Confucius of Europe ...

See also Dr Peter Bowman's lecture on why China's 4000 years of taxing land inspired the French Physiocrats during the mid-1600s, HERE.

Italian Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) translated the Confucian ‘Four Books’ into Italian: "The first to introduce Chinese learning to the West."Chen Hong, 2015

China's contribution to the European Enlightenment:
See Part 3, here.

Selected reports:

(i) Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) introduced the works of Confucious to Europe with his Italian translation of the ‘Four Books’ and shortly after Ricci's death, his Jesuit colleague Nicolas Trigault published a Latin translation, De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, in 1615. Ricci's writings were translated into English by Louis J. Gallagher in 1953, who informs us that Ricci saw the teaching of Confucius as "moral, rather than religious, in nature and perfectly compatible with or even complementary to Christianity". Gallagher, Louis J. (1953), China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci, pp. 93–98

(ii) The Art of Teaching, by Gilbert Highet describes the Jesuit methods thus:

The Jesuits went to unparalleled lengths and showed unbelievable patience in adapting themselves to the people they had determined to teach. For instance, they sent out a small expedition of ten or twelve priests to Christianize four hundred million Chinese. This almost impossible task they started by studying China. The Jesuits therefore spent several years learning Chinese philosophy, art, and literature, making ready to meet the Chinese on their own level. After the imperial officials had slowly, reluctantly admitted them, the Jesuits at once flattered them by talking to them in their own tongue, and attracted them by displaying specially prepared maps and astronomical instruments. Instead of being rejected as foreign barbarians, they were accepted as intelligent and cultivated men.
Gilbert Highet, 1989, pg. 222-223

(iii) Confucius of Europe
See Part 3, here
The French Physiocrats took inspiration from China's 4000 year history of taxing land.
Francois Quesnay (1694-1774) became known as “the Confucius of Europe” during his lifetime. Professor Wei-Bin Zhang quotes Maverick (1938) in Confucianism and Modernisation

The influence of the Chinese upon the physiocrats was probably more extensive and more significant than has generally been appreciated. If one will but look into the matter, he can readily discern similarities in thought on the part of Chinese sages and French économistes…. This similarity is more than mere coincidence; it is due to an actual borrowing on the part of the physiocrats. (Zhang, 2000, p. 195)

Dr Wei-Bin Zhang, Department of Economics, The National University of Singapore, explains how and why Confucian philosophy led to the European Enlightenment: "On Adam Smith and Confucius: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Analects" (2000): See pp. 22-30 on Google book scan.

p. 22
Confucius in the Age of The Enlightenment in Europe.

“Great perfection seems chipped, yet use will not wear it out; Great fulness seems empty, yet use will not drain it.”
– Lao Tzu (6th century BC)

What a thinker is concerned with is partly determined by the historical circumstances in which he finds himself. It appears that there are always some lapses of thought in the interpretation of philosophy by later readers. It is difficult for later interpreters to experience the spirit and main concerns of the past when philosophy is constructed. It is partly due to this that Confucius has displayed varied “faces” in Chinese as well as European thinkers’ minds.

In order to further rationalise my comparison of Confucius and Adam Smith, it might be important to illustrate how Confucius was accepted in the age of the Enlightenment in Europe before Adam Smith constructed TMS and WN.

p. 23
The Missionaries Introduce Confucius to Europe

“When you see good, then diligently examine your own behavior, when you see evil, then with sorrow look into yourself.”
– Sun Tzu (298-238 BC)

Although the European mind was familiar with the imaginary construction of Chinese culture as early as the 13th century after Marco Polo’s expedition to China, a main step had not been taken until the 16th century when the Europeans began to rapidly expand consciousness, interest and power (e.g., Needham. 1954, Ching and Oxtoby, 1992, Hsu, 1995, Clarke, 1997).

In the 16th century cultural exchange between Europe and China was conducted through missionary activities. In 1573 Alessandro Valignano, an Italian Jesuit, was made Superior of all the Jesuit missions in the East Indies, which included China and Japan. He arrived in Macao in 1577. He attempted to spread religion in such a way that Christianity should enter China quietly and transform it from within. The Jesuits in China were instructed to learn to read, write and speak Chinese, to “Sinicize” themselves rather than “Portugalize” their converts. Two Italian priests, Michele Ruggieri and Mateo Ricchi, were sent as pioneer missionaries to carry out this policy. They settled in Kwangtung, in 1583. At this time Christianity had almost no influence in China. The two priests changed into Chinese attire, studied the Chinese language, adopted Chinese mannerisms, and learned Confucianism. it should be noted that they preferred the teachings of Confucius to the Sung school of Neo-Confucianism.

