Martino Martini

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Martino Martini
Martino Martini (1614-1661).jpg
Portrait of Martino Martini
Born (1614-09-20)20 September 1614
Trento, Bishopric of Trent
Died 6 June 1661(1661-06-06) (aged 46)
Hangzhou, China
Cause of death Cholera
Nationality Trentine (Italian)
Occupation missionary, cartographer and historian

Martino Martini (simplified Chinese: 卫匡国; traditional Chinese: 衛匡國; pinyin: Wèi Kuāngguó) (20 September 1614 – 6 June 1661) was an Italian Jesuit missionary, cartographer and historian, mainly working on ancient Imperial China.[1]

Early years

File:Novus Atlas sinensis Martino Martinio 1655.jpg
Frontpage of Novus Atlas sinensis, by Martino Martini, Amsterdam, 1655.

Martini was born in Trento, in the Bishopric of Trent. After finishing high school studies in Trent in 1631, he entered the Austrian province of the Society of Jesus, from where he was sent to study classical letters and philosophy at the Roman College, Rome (1634–37). However his interest was more in astronomy and mathematics which he studied under Athanasius Kircher. His request to be sent as a missionary to China had already been granted by Mutius Vitelleschi, the then Superior General of the Jesuits. He did his theological studies in Portugal (1637–39)—already on his way to China—where he was ordained priest (1639, in Lisbon).

In the Chinese Empire

He set out for China in 1640, and arrived in Portuguese Macau in 1642 where he studied Chinese for some time. In 1643 he crossed the border and settled in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, from where he did much traveling in view of gathering scientific information, especially on the geography of the Chinese empire: he visited several provinces, as well as Peking and the Great Wall. He made great use of his talents as missionary, scholar, writer and superior.

Soon after Martini's arrival to China, the Ming capital Beijing fell to Li Zicheng's rebels (April, 1644) and then to the Manchus, and the last legitimate Ming emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor, hanged himself. Down in Zhenjiang, Martini continued working with the short-lived regime of Zhu Yujian, Prince of Tang, who set himself up as the (Southern) Ming Longwu Emperor. Soon enough, the Manchu troops reached Zhejiang. According to Martini's own report (which appeared in some editions of his De bello tartarico), the Jesuit was able to switch his allegiance to China's new masters in an easy enough, but bold, way. When Wenzhou, in southern Zhejiang, where Martini happened to be on a mission for Zhu Yujian, was besieged by the Manchus and was about to fall, the Jesuit decorated the house where he was staying with a large red poster with seven characters saying, "Here lives a doctor of the divine Law who has come from the Great West". Under the poster he set up tables with European books, astronomical instruments, etc., surrounding an altar with an image of Jesus. When the Manchu troops arrived, their commander was sufficiently impressed with the display to approach Martini politely and ask if he'd like to switch his loyalty to the new Qing Dynasty. Martini agreed, and had his head shaved in the Manchu way, and his Chinese dress and hat replaced with Manchu-styles ones. The Manchus then allowed him to return to his Hangzhou church, and provided him and the Hangzhou Christian community with necessary protection.[2]

The Chinese Rites affair

In 1651 Martini left China for Rome as the Delegate of the Chinese Mission Superior. He took advantage of the long, adventurous voyage (going first to the Philippines, from thence on a Dutch privateer to Bergen, Norway,[3] which he reached on 31 August 1653, and then to Amsterdam). Further, and still on his way to Rome, he met printers in Antwerp, Vienna and Munich to submit to them historical and cartographic data he had prepared. The works were printed and made him famous.

When passing through Leyden, Martini was met by Jacobus Golius, a scholar of Arabic and Persian at the university there. Golius did not know Chinese, but had read about "Cathay" in Persian books, and wanted to verify the truth of the earlier reports of Jesuits such as Matteo Ricci and Bento de Góis who believed that Cathay is the same place as China where they lived or visited. Golius was familiar with the discussion of the "Cathayan" calendar in Zij-i Ilkhani, a work by the Persian astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, completed in 1272. When Golius met Martini (who, of course knew no Persian), the two scholars found that the names of the 12 divisions into which, according to Nasir al-Din, the "Cathayans" were dividing the day, as well as those of the 24 sections of the year reported by Nasir al-Din matched those that Martini had learned in China. The story, soon published by Martini in the "Additamentum" to his Atlas of China, seemed to have finally convinced most Europeans scholars that China and Cathay were the same.[4]

On his way to Rome, Martini met his then 10-year-old cousin Eusebio Kino who later became another famed Jesuit missionary explorer and the world-renowned cartographer of New Spain.

