On his majesty's service, and at his mercy

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-25 10:38

On his majesty's service, and at his mercy

Qing Emperor Shunzhi (1638-1661). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Based on Von Bell's report, Shunzhi turned down a proposal for him to meet the religious leader in person on the outskirts of Beijing and then escort him to his royal palace, a proposal Dorgon, the young man's powerful uncle and prince regent, had insisted on.

"The refusal (to meet the Dalai Lama on the outskirts of the capital) is very likely to have been seen as a snub, at least a signal that the emperor did not hold Tibetan Buddhism in particularly high esteem," Zhang says. "And this was exactly what von Bell, a man dedicated to the promotion of Christianity, would have loved to see."

In fact, from the very beginning, the Jesuit missionaries tried to reach out to men at the top. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), believed to be the first Jesuit missionary to enter Beijing, sought repeatedly but in vain an audience with the then Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

There were many reasons for these failures, including a war the Ming emperor had with Toyotomi Hideyoshi of Japan between 1592 and 1598. However, Ricci did succeed on other fronts, befriending many members of the social elite who later paved the way for him and those who came after him.

Among them was von Bell, who came to Beijing about 1623, 13 years after Ricci died. Soon establishing himself among a group of open-minded intellectuals, some of whom may have known Ricci, Tang was recommended to Emperor Chongzhen in 1630. It was under the last Ming emperor's auspices that he, with Chinese astronomers, completed the landmark Chongzhen Calendar.