, Volume 12, Issue 1-2, pp 5-19
Date: 29 Jan 2014

Culture, knowledge and diplomacy in contemporary EU–China relations—reflections on the legacies of Matteo Ricci

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The worlds that Matteo Ricci lived in—early modern Europe, Ming China and the pre-Westphalian international order—are vastly different from the world of the 21st century, when accelerated globalization binds China and Europe together as never before and when global international society is moving decisively beyond Westphalia. How much are the legacies of Matteo Ricci still relevant, 400 years on, to enriching the relationship between China and Europe in the 21st century? This paper starts with a brief overview of the civilizational encounters between China and Europe and the unfolding of their turbulent and often troubled relationship over the last four centuries of wars, collapse of empires, internal convulsions, nation-state building, scientific and industrial revolutions and great economic transformations. Against this historical narrative is the discussion of Matteo Ricci as a cultural agent, a knowledge broker and a practitioner of public diplomacy in fostering Sino–European relations in its nascent years. The paper argues that even in an increasingly globalized world, Matteo Ricci’s conception of culture, his wisdom about the power of knowledge and his practice of people-to-people diplomacy remain valuable in informing both China and the EU, two aspiring global players, in their search for a viable China–EU strategic partnership.