoku Edict (Closing of the Country) with John Nelson’s article. Adam’s account is from 1611 and the edict was issued in 1636—only 25 years later. Write a short paragraph addressing the following: 1. summarize the two primary sources; 2. analyze why Japan’s policy toward foreigners changed so drastically in such a short period of time. In your response include at least 1 in-text citation per primary source and at least 1 in-text citation referencing one or more of Dr. Wood’s lectures from this week.,allowed%20to%20leave%20the%20country.

Main | Other Chinese Web Sites

Chinese Cultural Studies: Matteo Ricci: The Art of Printing (late 16th Century CE)

from The Diary of Matthew Ricci, in Matthew Ricci, China in the Sixteenth Century, trans Louis Gallagher, (New York: Random House, 1942, 1970), as excerpted in William J. Duiker and Jackson J. Speigelvogel, World History, (Mineapolis/St. Paul: West, 1994), p. 652

[Duiker Introduction] One of the first sources of information about China were the Jesuits who served at the Wing court in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Clerics such as Matteo Ricci found much to admire in Chinese civilization. Here Ricci expresses a keen interest in Chinese printing methods, which at that time were well in advance of the techniques used in the West.

The art of printing was practiced in China at a date somewhat earlier than that assigned to the beginning to printing in Europe, which was about 1405. It is quite certain that the Chinese knew the art of printing at least five centuries ago, and some of them assert that printing was known to their people before the beginning of the Christian era, about 50 BCE Their method of printing differs widely from that employed in Europe, and our method would be quite impracticable for them because of the exceedingly large number of Chinese characters and symbols, At present they cut their charcters in a reverse position and in a simplified form, on a comparatively' small tablet made for the most part from the wood of the pear tree or the apple tree, although at times the wood of the jujube tree is also used for this purpose.

Their method of making printed books is quite ingenious. The text is written in ink, with a brush made of very fine hair, on a sheet of paper which is inverted and pasted on a wooden tablet. When the paper has become thoroughly dry, its surface is scraped off quickly and with great skill, until nothing but a fine tissue bearing the characters remains on the wooden tablet. Then, with a steel graver, the workman cuts away the surface following the outlines of the characters until these alone stand out in low relief. From such a block a skilled printer can make copies with incredible speed, turning out as many as fifteen hundred copies in a single day. Chinese printers are so skilled in engraving these blocks, that no more time is consumed in making

one of them than would be required by one of our printers in setting up a form of type and making the necessary corrections. This scheme of engraving wooden blocks is well adapted for the large and complex nature of the Chinese characters, but I do nor. think it would lend itself very aptly to our European type which could hardly be engraved upon wood because of its small dimensions.

Their method of printing has one decided advantage, namely, that once these tablets are made, they can be preserved and used for making changes in the text as often as one wishes. Additions and subtractions can also be made as the tablets can be readily patched. Again, with this method, the printer and the author are not obliged to produce herc and now an excessively large edition of a book, but are able to print a book in smaller or larger lots sufficient to meet the demand at the time, We have derived great benefit from this method of Chinese printing, as v e employ the domestic help in our homes to strike off copies of the books on religious and scientific subjects which we translate into Chinese from the languages in which they were written originally, In truth, the whole method is so simple that one is tempted to try it for himself after once having watched the process. The simplicity of Chinese printing is what accounts for the exceedingly large numbers of books in circulation here and the ridiculously low prices at which they are sold. Such facts as these would scarcely be believed by one who had not witnessed them.

They have another odd method of reproducing reliefs which have been cut into marble or wood, An epitaph, for example, or a picture set out in low relief on marble or on wood, is covered with a piece of moist paper which in turn is overlayed with several pieces of cloth. Then the entire surface is beaten with a small mallet until all the lineaments of the relief are impressed upon the paper. When the. paper dries, ink or some other coloring substance is applied with a light touch, after which only the impression of the relief stands out on the original whiteness of the paper. This method cannot be employed when the relief is shallow; or trade in delicate lines.


