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The “Eastern Tartars” in Jesuit Sources: News from Visitor Manuel de Azevedo

Pages 117 - 132


This article makes use of a report written by the senior Jesuit visitor Manuel de Azevedo to his superiors during the 1640s. The text is of great interest, since it reveals the kind of Manchu-related information which the missionary considered worth being collected, both in order to inform the Superior, and to establish a benchmark of knowledge on the contemporary Eastern Tartars. The chief purpose of the text must have been to present to his superiors a diversity of aspects concerning the new rulers of China.

此文利用耶穌會士之內早期信函為了分析西方人對於中、東亞的【北夷】民族 的觀點。其目的就是給耶穌會士會長介紹新設立的大清國。

Sapienza, Università di Roma / Sapienza University, Rome

1 See Edwin J. Van Kley, “News from China: Seventeenth-Century European Notices of the Manchu Conquest”, The Journal of Modern History, 45/4 (Dec., 1973), pp. 561–582.

2 Mark C. Elliott, “The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geographies”, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 3. (Aug., 2000), p. 638.

3 Ibid., p. 622.

4 On these aspects see N. Golvers, Building Humanistic Libraries in Late Imperial China, Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura, 2011, pp. 57–62.

5 For further information see my “The Jesuits' Contribution to the Knowledge of Tartary: a Research Project”, in: Dr. Ku Weiying 古偉瀛, Zhao Xiaoyang 趙曉陽 (eds.), From Antoine Thomas S.J., to Celso Costantini. Multi-aspect Studies on Christianity in Modern China, (‘Leuven Chinese Studies’, XXII), Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 2011, pp. 222–239. For this still on-going project I wish to thank the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, who granted me a two-year post-doctoral scholarship (2008–2010).

6 See I. de Rachewiltz, “The Name of the Mongols in Asia and Europe: a Reappraisal”, Etudes mongoles et sibériennes, cahier 27 (1996), pp. 203–205; Matthew of Paris, in his Chronica Majora, ascribes the pun to King Louis of France, see P. Jackson, and D. Morgan, The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck: His Journey to the Court of the Great Khan Möngke, 1253–1255, London: Hakluyt Society, 1990, p. 16, n. 4.

7 See A. van den Wyngaert, Sinica Franciscana, Vol. I: Itinera et relationes Fratrum Minorum saeculi XIII et XIV, Firenze: Ad Clara Aqua: Collegium S. Bonaventura, 1929; Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, Storia dei Mongoli, Enrico Menestò, Maria Cristiana Lungarotti, and Paolo Daffinà (eds.), Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo, 1989.

8 According to Plano Carpini the Kytai and the Solangi were people subdued to the Mongols. In the Historia Mongalorum, the former correspond to the Chinese, as well as to the Jurchen, the latter to a tribe living in Manchuria and in the northern part of Korea, see Pian del Carpine, Storia dei Mongoli, p. 371, and footnotes by Daffinà, p. 407, n. 1, p. 433, n. 15, p. 440, n. 24, p. 441, n. 26.

9 Sinica Franciscana, Vol. I, p. 29.

10 S. Gorshenina, L'invention de l'Asie centrale: histoire du concept de la Tartarie à l'Eurasie, Geneve: Librairie Droz, 2014, p. 86.

11 Cf. Elliott, “The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geographies”, pp. 624–626.

12 Cf. S. Gorshenina, L'invention de l'Asie centrale: histoire du concept de la Tartarie à l'Eurasie, p. 273; see also Elliott, “The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geographies”, pp. 624–626.

13 The “Epistola Asiatica” was written by Emanuelis Nobrega in 1552, Epistolae Indicae et Iapanicae de multarum gentium ad Christi fidem, per Societatem Iesu conversione. Item de Tartarorum potentia, moribus, & totius pene Asiae religione, Lovanii (Leuven/Louvain): apud Rutgerum Velpium Sub Castro Angelico, 1570, pp. 311–312.

14 The sources used by Ricci have been analysed by Pasquale M. D'Elia, Il mappamondo Cinese del P. Matteo Ricci S.I.: Terza ed., Pechino, 1602: Conservato presso la Bibioteca Vaticana, Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1938, pp. 169–177.

