Unsung Trailblazers of China-West Cultural Encounter

Matthew Y Chen

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the publication of the first grammar of Chinese in a European vernacular, Arte de la lengua mandarina [Grammar of the Mandarin language] (Canton, 1703). To commemorate this landmark event in the history of western sinology, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, in conjunction with Peking University, Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is sponsoring an International Conference on Western Chinese Studies (September 12–14, 2003, Beijing). It is an opportune time to pay tribute to the relatively obscure author of this groundbreaking work, Francisco Varo, and other unsung trailblazers of China-West cultural encounter.

From the earliest days of Sino- European contacts in the 16th century, the Jesuits took the central stage and played a leading role. But, away from the limelight, there were other significant players, notably Augustinians , Dominicans , Franciscans and the Missions Étrangères de Paris. In this article I will limit myself mainly to Francisco Varo and his fellow Dominicans. First, a few words about the Dominican Order. Officially known as Order of Preachers, it was founded in 1216 by St. Dominic of Guzman (1170–1221). Within decades of its foundation, the order had established itself at major universities of Europe, including Paris, Bologna, and Oxford. Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274), a favorite son of this religious organization, epitomized medieval Christian thinking, and has exercised a profound and lasting influence on catholic philosophy and theology. In 1582 the Dominicans launched a new province for the express purpose of preaching the Christian faith to the ‘most august kingdom of China’.1 Soon after they set foot on the Philippines, the Dominicans founded the University of Sto. Tomás in 1619, almost three hundred years before 上海震旦大學 (Aurora), the first catholic university in China, came into existence in 1903.

Francisco Varo (1627–1687) was born in Seville, Spain. At the tender age of 15, he joined the Dominican Order, and devoted his entire adult life to missionary work in China (1649– 87). Varo’s long forgotten Arte de la lengua mandarina [Grammar of the Mandarin Language]2 has now been translated into English and made widely available by Coblin and Levi (2000). To put Varo in historical context, here are, in chronological order, some of the most notable early grammars of Chinese:3

Not surprisingly, the earliest grammars (Varo , Prémare , Marshman, Morrison) are compiled by missionaries, designed primarily for pedagogical purposes. In particular, Marshman and Morrison are best described as textbooks rather than real grammars. In Peyraube’s words, Abel-Rémusat’s Éléments represents “the first attempt at a logical synthesis and well-reasoned construction of the Chinese language” (Peyraube 2001:345), and heralded the dawning of (secular) academic sinology.

This is not the place for a critical assessment of Varo’s Arte, for which I refer the reader to Breitenbach’s doctoral dissertation (1996). I wish only to highlight some of the innovative elements in this pioneering work. Phonologically speaking, Chinese as a tonal language presented a novel challenge to European descriptivists. Matteo Ricci 利馬竇 (1552–1610) and his fellow Jesuits compiled dictionaries, and developed a notational system for transcribing Chinese sounds (including tone marks). Nicolas Trigault’s 金尼閣 (1577–1628) 《西儒耳目資》 (1626), in particular, fleshed out the phonological system of late Ming ‘guanhua官話 using European alphabets. But they provided only scant information on the phonetics of tone, and were completely silent on how tones change in connected speech (a phenomenon known as ‘tone sandhi’ or 連讀變調)4. Varo was the first among European sinologists to give a detailed description of the phonetics of tone, formulate precise rules of tone sandhi, and make astute observations on the relationship between tone, syllable structure and compounding (複音辭) as a strategy to avoid lexical ambiguity. Furthermore, he offered plausible phonetic explanations for the subtle tonal behavior he observed. If some of his phonetic speculations proved to be factually incorrect, they nevertheless evince a keen and inquisitive mind that exerted itself mightily to explain novel linguistic phenomena by means of physiological mechanism of speech articulation as a 17th century man understood it.5