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History and Anthropology

ISSN: 0275-7206 (Print) 1477-2612 (Online) Journal homepage:

Myths, missions, and mistrust: The fate of Christianity in 16th and 17th century Japan

John Nelson

To cite this article: John Nelson (2002) Myths, missions, and mistrust: The fate of Christianity in 16th and 17th century Japan, History and Anthropology, 13:2, 93-111, DOI: 10.1080/0275720022000001192

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Published online: 24 Sep 2010.

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University of San Francisco, USA

This article examines accepted opinion regarding the persecution and demise of Christian/Catholic missions in 16th and 17th century Japan. Many of the key issues associated with the encounter of European missionaries and Japanese feudal systems of authority and power resonate with contemporary interest in transculturalism, semantic slippage, personal agency, and the intimate interplay between religion, politics, and economics. Burdened with rigid standards of belief, heresy, and race from European inquisitions as well as Mesoamerican conquests, the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries made numerous strategic blunders that contributed to their fates, both as recipients of expulsion orders and, finally, on the execution grounds.

Keywords: Missionaries; Christianity; evangelism; Japanese feudalism; persecution; religion and politics

On a hot September day in 1622, a newcomer to the port of Nagasaki in the far west of Japan

would have witnessed a strange sight. That a number of fishing boats should return empty

was odd enough, given the rich fecundity of the sea. But that they should be met by high-

ranking samurai who then ordered the crews to wash themselves, their gear, and the boats

themselves bordered on the bizarre. How could anyone coming from the sea, known for its

purifying powers in Japanese religious practice, have become so defiled?

We can imagine the mystery was partially solved when the newcomer turned in

puzzlement to one of the onlookers and, after making his inquiry, heard the hushed reply,

“Krishitan!” Well aware of the sporadic purges going on since the government’s ban of the

religion and its practitioners in 1614, our visitor could have deduced the fishermen were

obviously not Christians (they would have been arrested immediately) but had been in

contact with some particularly contaminating element of the religion to rate such attention

from the officials. Within minutes he would have learned what everyone in Nagasaki was still

discussing—the grim details of an event singular in its thoroughness. . .

. . .after thirty (Japanese) Christians were beheaded and twenty-five others, including nine foreign priests, roasted to death . . .all the bodies, with images, rosaries and all the objects of religion seized among the Christians were cast together into a great pit, as pestiferous objects. They threw into this pit the stakes and the ashes, a layer of bodies of the decapitated, a layer of wood, and then piled on all the objects of religion and set fire to the mass. It burned for two days. Then they collected the ashes, and even the earth soaked with the blood shed. The ashes of this earth were put into straw sacks and they were sent to the open sea and scattered. Afterwards the boatmen were made to strip and bathe, to wash the bags and even the boats, so that no dust or any vestige might remain of this great holocaust (Tames 1983: 95).

To comprehend what appears a brutal attempt to eliminate all traces of a foreign religion

demands considerably more than a tracing of people (who was burned or beheaded?) and

historical events (what conjunction of intent and circumstance brought them to that place at

ISSN 0275-7206 print/ISSN 1477-2612 online q 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd

DOI: 10.1080/0275720022000001192

History and Anthropology, 2002 Vol. 13 (2), pp. 93–111

that time?). A Mediterranean-based Christianity is often said to have failed as an institution

in Japan because of persecution by the Japanese rulers. Yet, the paths leading to this grim

destination were, for the most part, determined and traveled by the foreign missionaries

themselves. Acting on cultural beliefs and ideologies formed in and transported from Europe,

they made serious mistakes in both understanding Japanese priorities and in choosing

appropriate strategies for their missionizing. As a result, Christianity came to be seen as a

subversive, socially disruptive religion with ties to military opportunism and colonialism—

all highly threatening to an emerging political order in Japan.