15 Giulio Aleni, Geografia dei paesi stranieri alla Cina. Introduzione, traduzione e note di Paolo De Troia, Brescia: Fondazione civiltà bresciana, 2009.

16 See D. Antonucci, “La Tartaria nelle fonti dei missionari gesuiti in Cina tra il XVI e XVII secolo”, in: P. De Troia (a cura di), La Cina e il Mondo. Atti del XI Convegno dell'Associazione Italiana di Studi Cinesi, Roma 22–24 Febbraio 2007, Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura, 2010, pp. 15–17; Idem, “The Jesuits' Contribution to the Knowledge of Tartary: a Research Project”, p. 231.

17 M. Martini, Bellum Tartaricum, or The Conquest of the Great and Most Renowned Empire of China By the Invasion of the Tartars, Who in These Last Seven Years, Have Wholly Subdued That Vast Empire. The English translation is added to Alvaro Semedo, The History of That Great and Renowned Monarchy of China …, London: printed by E. Tyler for Iohn Crook, 1655, p. 255. The Latin text runs as follows: Tartaros autem voco gentem illam, quae ad partes Septemtrionales sita est, ultra famosum murum Sinarum, ab Occasum in Ortum extensum, quo, per trecenta & plura milliaria Germanica continuata quasi fere extructo, excludepatur, ne Sinicum Imperium invaderet. Gentem hanc Sinae ipsi, iam ab antiquis temporibus ob litterae R defectum Tata vocant. Ea veterem Tartariam, tum Orientalem hactenus Europaeis ignotam, tum Occidentalem incolit; ubi Samahania, Tanyu, Niuche, Niulhan & similia gentis Regna, a minore Tartaria …, De Bello Tartarico Historia, editio altera, recognita & aucta, Antverpiae: Ex Officina Plantiniana, 1654, pp. 19–20.

18 The chapter is entitled De Orientali Tartaria, pp. 18–21. Moreover, according to Martini the Niulhan (i.e. Nüergan 女兒干) and the Yupi (Yupi 魚皮) are also Tartars tribes living in the northeast of Manchuria. A critical edition with an Italian translation of the Novus Atlas Sinensis was edited by G. Bertuccioli, in Martino Martini S.J. Opera Omnia, vol. III, Novus Atlas Sinensis, Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento, 2002.

19 Martini, Novus Atlas Sinensis, p. 18.

20 Ipsisque Tartarorum, quibus cum apud Sinas frequenter egi, narrationibus addam …, Novus Atlas Sinensis, p. 18.

21 Ibid., p. 19.

22 D. Antonucci, “Some Notes from Western Sources on Galdan”, Études Orientales, 25/1 (2008), p. 37.

23 See Observation historiques sur la grande Tartarie, tirées des Mémoires du Père Gerbillon, in Du Halde, Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l'Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise, Paris: Lemercier, 1735, Vol. IV, p. 35. See also my paper, “Some Notes from Western Sources on Galdan”, pp. 37–39.

24 A summary of Gerbillon's trips to Tartary is given by Y. de Thomaz de Bossierre, Jean-François Gerbillon, S.J. (1654–1707). Un des cinq mathématiciens envoyés en Chine par Louis XIV, Leuven: Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation, 1994, pp. 29–92.

25 The administrative organisation of Manchuria is given at the beginning of the fourth volume in the Observation géographique sur la Tartarie, tirées des Mémoires envoyez par les Missionnaires, qui ont dressé la Carte (pp. 1–29).

26 For an introduction and bibliography see N. Standaert (ed.), Handbook of Christianity in China, Leiden: Brill, 2001, pp. 760–762.

27 A complete list of Litterae Annuae is given in J. Dehergne, S.I., “Les Lettres annuelles des missions jésuites de Chine au temps des Ming (1581–1644)”, Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 49 (1980), pp. 379–392; Idem, “Lettres annuelles et sources complémentaires des missions jésuites de Chine (suite)”, Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 49 (1980), pp. 247–284; see also Standaert (ed.), Handbook of Christianity in China, pp. 164–165.