The role played by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) of Mazzarino in Italy was historically important. Before he went to Peking in 1601 to seek imperial patronage, he had studied the Chinese language and the classics and had spent almost twenty years in various parts of China. He successfully established himself as a learned scholar of Chinese culture, maker of the famous world map with China at centre, teacher of mathematics, astronomy, and other scientific works, and a missionary of Catholicism. He died in 1610 in Peking. He translated the Confucian ‘Four Books’ into Italian. It was the first Western language version of the Confucian works. Latin version of three, ‘The Great Learning, ‘The Mean’ and ‘The Analects’ of the ‘Four Books’ by Ignatius de Costa, Proper Intorcenta, and Philippus Couplet was published in the name of the ‘Confucius Sinarum Philosophical’ in Paris in 1687. This publication began the introduction of Chinese philosophical and political thought to Europe. In the 17th century the main focus on China was concentrated on the Confucian doctrines. Scant attention was paid to other Chinese classics and their translation into Western languages began only toward the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
>>> more

(iv) On the influence of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1664-1716),

a. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, born at Leipzig in Saxony on 23 June 1664, is reknowned as one of the greatest thinkers of Western civilisation– amongst the foremost mathematicians and rationalist philosophers between 17th and 18th century across Europe, writing on geometry, biology, geology, theology, metaphysics and statistics. Inspired by his study of China, Leibniz published ’Novissima Sinica’ in Latin in 1697, a testament to his admiration of Confucian doctrines of politics. In his Preface to the ’Novissima Sinica’, Leibniz sings his praise of Chinese civil life:

"But who would have believed that there is on earth a people who, though we in our view so very advanced in every branch of behaviour, still surpass us in comprehending the precepts of civil life? Yet now we find this to be so among the Chinese, as we learn to know them better. And so if we are there equals in the industrial arts, and ahead of them in contemplative sciences, certainly they surpass us (though it is almost shameful to confess this) in practical philosophy, that is in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and use of mortals." – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
(Zhang, Wei-Bin. (2000), On Adam Smith and Confucius: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Analects)

b. "Political and Moral Philosophy in the Novissima Sinica, 1699–1999"
Patrick Riley
's 1999 review is outstanding:

In 1693, four years before the publication of Novissima Sinica, Leibniz revealed the outlines of his jurisprudence universelle in the Codex Iuris Gentium:

"a good man is one who loves everybody, so far as reason permits. Justice, then, which is the virtue which regulates that affection which the Greeks call philanthropy, will be most conveniently defined ... as the charity of the wise man, that is, charity which follows the dictates of wisdom ... Charity is a universal benevolence, and benevolence the habit of loving or of willing the good. Love then signifies rejoicing in the happiness of another ..., the happiness of those whose happiness pleases us turns into our own happiness, since things which please us are desired for their own sakes." 
>>> more

(v) Judith Berling's excellent 1976 essay on neo-Confucianism

Confucianism is often characterized as a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion. In fact, Confucianism built on an ancient religious foundation to establish the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society. It was what sociologist Robert Bellah called a "civil religion,"1 the sense of religious identity and common moral understanding at the foundation of a society's central institutions. It is also what a Chinese sociologist called a "diffused religion"; its institutions were not a separate church, but those of society, family, school, and state; its priests were not separate liturgical specialists, but parents, teachers, and officials. Confucianism was part of the Chinese social fabric and way of life; to Confucians, everyday life was the arena of religion.

The founder of Confucianism, Master Kong (K'ung, Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E.) did not intend to found a new religion, but to interpret and revive the unnamed religion of the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, under which many people thought the ancient system of religious rule was bankrupt; why couldn't the gods prevent the social upheavals?
>>> more

(vi) Overview of the role Confucian philosophy played in sustaining China's imperial status-quo.
by Professor Derk Bodde, (2005) Chinese Ideas in the West, Columbia University:

To men infected with these new ideas, China provided a powerful stimulus. For in China they saw a great civilization that had evolved quite independently of, and earlier than, their own. Although not a Christian nation, it had nevertheless developed in Confucianism a high system of morals of its own. And, unlike Europe, it had done so without permitting a priesthood to become so powerful as to challenge the state's authority. The emperor of China, furthermore, though seemingly an absolute ruler, was in actual fact limited by the teachings of Confucianism, which declared that "the people are the most important element in the state; the sovereign is the least." Particularly was China admired as a land where government did not rest in the hands of a feudal aristocracy, as in Europe. Instead, it was managed by the mandarins — a group of highly educated scholars — who gained their official positions only after proving their worth by passing a series of state-administered examinations. We know today that this highly favorable picture of China was somewhat over-painted. Yet there is little doubt that the China of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was, both politically and economically, in many ways ahead of Europe (Bodde, 2005, p. 4.).

(vii) On Matteo Ricci’s Interpretations of Chinese Culture
By Chen Hong, 2015, Coolabah, No.16, Observatori: Centre d’Estudis Australians / Australian Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona

On the contribution to introducing Western learning to China by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the 16th -century Italian Jesuit missionary to the Ming Dynasty, abundant research has been done; however, not so on his contribution to introducing Chinese learning to the West, and if so, not profoundly. Though Ricci?s understandings of Chinese culture were found in every aspect of Ming Dynasty lives, this essay focuses on four important and representative aspects, and analyzes the political system of a government guided by philosophers, the confused outlooks of religious sects, Chinese ethics compared to Christian tenets, and the unique qualities of the Chinese language. It discloses Ricci?s moderate (middle-of-the-road) attitude toward Chinese culture, especially his efforts to reconcile Confucianism and Christianity as well as his prejudice against Buddhism and Taoism, which shows on the one hand his broad-mindedness as a humanistic missionary, and on the other the historical or rather religious limitations of his absolute faith as a pious Catholic. Narrow-minded or broad-minded, Ricci?s role as the first scholar who introduced Chinese learning to the West should not be neglected. One should bear in mind that it is Ricci who laid the foundation for European sinology.

Back to top

Go To:
– China 4000 year Land Tax History

– Short History of Economics

Top of Page