During the late 15th and 16th centuries Europe’s monarchies achieved a wider control of

political unity and stability, allowing their leaders to devote resources and personnel to the

systematic exploration of new trade routes and the establishment of colonies. Profound

alterations of the basic cultural environment had been hastened by the Reformation and

Counter-Reformations, by surging populations after the Black Death’s devastation, by

exponential changes in technology, and by the advent of wars between nations separated by

oceans (Grossinger 1976: 76). In effect, the 16th century’s achievements and failures are still

part of the way we draw the world map, and not only for the Western hemisphere. The export

of religious, military, and trade representatives during that period from their sources in

Europe and the Mediterranean to South, Southeast, and East Asia had a profound impact on

social organization but also on cultural and even religious identities. Asia becomes in the

16th and 17th centuries “. . .a site for examination of how locality emerges in a globalizing

world, (and) how global facts take local form” (Appadurai 1996: 18). Influential without

being determinative, the ways in which foreigners are perceived in Japan, notions of Japan as

a “land of the gods,” and the symbiosis of politics and religion can be traced in part to the

dramatic events of this period.


It would seem a tragic turn of events that sent elite priests, educated at some of Europe’s

finest academies, to execution at the hands of the Japanese civil and military authorities in

1622. Among those attaining the status of “martyr” at Nagasaki were members of three

religious orders: the Jesuit Carlo Spinola, the Dominican Luis Flores, and the Spanish

Augustinian Pedro de Zuniga, son of a former viceroy of Mexico. Yet to assume they all

shared common interests as Christians proselytizing among the Japanese is to ignore a half

century of evidence to the contrary. We must also not ignore some of the first and most

dramatic transcultural and truly global webs of contact—where Japan became an arena in

which policies and ideologies formed some 12,000 nautical miles away attempted to hold

their own. Although the missionaries consistently underestimated the resolve of Japan’s

rulers to maintain control and authority and misread the strategies and reasoning behind these

moves, they did share a basic goal of converting “heathen” populations.

It would be convenient to merely mention the dates of each religious order’s arrival in

Japan—the Jesuits in 1549, the Augustinians and Dominicans in 1556, and the Franciscans in

1590—and how they fared according to the political winds blowing in Japan at the time. But

to do so misses some of the most interesting influences of all, many of which appear

contemporary to the eyes of a modern reader: strategies in the production and reproduction of

knowledge, the advent, growth, and subsequent loss of religious faith, or the inter-cultural

slippage of language and rhetorical intent. Even lifestyles, fashion, and choice of drink

caused misunderstandings, envy, stereotyping, mistrust, and resentment. I hope to show how

the fates of these early Catholics were shaped as much by the policies and ideologies of their


royal and religious institutions in Europe and New Spain as they were in response to the

policies of various Japanese warlords.


After the middle ages, the Catholic Church turned on “the infidel” still occupying large areas

on the Iberian Peninsula. Augustine had written in his treatise City of God (c. 410) that an

infidel’s free will must be considered in preaching the gospel, but the practical application of

this was ignored as the Spanish crown expanded and reconquered Granada in 1492. It

had become politically essential to change the populations’ sentiments from Islam to

Christianity as quickly as possible and to do this an inquisitorial instead of missionary

model of conversion were established (Wright 1982:31). After the Moors had been

subdued militarily, the large Jewish population in Castille was subjected to forced

exile, conversion to Catholicism, or imprisonment. These policies eventually led to the firm

grasp of the Catholic church upon that region’s battle-scarred economic and political


The Church’s first overseas opportunity to exert its doctrines came with Columbus’ good

fortune in colliding with the Americas, and the subsequent establishment of Spanish trading

posts, missions, and garrisons in what is today Cuba. The Church not only wanted to convert

pagan populations but also to influence the replication of European civilization and economy

in its favor by working closely with (and, when necessary, leaning heavily upon) the Spanish

administrators. In spite of the views of men like Las Casas, a Dominican who had earlier

defended the rights of native Indian populations in a treatise of 1512, the fact is that mission

work was a new endeavor, one not fixed by methodology.1 What was predetermined were

certain deep sentiments among these first missionaries, foremost being a horror of heresy.