Naturally, the significance of Varo’s grammar lies chiefly in its place in the history of linguistic thought, esp. from a cross-cultural perspective. Varo’s Arte instantiates the first systematic rapprochement between Western linguistic categories and an ‘alien’ language like Chinese, which lacks the characteristic morphological and syntactic features of European languages. It is difficult for us to imagine the daunting task of grappling with an alien tongue without the familiar ‘handles’ of Latin or Spanish. Judging by today’s standards, Varo did little more than forcing Chinese syntax into the straitjacket of Latinbased grammatical categories such as parts of speech, subject-predicateobject, case, tense, aspect, and so forth. While this obvious criticism is well justified, one should bear in mind the historical context in which Varo labored. In contrast to lexicography, etymology, phonology and stylistics, which have flourished since Classical times in China, ‘reflections about grammar have been practically nonexistent’ in Chinese tradition (Peyraube 2001:341). In the absence of indigenous models, Varo made use of the prevailing taxonomy and conceptual framework at the time, namely that of Elio Antonio de Nebrija (1441–1522), whose intellectual debt he acknowledged by name.6 In truth, this practice is not very different from 馬建忠 two hundred years later, or latter day grammarians, influenced variously by Otto Jespersen, Henry Sweet, or Noam Chomsky and other contemporary theorists. What the modern linguist Zhu Dexi 朱德熙 (1982) said of馬建忠 fits Varo as well, only a fortiori:


Mr. Ma’s Wentong is often criticized for aping Latin grammar. In fact, as the first book to systematically investigate Chinese syntax, its scope and level of sophistication far exceed our expectations. We must not be too harsh on Mr. Ma. — Tr. MC

Actually, Varo’s Arte is only the first Chinese grammar to appear in print. Varo's confrères in the Dominican order have left for posterity at least 30 grammars, and 57 dictionaries or 'vocabularios'. Some of the pre-1900 Dominican grammars are listed below. Since the time of completion / publication of these grammars are unknown, I have included the authors' dates of birth and death for reference.

Most of these grammars have languished unedited for years in the archives, some have been lost for ever, and all of them remain unknown except to a handful of specialists. Victorio Ricci’s Arte de la lengua chinchea and Márquez’s Gramática española-china del dialecto de Amoy must be among the oldest grammars of any local dialect. More importantly, it is worth noting that several of these grammars predate that of Varo, in some cases by nearly a century. Citing an unpublished 1602 source,10 González (1966, p. 387) asserts that Cobo’s Lingua sinica is the first grammar of Chinese ever written by a foreigner.11 González also quotes (p.15) Varo as saying that Morales wrote a grammar of Chinese shortly after he landed on Chinese soil (in 1633). As for Diez, he apparently began his Gramática around 1640– 41 in the Philippines (p.35). The existence of some early grammar or grammars predating Varo is not in doubt. In his Arte Varo alluded on several occasions to an earlier grammar or grammars. For instance, speaking on the difficulties beginners encountered in learning Chinese, he stated:

Knowing this inconvenience, the priests of St. Dominic compiled a grammar as soon as they could; and the present grammar adheres to that former one in its basic rules. (Varo 1703, p.83 [2000, p.181]).

In contrast, the first Jesuit grammar (by Prémare, completed in 1726) did not appear until 1831. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the extraordinary breadth of Jesuit scholarship in all fields of sinology. Breitenbach (2000) attributes this to the oral tradition of language pedagogy that prevailed among the Jesuits.

The long succession of descriptive grammars is in keeping with the Dominican tradition of developing linguistic tools to serve their missionary goals. Thus when they set foot in the New World, they immediately went about writing grammars for the American Indian languages. One eminent linguist from the ranks of this religious order, Domingo de Santo Tomás (1499– 1570), wrote the first grammar of the newly discovered Americas, Gramática o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú, and compiled the first dictionary Lexicón o Vocabulario de la lengua general del Perú (both published in 1560, Valladolid), thereby earning himself recognition as the father of American philology. Likewise, when the Dominicans landed in the Philippines, they produced, in short order, the first grammar of Tagalog, Arte y reglas de la lengua Tagala in 1610, by Francisco Blancas de San José.12

It goes without saying that the driving force behind the missionaryscholars was first and foremost their desire to win over the hearts and minds of the Chinese for the Christian religion. To this end, they produced catechisms, learned tracts and other literature of a religious nature in the Chinese language. Of this genre of religious literature, Matteo Ricci’s 《天主實義》 [The True Meaning of God] occupies a deservedly prominent place of honour. What is less well known is the fact that soon after their arrival in the Philippines (in 1587), the Dominican friars were entrusted with the care of the local Chinese immigrants in Manila, learned the Chinese language, and published a number of religious tracts in this language. The earliest of these are listed below, together with two influential books by the Jesuits Michele Ruggieri 羅明堅 (1543–1607) and Matteo Ricci for comparison.

