The book launching of the second volume of the Acta Pekinensia at Campion Hall in Oxford, UK

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20. 03. 11
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Remarks for the launch of Acta Pekinensia Vol.2,

Oxford 11 March 2020

Paul Rule

I must begin by apologies for my inability to be present on this occasion due to a minor health problem  which however prccludes for the moment long distance flights –  and Melbourne Australia to the UK is about a long as they go. However I  was pleased to be invited to write a few remarks on the Acta Pekinensia publication project and especially on the second volume.

The Acta Pekinensia publication project has been a huge and prolonged enterprise involving many people and institutions. I am delighted that the formal launch of the second of what we hope to be four volumes takes place in Oxford at Campion Hall where the most prolific of the draft translators, Fr. Gerry Hughes, was Master. Gerry began his work towards the end of this second volume and from that point became the main, almost the sole draft translator.  But he contributed far more than that. As I have gone through the editing and annotating process I have  found and continue to find embedded as comments Gerry's amusing and self-depecatory remarks on the language and content of the Acta. I have also learned much on the problems and pitfalls of translation from Fr. Hughes' Fidelity without Fundamentalism and our email and personal exchanges on the subject. I must also confess to having not infrequently made changes in Gerry's translation, very rarely indeed because I thought them mistranslations, sometimes because he was naturally unaware of the full Chinese context,  but usually because I found the suggested equivalents to Kilian Stump's somewhat laboured Latin a little too brilliant and, dare I say, too 'English' for an audience I assume to contain many second-language readers of English­ ­– and perhaps I should include many Australian and American readers in this category as well as Chinese. The Acta translation as we have it has been enormously enriched by that interplay between Gerry and myself.

The Acta project has a long genesis going back to, appropriately, a meeting in Beijing, in 2001. But even earlier there was a protoproject in San Francisco.   In fact the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at the University of San Francisco, now again its main sponsor, owes its origins to  the collaboration of  two Jesuits, Fr. Francis Rouleau and Fr. Edward Malatesta, in gathering and publishing a translation of the documentation on the Chinese Rites Controversy, and especially of the Acta Pekinensia, the work of a German Jesuit missionary/scientist at the court of the Kangxi Emperor, Kilian Stumpf. I had corresponded with Rouleau, an ecclesiastical old China hand, when writing my doctoral thesis in 'the Jesuit Interpretation of Confucianism' and met up with Ed Malatesta, at the Trevi Fountain in Rome in 1979, that wonder year when China was opening up to the world and everything seemed possible. Ed encouraged me over the years that followed while he went to China and later founded the Ricci Institute back in San Francisco, to work on the Acta and the other documentary treasures that Frank Rouleau had found, copied and annotated.

Then at a conference in Beijing to celebrate the fourth centenary of the arrival of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci in that city in 1601, Professors Antonio Vasconcelos de Saldahna from Lisbon and Claudia von Collani from Würzberg conceived the idea of publishing an annotated translation of the Acta Pekinensia. As someone who had worked on the Chinese Rites for some twenty years by then and was familiar with this massive (some 1500 pages long) document in the Jesuit Roman Archives, I joined the team. We met, again appropriately in Macau, on a lovely evening in a tropical garden under a banyan tree, and decided on the main lines of an enormous enterprise, to be funded and coordinated by the Macau Ricci Institute, represented at that meeting by Fathers Yves Camus and Luis Sequeira. There were to be a transcript of the manuscript, draft translations by (I think it was Fr.Yves who suggested it) retired Jesuits of the Latin-familiar older generation, then a thorough edit with introduction, annotations and scholarly apparatus by the sinologists. I often think now, the best part of twenty years later, that if we had understood the magnitude of the task we would have fled to catch the next jetfoil to Hong Kong airport. However, today we have two volumes published, a third undergoing a final edit, and a fourth and last half-finished. And the present fruitful and happy collaboration with the San Francisco Ricci Institute and Brill as well as the Macau Ricci Institute, should see us through.