28 It is noteworthy that in the annual letter of 1620 the second chapter (20 pages long) is titled “De Tartarorum bello” (On the war of the Tartars), Rerum memorabilium in regno Sinae gestarum Litteræ annuae Societatis Jesu ad P. Mut. Vitelleschi, Antverpiae: Hieronymi Verdusii, 1625. pp. 28–48; in the annual letter of 1621 by Nicolas Trigault, Litterae ex Regno Sinarum anni M.DC.XXI, the second chapter (pp. 92–100) is devoted to Tartar war operations. See De novis christianae religionis progressibus et certaminibus in Iaponia 1622, in regno Sinarum 1621 & 1622 …, Monasterii Westph: Dalit, 1627.

29 See my introduction to the critical edition of Martini's masterpiece, D. Antonucci, De Bello Tartarico Historia. Introduzione, traduzione e note, in: F. Masini, L. M. Paternicò, D. Antonucci (eds.), Martino Martini S.J. Opera Omnia, vol. V, De Bello Tartarico Historia e altri scritti, Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento, 2013, pp. 89–99.

30 According to Struve: “His records (…) provide us with alternatives to Chinese points of view and detailed, straightforward descriptions of many things that seldom, if ever, are mentioned in contemporaneous Chinese writings …”, L. A. Struve, Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers' Jaws, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 49. I have highlighted the value of the missionaries' accounts as eyewitnesses of Chinese historical events in “Alcune osservazioni sull'uso delle fonti gesuitiche nella storiografia cinese” (Some observations on the use of the Jesuit sources in Chinese historiography), Civiltà del Mediterraneo, Nuova Serie – Anno XIII (XVIII), n. 25/2014, pp. 13–34.

31 It should be taken into account that missionaries of other orders, namely the Dominicans and the Franciscans, also wrote on the Ming-Qing conflict. See for instance the manuscript by Vittorio Riccio O.P., Hechos de la Orden de Predicadores en el Imperio de China, 1667, dealing with the Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功 regime.

32 In her source guide on the Ming-Qing conflict, Struve takes into consideration Western sources as well; nevertheless, these are limited to Martino Martini's De Bello Tartarico Historia, and Michal Boym's Briefve relation de la notable conversion des personnes royales et de l'estat de la religion chrestienne en la Chine, faicte par le très R. P. Michel Boym, Paris: S. Cramoisy et G. Cramoisy, 1654. Unfortunately, manuscript sources have been totally neglected by the scholar Lynn A. Struve, The Ming-Qing conflict, 1619–1683: A historiography and source guide, Ann Arbor, Mich: Association for Asian Studies, 1998, pp. 329–330.

33 For biographical reference see Charles E. O'Neill, and Joaquín María Domínguez (eds.), Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús: biográfico-temático, Roma: Institutum Historicum S. I., 2001, pp. 314–315.

34 Liam M. Brockey, The Visitor: André Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 137–139.

35 J. Dehergne, Répertoire des jésuites de Chine de 1552 à 1800, Roma: Institutum Historicum S. I., 1973, p. 20.

36 Another copy is mentioned in the Catálogo de la colección de D. Juan Bautista Muñoz, Vol. III., by the Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid: Maestre, 1956, p. 323.

37 The Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús (p. 315) as well as Dehergne (p. 20) ascribe to de Azevedo a work on the Manchu conquest of China, both given the shelf mark Jap. Sin. 126. On the other hand, it seems unlikely to ascribe the work to Álvaro Semedo as we find (annotated with a question mark) in L. M. Brockey Journey to the East: The Jesuit mission to China, 1579–1724, Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 441, footnote 43.

38 Chapter titles and quotations are taken from Jap. Sin. 126, ff. 32r–73r (primera via), hereafter Relação.

39 This and the following chapter titles are not present in the copy in Jap. Sin. 123, while they are mentioned in the Ajuda copy. Moreover, the paragraph title “Couzas, e variedades das Armas dos Tartaros nas de Guantum, et Guansi, e outras da China” (ff. 195r–197v) recorded in Jap. Sin. 123, is not present in Jap. Sin. 126 and in the Ajuda copy.