Jews and Moors who had converted but were charged with insincere faith were still being

tried and executed back in Spain. It was only logical that the phobia which raged in Spain

about heretical practices and beliefs should be exaggerated in Mexico among missionaries

who were in contact with “genuine” pagans (Ricard 1971/1933: 36).2

It has been argued that the conquistadors and missionaries could find few “intelligible”

customs or social patterns within the cultures of the Aztecs that might render them more

human (de Alva 1983: 4), but a closer examination shows this not to be the case. While the

people were dark-skinned and thus seen as racially inferior to the Spanish, they were

nonetheless highly organized into distinct social classes and had fashioned cities and villages

around central plazas similar to European patterns. More importantly for the missionaries’

work were a number of religious beliefs potentially resonant with Christianity. The great god

of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli, was said to have born of a virgin, plus there were beliefs in the

immortality of the soul and eternal life. The Aztecs were not only familiar with the shape of

the Christian cross, they represented the cardinal points of the words via this symbol. Finally,

ceremonies similar to baptism, confessions, and communion were essential aspects of Aztec

religious obligations (Ricard 1971/1933).

Yet it is hardly surprising, given the cultural baggage regarding fears of heresy the

missionaries brought with them from Europe, that they did not see local institutions as

foundations to build upon, as the early Church had done in Europe (Kertzer 1988: 177).

Instead, these practices were viewed as “demonic parodies from which the missionaries

recoiled in horror” (Ricard 1971/1933: 33). The Christianity of New Spain could not be a

perfecting or fulfilling of native religions—it required a radical break with the entire past. So,

just as the Aztecs burned the temples of those tribes they had subjugated, the religious and

civil authorities likewise had destroyed more than 500 temples and 20,000 idols by June of


1531 (letter of Zumarraga, first bishop of Mexico, in Ricard, 1971/1933: 37). The slate was

now “wiped clean” and ready for strategies, sometimes sincere and, to our eyes, sometimes

rather ruthless, for the large scale conversion of the masses.3

This is not to imply a passive acceptance of mission activities by the Aztecs. On the

contrary, they belong to those dominated groups world-wide that have maintained distinct

identities even while changing radically in response to colonial expansionism (see Comaroff

1985; Simmons 1988). And yet, so rapidly did the Spaniards supplant the Aztec

administration with their own, establishing themselves throughout the country with

tremendous economic benefits to both royal and religious regimes, it is little wonder that their

neighbors and competitors the Portuguese were scurrying to match this “success” on the

other side of the globe.


A quick glance at a map of the world and the considerable distance between Europe and

Japan (12,000 nautical miles) would seem daunting enough to inhibit transplanting the roots

of the Church. But by 1606, the Jesuits, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Dominicans counted

some 150,000 converts by conservative estimates and 450,000 by more liberal ones (Boxer

1951:78). The Church seemed well on its way towards a permanent place in Japanese society.

Let us briefly retrace, then, the events behind the Portuguese and later Spanish presence in the

Far East and the initial reception of the foreigners.

After expelling the Moors and recovering former territories, the overseas adventurism of

the Portuguese began in 1415 with the capture of the port of Ceuta on the coast of North

Africa. Since their geographical position conveniently prevented them from taking an active

part in the conflicts of the European continent, at a purely pragmatic level they were anxious

to outflank the Islamic powers of North Africa by sailing down the west coast of the continent

in search of gold. By circumventing the Arab merchants who enjoyed a monopoly on

supplying spices to Europe, they also hoped to establish their own spice route. As a matter of

course, they would also fulfill their duties to spread Christianity throughout the pagan areas at

the edge of the known world (Cooper 1971:20).