In the spring of 1655 Martini reached Rome. There, in Rome, was the most difficult part of his journey. He had brought along (for the Holy Office of the Church) a long and detailed communication from the Jesuit missionaries in China, in defence of their inculturated missionary and religious approach: the so-called Chinese Rites (Veneration of ancestors, and other practices allowed to new Christians). Discussions and debates took place for five months, at the end of which the Propaganda Fide issued a decree in favour of the Jesuits (23 March 1656). A battle was won, but the controversy did not abate.

Return to China

In 1658, after a most difficult journey, he was back in China with the favourable decree. He was again involved in pastoral and missionary activities in the Hangzhou area where he built a three naves church that was considered to be one of the most beautiful of the country (1659–61). The church was hardly built when he died of cholera (1661). David E. Mungello wrote that he died of rhubarb overdosing which aggravated his constipation.[5]


Below is a list of cities visited by Martini, traveling in at least fifteen countries in Europe and seven provinces of the Chinese empire, making stops in India, Java, Sumatra, the Philippines and South Africa. After studying at Trent and Rome, Martini reached Genoa, Alicante, Cadiz, San Luca de Barrameda (port near to Seville in Spain), Seville, Evora and Lisboa (Portugal), Goa (in the western region of India), Surat (port in the northwestern region of India), Macao (on the China’s southern coast, administrated by Portugueses), Guangdong (the capital of Guangdong Province), Nanxiong (in northern Guangdong province, between the mountains), Nanchang (the capital of Jiangxi Province), Jiujiang (in northwest Jiangxi Province), Nanjing (the capital of Jiangsu Province, olim Jiangnan Province), Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang Province) and Shanghai, traversing the Shandong Province he reached Tianjin and Beijing, Nanping in the Fujian Province, Wenzhou (in southern Zhejiang Province), Anhai (a port in southern Fujian), Manila (in the Philippines), Makassar (Sulawesi island in the Dutch Indonesia), Batavia/ Jakarta (Sumatra island, capital of the Dutch Indonesia), Cape Town/Kaapstad (a stop of twenty days in the fort, the Dutch Governor Jan van Riebeeck had built in 1652), Bergen, Hamburg, the Belgian Antwerp and Bruxelles where he met the archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, the Dutch Leiden (with the scholar Jacob van Gool aka Golius) and Amsterdam where he met the famous cartographer Joan Blaeu, almost certainly some cities in France, then Monaco di Baviera, Vienna and the Hunting Pavilion of Ebersdorf[disambiguation needed] (where he met the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg), and finally Rome. For his last journey (from 11 January 1656 to 17 July 1658) Martini sailed from Genoa, to escape the pirates repaired Islands Hyeres on the French Riviera, to Alicante, Lisboa, Goa, the Portuguese colony of Larantuka in Flores Island (Indonesia) resting over a month, Makassar (where he met a Dominican friar, Domingo Navarrete), Macao, and finally Hangzhou, where Martini died. [6]

Post-mortem phenomena

Martini's grave in Hangzhou

According to the attestation of Prosper Intorcetta (in Litt. Annuae, 1861) his body was found undecayed twenty years after; it became a long-standing object of cult not only for Christians, until in 1877, suspecting idolatry, the hierarchy had it buried again.[7]

Contemporary appreciations

Today's scientists are more and more interested in the works of Martini; he is acclaimed as the father of Chinese geographical science. During an international convention organized in the city of Trento (his birthplace) a member of the Chinese academy of Social Sciences, the Professor Ma Yong said : "Martini was the first to study the history and geography of China with rigorous scientific objectivity; the extend of his knowledge of the Chinese culture, the accuracy of his investigations, the depth of his understanding of things Chinese are examples for the modern sinologists". Ferdinand von Richthofen calls Martini "the leading geographer of the Chinese mission, one who was unexcelled and hardly equalled, during the XVIII century…There was no other missionary, either before or after, who made such diligent use of his time in acquiring information about the country". (China, I, 674 sq.)