What is the Acta Perkinensia? It is a day by day account – its author sometimes calls it a Diarium­ ­– of the visit to China of the Papal Legate and Apostolic Visitor, Charles Maillard de Tournon. It begins with the Legate's activities in Beijing, December 1705 to August 1706, and that section was covered by our first volume, published by the Jesuit Historical Institute in Rome in 2015. The work has now been taken over by the Ricci Instiute in San Francisco and Voliume II of the Acta now appears as the first volume in a new series, Studies in the History of Christianity in East Asia,  published by Brill. Fortunately, Stumpf  himself wrote a  Compendium of events of that period and we have been able to use it in the volume at hand as a bridge to the events that followed as the Legate made his way south.

One of the joys of immersion in this work has been my discovery of the personality of Kilian Stumpf, a largely neglected figure amongst the 'giants' of the old Jesuit missiin in China. He is a perceptive and ironic observer not only of the Legate and his party and his fellow court Jesuits, but of the tensions between the French Jesuits and those who came via Portugal ­– by the accident of the Emperor placing his glassworks which Stumpf directed in the new 'French' Jesuit house in the palace precinct in Beijing. He prided himself on his German frankness and does not hesitate to comment on the foibles of his fellow missionaries, Jesuits as well as others. He writes in a clear and careful working Latin with ocasional classical flourishes to demonstrate his erudition. And I must, at this point, pay tribute to my co- editor, Claudia von Collani, whose unparalleled knowledge of the published and unpublished sources on the China mission of the period is complemented by her insider knowledge of her fellow Würzberger, Kilian Stumpf or Ji Li'an as the Chinese call him.

The Chinese Rites Controversy is an important bellweather of a continuing and crucial debate in church history. In the controversies over the recent Amazonian Synod I could not help but note echoes of the struggles around 1700: should European models of worship and church order be imposed on a non-European culture? Can a professedly universal chuch tolerate local variation? Can we overcome the specificity of experience that underlies linguistic and behavioural norms? The Acta has much to teach missiologists, theologians and thoughtful Christians in these respects.

But the Acta also has much to interest general historians of China.Where else can we find first-hand insider/outsider accounts of court life, the real structures of power as opposed to the theory? There is much even in this second volume on the imperial family, the workings of the inner court, the eunuchs and Manchu clans and cliques. And we can see the beginnings of the fierce succession struggle between the princes which becomes a central concern in te remainder of the Acta. Kangxi once warned the Jesuits seeking his intervention against a local official that his theoretically absolute power was limited by circumstances. Never forget, he said, that we, like you, are foreigners and the Chinese hate us. There are many passages in the Acta Pekinensia  that display both the sympathy of the Emperor to the Jesuits and the fragility of their position.

Lastly, I am hoping that linguists may be interested in the Acta Pekinensia as a multi-lingual document. Both the original manuscript and the transcript are, or will be, available in various forms and I am looking forward to fruitful correspondence regarding this second volume such as I received regarding the first. The Latin is sui generis: ecclesiastical and scholarly Latin of the Seventeenth Century with some German flavouring and the letters in Spanish and Portuguese reflect a number of Iberian dialects as well as being sprinkled with colloquial Chinese in a variety of romanizations. And for entertainment, I recommend the bombastic macaronic Italian of the Legate himself.

I would like to think that the general reader too will find much of interest in our work. It is a fascinating human interest story, an epic fit for the cinema, with a cast of hundreds. We get glimpses of the Chinese and Manchus, of life in Beijing and the provinces, of  some extraordinarily talented and ­– let me frankly admit – eccentric and bizarre characters. There are pages in the Acta that read almost like a script for a film or the stage. Are there any budding screen writers or stage producers present?

Finally I must express my inadequate and belated thanks to the army of people who contributed to the Acta  project. Some day I will make a complete list but for now let me simply mention the team of Polish transcribers led by Monika Miazek; the draft translators, especially Joe Holland and Gerry Hughes; the editor of this volume Steve Ford; and especially that indefatigable corrector of scholarly and linguistic errors and expander of my knowledge of things as diverse as Chinese medicine and Manchu language, my collaborator from the beginning, Claudia von Collani.