The significance of these early tracts is fourfold. First of all, as soon as the Dominicans found a permanent residence in the Philippines, they established a printing press in Manila, with the help of the local Chinese craftsmen. All three of their earliest works (Cobo 1593, Benavides 1593?, Nieva 1606) were produced by means of wood block printing. They represent the earliest incunabula philippiniana.15 Second, unlike the other early catechisms, Benavides’ Doctrina is composed in the Hokkien (southern Min, 閩南) dialect. As such, it constitutes a rare source of information on the pronunciation, vocaulary and syntax of Hokkien spoken in Late Ming.16 More importantly, these tracts represent the earliest attempts of Christian missionaries to present to the Chinese readers not only the Christian faith but also a western worldview and belief/value system. Finally, it is remarkable that, despite its title, only three out of nine chapters of Cobo’s 《辯正教真傳實錄》pertain to Christian theology proper, the remaining six chapters are concerned with ‘secular’ subjects such as astronomy and natural history. Chapter 4 is dovoted to geography. The universe Cobo depicted remains the Ptolemaic geocentric system — half a century after De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium of Copernicus (1543). More interesting, he used various types of observations and empirical evidence to demonstrate that the planet we inhabit is round — contrary to the Chinese belief of a spherical heaven and square earth (天圓地方). One of these demonstrations derives from the round shadow cast by the earth on the moon in an eclipse. Chapters 5–9 are devoted to a description of the flora and fauna. Thus, it was Juan Cobo that has the distinction of being the first to introduce European philosophy and science to China, at least in print.17 Why Cobo devoted such a disproportionate amount of space in his Apología or 《辯正教真傳實錄》to science and natural history is a question I will return to below.

In the broader cultural sphere, the early Dominicans broke new grounds as well. Here I will single out a few notable examples.

Gaspar da Cruz’s Tractado (in Portuguese) is the first European book written on China since the earliest sustained East-West contact that began in the 16th century. Apparently it soon fell into oblivion18 — except as a source of later works, including Bernardino de Escalante’s Discursos de la navegación que los Portugueses hazen a los Reinos y Provincias del Oriente, y de la noticia q se tiene de las grandezas del Reino de la China (Sevilla, 1577), and Ioan González de Mendoça’s Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran Reyno de la China (Rome, 1585). Escalante never set foot on China, and pieced together his Discursos from published ‘relaciones’ or reports and what he could glean from Portuguese sailors and Chinese migrants that settled in Portugal (cf. Sanz, p.44).19 Mendoça’s Historia proved to be a bestseller of his time. It was promptly translated into Italian (1586), French (1588), and English (1588).20

The title-page of the first European book on China. The Tractado of Gaspar da Cruz, Evora, 1569.

Cobo’s Beng sim po cam 《明心寶鑑》 (1592) and Mayor’s Símbolo de la Fe 《格物窮理便覽》 (1607) are mirror images: the former being the first translation of a Chinese book into an European vernacular, the latter in reverse. 《明心寶鑑》, compiled by the Ming scholar 范立本 in 1393 (date of preface), is an anthology of aphorisms and proverbs (in a tradition similar to ‘ catena ’ or ‘florilegium’ in the West). This book was presented by Miguel Benavides21 to the future King Philip III of Spain in 1595. The dedicatory note is worth quoting in part:22

The frontispiece of Beng Sim Po Cam 《明心寶鑑》 the first Chinese book translated into an European vernacular, by Juan Cobo, 1592.

‘La religión de Santo Domingo ofrece a V.A., como en parias, las primicias de la riqueza de aquel grande reino de la China. Juzgan los chinos por sus grandes y verdaderas riquezas, no el oro, ni la plata, ni las sedas, sino los libros, y la sabiduría, y las virtudes y el gobierno justo de su república: esto estiman, esto engrandecen, de esto se glorian y de esto tratan en sus conversaciones la gente bien compuesta (que es mucha). Ofrece, pues, a V.A. la religión de Santo Domingo este libro chino, traducido en lengua castellana... El primer libro que en el mundo se ha traducido de lengua y letras chinas en otra lengua y letras es este...