A European artist's impression of a Manchu warrior devastating China, from the title page of Martini's Regni Sinensis a Tartaris devastati enarratio. Modern historians (e.g. Pamela Kyle Crossley in The Manchu, or D.E. Mungello) note the discrepancy between the picture and the content of the book; e.g., the severed head held by the warrior has a queue, which is a Manchu hairstyle (also imposed by Manchu on the population of conquered China), and is not likely to be had by a Ming loyalist
  • Martini's most important work is Novus Atlas Sinensis, which appeared as part of volume 10 of Joan Blaeu's Atlas Maior (Amsterdam 1655). This work, a folio with 17 maps and 171 pages of text was, in the words of the early 20th-century German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, the most complete geographical description of China that we possess, and through which Martini has become the father of geographical learning on China. The French Jesuits of the time concurred, saying that even du Halde's monumental Description…de la Chine did not fully supersede Martini's work.[8] (A Scan of the maps of the atlas (not very high resolution), can be seen at the National Library of Australia web site; a very high quality zoomable scan of the maps, at
  • Of the great chronological work which Martini had planned, and which was to comprise the whole Chinese history from the earliest age, only the first part appeared: Sinicæ Historiæ Decas Prima (Munich 1658), which reached until the birth of Jesus.
  • His De Bello Tartarico Historia (Antwerp 1654) is also important as Chinese history, for Martini himself had lived through the frightful occurrences which brought about the overthrow of the ancient Ming dynasty. The works have been repeatedly published and translated into different languages. There is also a later version, entitled Regni Sinensis a Tartaris devastati enarratio (1661); compared to the original De Bello Tartarica Historia, it has some additions, such as an index.
  • Interesting as missionary history is his Brevis Relatio de Numero et Qualitate Christianorum apud Sinas, (Brussels, 1654).
  • Besides these, Martini wrote a series of theological and apologetical works in Chinese, including a De Amicitia (Hangzhou, 1661) that could have been the first anthology of Western authors available in China (Martini's selection fished mainly into Roman and Greek writings).
  • Several works, among them a Chinese translation of the works of Francisco Suarez, which has not been found yet.
  • Grammatica Linguae Sinensis: 1652-1653. The first manuscript grammar of Mandarin Chinese and the first grammar of Chinese language ever printed and published in M. Thévenot Relations des divers voyages curieux (1696),[9]

See also


  1. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Martino Martini". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  2. Mungello, David E. (1989). Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-8248-1219-0. . Also, p. 99 in De Bello Tartarico Historia.
  3. Mungello, p. 108
  4. Lach, Donald F.; Van Kley, Edwin J. (1994), Asia in the Making of Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-46734-4 . Volume III, "A Century of Advance", Book Four, "East Asia", p. 1577.
  5. David E. Mungello (January 1994). The Forgotten Christians of Hangzhou. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-0-8248-1540-0. 
  6. Opera Omnia, 1998, pp. 509–533, with maps p. 59, p. 96, p. 156, p. 447, p. 470-471 and pp. 534–535; Masini, 2008, pp. 244–246.
  8. "Martin Martini" in Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les jésuites de l'ancienne mission de Chine (1552-1773), par le P. Louis Pfister,…Tome I, XVIe et XVIIe siècles -Impr. de la Mission catholique (Shanghaï)-1932, pp. 256-262.
  9. Paternicò, Luisa M. (2013). When the Europeans Began to Study Chinese, Leuven Chinese Studies XXIV, Leuven: Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, KU Leuven. ISBN 9789081436588