Highly coveted as a destination were those islands off the coast of China known as

“Zipangu” (Japan). Here, according to Marco Polo, “. . .columns of gold could be seen in the

palaces, and windows were decorated with golden ornaments. So numerous were valuable

pearls that one could be put into the mouth of each person when he was buried” (Smith 1964:

84). There was also the legendary kingdom of the Christian king Prester John who, if located,

would provide an important base for not only trade but also the spread of Christianity among

those creatures which, while having a human form, were considered hardly above the realm

of beasts.4 The Portuguese rounded the tip of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, taking

Mozambique in 1490, Goa in 1510, and Malacca the following year, establishing the

commercial and military bases that were to remain the center of their empire in Asia for more

than four centuries (with the important addition of Macao in 1555). This created a complex

organization of interlocking centers and peripheries which, in spite of pirates, typhoons, and

disease, dominated its rivals from roughly 1510–1637.

Accounts vary whether it was a violent storm or a calculated plan which first brought three

Portuguese adventurers into Japanese territory in 1543 aboard a Chinese vessel. (Strictly

speaking, there was no “Japan” at this time existing as a sovereign state. I will use the term

for convenience to refer to the physical place rather than the political complexities during a

period of warring feudal states). With their harquebuses (matchlock rifles) and other goods,

they impressed the Japanese by an obviously superior military technology. But they could


also be seen as exotic manifestations of a semi-divine being called a marebito: a stranger,

such as a peddler, blacksmith, or itinerant priest, who appeared suddenly in a village. In spite

of strange outward appearances, and obvious differences in language and social customs, this

individual might be a deity in human guise and thus beneficial if properly and respectfully

treated (see Yoshida 1981 for examples of the range of this folk tradition). It is likely this

concept was based on the dual character of Japanese deities called kami— benevolent one

moment and destructive the next—as well as a long continental tradition of bodhisattvas in

disguise. Nonetheless, it served as a convenient model for interpreting outsiders as well as

marginals in pre-modern Japan (Ohnuki-Tierney 1987: 237). Since the seventh and eighth

centuries, Chinese and Koreans had been the predominant foreigners in Japan, bringing with

them Buddhism, tea, a writing system, medicine, and metallurgy to name but a few of the

imports. However, despite these many significant contributions, it was important they

remained foreigners since by not sharing local sociocultural norms, they could manifest their

unruly and disruptive side at any moment with negative consequences (Ohnuki-Tierney ibid:


When the Portuguese appeared, this conceptual structure was one of the cultural tools on

hand to cope with their strangeness. But as Marshall Sahlins has shown in a Hawaiian context

(Sahlins 1981), a prolonged contact slowly transforms cultural and social boundaries. Over

time, the content of these interactions fashions new relationships, often based on pragmatic

material benefits (firearms in the Japanese case) between the categories of inner/local and

outer/foreign. The Portuguese “barbarians” were powerfully Other but also attractive

(because of the advanced technology of their weaponry) to a land torn by civil wars. What

other magical devices or benefits might they be induced to reveal? Had early contact with the

Portuguese been limited to only commerce and technology instead of an exchange mediated

by representatives of the Catholic Church, events might have transpired quite differently.


Radical social changes, which fostered the activities of the Spanish in Aztec Mexico, were

likewise underway in Japan when the Portuguese established their first contacts. From the

thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries were a period when local barons, or daimyô, recognized

no effective central political authority, not even that of the emperor’s Imperial Court. They

enjoyed absolute power in their own domains, fighting and feuding among each other to

increase wealth and territory. Buddhism too added a wild card to the general atmosphere of

tension and unrest. Great monasteries of certain sects—like the Tendai on Mt. Hiei outside

Kyoto, the Jôdô Shinshû at Ishiyama Hôganjii near Osaka, or Shingon on Mt. Koya south of

Nara—had established formidable garrisons of armed “monks” who raided the countryside

and entered into pitched battles with the daimyô’s forces, furthering their own agendas for

political control of a region’s resources.

When Father Francis Xavier and a small group of Japanese converts from Macao landed in

southern Kyushu in 1549, Portuguese ships had already made several trips to various

southern ports of the country. Ostensibly, they were trading Chinese silks but were

capitalizing mainly on the local wars to run firearms from Macao and supply gunpowder and

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