40 In Jap. Sin. 123 and in the Ajuda copy, the title is: “Como tomaram esta conquista, e vassalagem da grande China aos Tartaros, e como fallarão, e discursarão sobre ella as nacoèns vizinhas” (f. 201r).

41 In Jap. Sin. 123 and in the Ajuda copy, the title is: “Como se ouve a cidade de Macao e seus Moradores nestas guerras e revoltas da China” (203r).

42 Not in Jap. Sin. 123.

43 The Embassy reached Nagasaki on July 1647 with gifts for the Emperor; however, the Japanese government, suspecting it was a mission sent for the propagation of the Christian faith, ordered them to leave the country. The embassy left Nagasaki for Macau, the city where the Visitor resided, in September 1647. See Charles R. Boxer, A Portuguese embassy to Japan (1644–1647) translated from an unpublished Portuguese MS., and other contemporary sources, with commentary and appendices, London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co, 1928; Idem, “The Embassy of Captain Gonçalo de Siqueira de Souza to Japan in 1644–1647”, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan., 1939), pp. 40–74.

44 It is noteworthy that the same voices were recorded by Martini in the De Bello Tartarico Historia; see F. Masini, L. M. Paternicò, D. Antonucci (eds.), Martino Martini S.J. Opera Omnia, vol. V, p. 255, footnotes 181 and 182; F. E. Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, pp. 263, 266.

45 Relação, f. 34r.

46 The Seven Grievances were recorded in a letter by Alfonso Vagnoni already in 1619, “Breve relatione del principio et progresso della guerra de Tartari contra li Chinesi scritta in Macao dal P. Alfonso Vagnoni della Comp.a di Giesu a 16 di Novembre de 1619”, addressed to the Superior, ARSI, Jap. Sin. 161 I, f. 44v (a Portuguese version at ff. 45r–46r), and later they were printed in Relatione delle cose piu notabili scritte ne gli anni 1619, 1620 & 1621, dalla Cina, al molto Reu. in Christo P. Mutio Vitelleschi preposito generale della Compagnie di Giesù, In Roma: Per l'erede di Bartolomeo Zannetti, 1624, pp. 13–14. For Martini's De Bello Tartarico Historia, see F. Masini, L. M. Paternicò, D. Antonucci (eds.), Martino Martini S.J. Opera Omnia, vol. V, p. 208; The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 9, “The Ch'ing Empire to 1800”, Part 1, p. 41.

47 See L. A. Struve, The Southern Ming, 1644–1662, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, pp. 101–104.

48 Relação, f. 37v.

49 “Esta gente tira mais pera o Atheismo, que pera particular culto algum de falços Deoz”, Relação, f. 44r.

50 Novus Atlas Sinensis, p. 20.

51 Ibid.

52 In his history of the Manchu conquest of China, Martini made use several times of the word crudelitas (cruelty) in describing Manchu behaviour.

53 Jap. Sin. 123, f. 190v, the text in Jap. Sin. 126 is slightly different, Relação, f. 49v.

54 Relação, f. 45v.

55 Novus Atlas Sinensis, p. 21. “Some written characters somehow are similar to the Arabic, but while reading they go from top to bottom as the Chinese, and from right to left as the Jewish, the Arabic and the Chinese”.

56 P. Lococo, “The Qing Empire”, in: David A. Graff and R. Higham, (eds.), A Military History of China, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012, p. 117.

57 Relação, f. 46r.

58 In the same manner, Martini says: “sagittas emittendi, quo volunt, peritissimi sunt, & in eo expedissimi, jam inde a puero hanc artem edocti”, Novus Atlas Sinensis, p. 20.

59 On the contrary, Manchu troops are usually believed to be highly disciplined forces; see Lococo, “The Qing Empire”, p. 118.

60 P. A. Rule, Jesuit Sources, in: D. D. Leslie, C. Mackerras, and Gongwu Wang (eds.), Essays on the Sources for Chinese History, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1973, p. 176.


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