  • MARTINI, Martino, Opera Omnia, vol. I, Lettere e documenti, a cura di Giuliano Bertuccioli,Trento, Università degli Studi di Trento, 1998
  • MARTINI, Martino, Opera Omnia, vol. II, Opere minori, a cura di Giuliano Bertuccioli, Trento, Università degli Studi di Trento, 1998
  • MARTINI, Martino, Opera Omnia, vol. III, Novus Atlas Sinensis [1655], con note di Giuliano Bertuccioli, Trento, Unitn, 2002, con un volume di complemento intitolato Tavole (le diciassette carte geografiche dell’Atlas riprodotte in folio).
  • MARTINI, Martino, Opera Omnia, vol. IV, Sinicae Historiae Decas Prima, a cura di Federico Masini e Luisa M. Paternicò, Trento, 2010.
  • MARTINI, Martino, Opera Omnia, vol. V, De Bello Tartarico Historia e altri scritti, a cura di Federico Masini, Luisa M. Paternicò e Davor Antonucci, Trento, 2014.
  • VACCA, Giovanni, Martini, Martino, voce in Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani, Roma, Ipzs, vol. XXII, 1934, p. 448.
  • BOLOGNANI, B., L'Europa scopre il volto della Cina; Prima biografia di Padre Martino Martini, Trento, 1978.
  • AA.VV., Martino Martini geografo, cartografo, storico, teologo (Trento 1614-Hangzhou 1661, atti del Convegno Internazionale, Trento 1983.
  • BALDACCI, Osvaldo, Validità cartografica e fortuna dell'Atlas Sinensis di Martino Martini, Trento, Provincia Autonoma di Trento, 1983.
  • DEMARCHI, F. and SCARTEZZINI, R. (eds), M.Martini a Humanist and Scientist in XVIIth century China, Trento, 1996.
  • QUAINI, Massimo e CASTELNOVI, Michele, Visioni del Celeste Impero. L’immagine della Cina nella cartografia occidentale, Genova, Il Portolano, 2007 (English: Massimo Quaini e Michele Castelnovi, Visions of the celestial empire. China's image in western cartography, Genova, Il Portolano, 2007).
  • MASINI, Federico, Martino Martini, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 71, Roma, IPZS, 2008, pp. 244–246.
  • AA.VV., Riflessi d'Oriente. L'immagine della Cina nella cartografia europea, Mostra 18/12/08-18/02/09, a cura di Aldo Caterino, Genova, Il Portolano (Centro Studi Martino Martini di Trento), 2008.
  • LONGO, Giuseppe O., Il Mandarino di Dio. Un gesuita nel Celeste Impero. Dramma in tre scene, Trento, Centro Studi M. Martini, 2008.
  • LONGO, Giuseppe O., Il gesuita che disegnò la Cina. La vita e le opere di Martino Martini, Milano, Springer, 2010.
  • MASINI, Federico, "Martino Martini: China in Europe", in PATERNICÒ Luisa M. (editor), The Generation of Giants. Jesuit Missionaries and Scientists in China on the Footsteps of Matteo Ricci, "Sulla via del Catai", n. 11, Trento: Centro Studi Martini, 2011, pp. 39–44 (Italian version: MASINI, Federico, Martino Martini: la Cina in Europa, in Paternicò, Luisa M. (a cura di), La Generazione dei Giganti, Gesuiti scienziati e missionari in Cina sulle orme di Matteo Ricci, numero monografico di "Sulla via del Catai", anno V, numero 6, Genova, Il Portolano, 2011, pp. 70–82.
  • CASTELNOVI, Michele, Il primo atlante dell’Impero di Mezzo. Il contributo di Martino Martini alla conoscenza geografica della Cina, Trento, Centro Studi Martino Martini per le relazioni culturali Europa-Cina, 2012. ISBN – 978-88-8443-403-6.
  • PATERNICO', Luisa M. (2013). When the Europeans Began to Study Chinese, Leuven Chinese Studies XXIV, Leuven: Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, KU Leuven, 2013, ISBN 9789081436588
  • CASTELNOVI, Michele, Perché stampare un Atlante, in Scartezzini Riccardo (a cura di), Martino Martini Novus Atlas Sinensis: le mappe dell’atlante commentate, Trento, Università degli Studi di Trento, 2014, pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-88-77023-65-0.