The past comes to us in many voices and various manners. Time makes societies forget some of those voices and silence others. Sometimes, for diverse reasons and [motives], cultures, communities, and organizations adopt historical narratives that amplify particular voices. Despite these "strategic" and "calculated" choices, history, like all the other social sciences, does maintain the capacity to revise earlier iterations of itself. That is how we can now rediscover the forgotten voices, and rehabilitate some of the silenced ones.

The historical narrative of the appearance and spread of Christianity in South East Asia, but also in China, Japan, and Korea, comes to us in a polyphonic manner. However, the interpretation of those various voices isn’t always harmonious. The particular case of Macau, and the affirmation of Catholicism in South East Asia more generally, offers a challenging example of how the diversity of voices from the past can also bleed into the present. Untangling the debate among and between the diverse perspectives, both past and present, is a significant challenge for any researcher to navigate and understand as anything but a cacophony! It is a task that requires humility from researchers: all voices are relevant.

Even today we can still find forgotten and silenced voices. However, we know that voices often echo far longer than expected. It is from these lesser-known Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in China, that we can uncover a new perspective and learn how, even today, the past is never a closed matter. This issue of Orientis Aura, focusing on “The Other Half. Portuguese Voices from the China Mission” manifests the importance of the less known voices to understand our present.

João Eleutério, Chief-Editor

Published: 2020-09-17


  • Isabel Murta Pina, Guest Editor
  • Cristina Costa Gomes


    This article focuses on the analysis of the Portuguese Jesuit António de Gouveia (c.1592-1677) and his monumental work Monarchia da China dividida por seis edades (Monarchy of China, Divided in Six Ages). Completed in January 1654, in Fuzhou 福州, this is undoubtedly the least known of Gouveia's works, although it is often mentioned. Despite being one of the earliest histories of China written by a European in a Western language, and based on Chinese sources, the Monarchia da China remains unpublished and calls for a systematic study. To the best of our knowledge, there are two manuscripts of this work. The most well-known is a copy dating from the eighteenth century kept at the National Library of Spain, in Madrid. However, we came across a second manuscript, in the Archivo de España de la Compañia de Jesús (henceforth AESI-A), in Alcalá de Henares, which we conclude to be the original autograph one. Therefore, it is from this latter manuscript, with its ca. 500 folios, that we are preparing the first critical edition of the work. This edition will include a biographical study of António de Gouveia, as well as other still unpublished significant textual production, namely his active and passive epistolography.

  • Noël Golvers


    This contribution focuses on three 18th-century Portuguese missionaries of the China mission. It gauges especially the relationship between their education in Portuguese Jesuit colleges and their activities in China, particularly with regard to the Qintianjian (Beijing Bureau of Astronomy, including the Observatory). It tries notably to ascertain whether the attempts to improve the level of mathematical instruction in the Jesuit colleges since the 1690s had indeed an effect on the Portuguese missionaries sent to the Beijing Court. These three analyses – partly hampered by our incomplete information – suggest that there was not a linear correlation between education and commitments inside China: A. Pereira never succeeded in replacing Kögler, and the best mathematical talent (D. Pinheiro) was committed only to administrative and logistical functions, not to the Observatory; Da Rocha got his engagements from the Chinese-Manchu authorities. This apparent lack of interest from the Portuguese Jesuit authorities in assigning competent Portuguese Jesuits for an efficient management of the Qintianjian explains also the disapproval of the German astronomers in the Bureau (A. von Hallerstein; Fl. Bahr) towards their Portuguese colleagues.

  • Davor Antonucci


    In the mid-late 18th century the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) launched a number of great military campaigns in order to expand the Qing control over new territories on the north and south western part of his empire, as well as over the Tibet-Himalayan region: they have been recorded as the “Ten Great Campaigns” (Shi quan wugong 十全武功). The results of these winning campaigns were the acquisition of new territories and the submission of people, primarily the Zunghar tribes and the Khambas of Sichuan, to the Qing empire. Such an endeavor had its cost in number of lives and military expenditure. During this time some Jesuit missionaries living at court in Peking were involved on a few occasions in the emperor’s agenda. In particular, the Portuguese fathers Félix da Rocha and José de Espinha, following in the footsteps of their fellow brethren almost a century earlier, at the request of the emperor not only drew maps of his new domains, but also cast cannons for one of his campaigns. In doing so, Qianlong followed the example of his predecessor Kangxi in using the scientific and technical skills of the court Jesuits in order to secure his victory and control over new conquered territories. This paper focuses mainly on Félix da Rocha’s undertakings in the service of Qianlong, both as a map-maker and as an expert in ballistics and cannon casting. At the same time, it aims to show how in the 18th century the Qianlong emperor followed the example of his grandfather in his relationship with the Jesuit missionaries at court and their scientific knowledge.

  • Elisa Frei


    The Society of Jesus was a missionary order since its foundation in 1540. Many of its members chose to join it precisely because as Jesuits, they had the opportunity to go to the farthest and most unknown countries in the world. Jesuits who wished to become missionaries wrote the so-called litterae indipetae, petitions for the Indies. Thousands of these are still preserved in the Roman Archive, unedited, providing access to the desires, dreams, and fantasies – as well as the strategies, problems, and discomforts – of young European Jesuits of the Early modern age. This article considers the different relationships some European Jesuits established with their confreres stationed in China as missionaries when they returned to Europe, through direct contact, correspondence and writings about the missions emerging from the litterae indipetae. It examines the visits of two men as case studies: the return to Europe in the 1640s of the Portuguese procurator Álvaro Semedo (1585-1658) and, by way of a comparison, the visits in Italy of the Italian procurator Filippo Grimaldi (1686-1694) half a century later. On one hand, the procurators had the chance to select people with whom they had directly talked, those who seemed best suited to the missionary life in countries they well knew. On the other, their passage could trigger among the Jesuit candidates desires and vocations to the missions. Each overseas appointment was, in fact, influenced by political factors, the candidates’ family circumstances, as well as the local superiors’ or the General’s opinions. Therefore, procurators were not always successful: because they could not bring with them all the people they wanted, or because their tours did not always obtain the same popularity among the European Jesuits.

  • Maria João Coutinho


    Based on the analysis of two little-studied Portuguese Jesuits, who in the 18th century served as general procurators for the East Asia missions, this text draws on the theme of the circulation of material culture, such as tangible objects, between the two extremes of Eurasia.  Through Francisco de Cordes (1689-1768) and José Rosado (1714-1797), we endeavor to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the General Procurator of the missions in ordering, acquiring and distributing artistic objects for consumption, both inside and outside of the Society of Jesus. The main objectives of this article are to outline their biographies and to analyze the sumptuary goods they transacted, namely through their correspondence and other related sources.