The order of St. Dominic presents in homageto your Royal Highness, the first fruits of the wealth of that great kingdom of China. The Chinese take to be their great and true wealth not gold, nor silver, nor silk, but books, wisdom, virtues and just government of their country: this is what the well-bred people (of whom there are many) esteem, aggrandize, take pride in, and talk about. The Order of St. Dominic, therefore, presents to your Royal Highness this Chinese book, translated into the Castillian language... The first book ever translated from the Chinese language and characters into a foreign language and alphabets any where in the world is none other than this one...’ —Tr. MC

The original Introducción del Símbolo de la Fe (1583, Salamanca) was written by the Dominican Fray Luis de Granada (1504–1588), the preeminent essayist of the Spanish Golden Century. Its Chinese translation appeared in 1607, thus predating by one year Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi’s 徐光啟 translation of Euclid’s Elements 《幾何原本》 (1608). It is of some interest to note that Símbolo de la Fe is encyclopedic in nature, embracing subject matters ranging from astronomy to zoology, from an investigation into the human mind (‘del anima intelectiva’) to the digestive system. The all-embracing list of contents may seem at odds with the title and apologetic nature of ‘Introduction to the Symbol of Faith’. In fact, Símbolo de la Fe expands on a leitmotif in natural theology, i.e. that the universe of creation is nothing but a reflection of God, an open book in which man can catch a glimpse of the creator. This basic tenet finds an eloquent expression in chapter 2 of the Símbolo ([1989] p.145f):

‘¿Qué es, Señor, todo este mundo visible sino un espejo que pusistes delante de nuestros ojos para que en él contemplásemos vuestra hermosura? ... ¿qué es todo este mundo visible sino un grande y maravilloso libro que vos, Señor, escribistes y ofrecistes a los ojos de todas las naciones del mundo, así de griegos como de bárbaros, así de sabios como de ignorantes, para que en él estudiasen todos, y conociesen quién vos érades? ¿Qué serán luego todas las criaturas deste mundo, tan hermosas y tan acabadas sino unas como letras quebradas y iluminadas, que declaran bien el primor y la sabiduría de su autor?’

 What is, Lord, the whole visible world if not a mirror that you set before our eyes so that we can contemplate in it your beauty?... What is this entire visible world if not a big and wondrous book that you, Lord, have written and offered to the eyes of all nations of the world, Greek or heathen, learned or ignorant, so that in it all may inquire and understand who you are? What then are all the creatures of this world, so beautiful and perfect if not as though they were richly illuminated letters23 that proclaim the elegance and wisdom of its author? —Tr. MC

There is no question that the Símbolo de la Fe is the subtext of extended paragraphs and chapters of Juan Cobo’s Apología or 《辯正教真傳實錄》 (1593), which explains the prominent place it accorded to such ‘mundane’ matters as cosmography and natural history. This God-through-nature approach is very much in keeping with the Dominican tradition initiated by such leading medieval thinkers as St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. It is this tradition that informed the earliest Dominican missionaries in China like Juan Cobo, Tomás Mayor and Domingo Coronado, author of 天階.24 Whether Cobo exerted any influence on the Jesuit missionary approach is a matter of conjecture. In commenting on Cobo’s 《辯正教真傳實錄》, the historian of science, Liu Dun 劉鈍 writes: ‘...Cobo’s was the first book to appear in China, in Chinese, with any scientific content, and therefore it is worth further studying the possible influence of Cobo’s work on Matteo Ricci’s proselytization methods in China.’ (Liu 1998, p.4). Perhaps a more promising line of inquiry may be to ascertain whether the kind of natural theology, of which Luis de Granada is a major exponent, was very much part of the Zeitgeist that informed Matteo Ricci’s formative years.

Illustration from Juan Cobo’s《辯正教真傳實錄》(1593), the first book to introduce Western science to China. It shows the round shadow cast by the earth on the moon in an eclipse — as a proof of a spherical earth.

Of all the early Dominican authors on China, Navarrete exerted most impact on his contemporaries.25 His Tratados has been translated into English, German, French, and Italian, and attracted the attention of Bossuet, Leibniz, Quesnay, Voltaire, Locke (cf. Cummins 1962, 1993). Navarrete and his confrères played a pivotal role in the famous Chinese Rites controversy or 禮儀之爭, a cause célèbre that, according to Cummins (1993, p.7), lasted 350 years, involved 9 popes , 2 emperors, 3 kings, the Roman & Spanish Inquisitions, the Propaganda Fide, Sorbonne, and some of the best minds of Europe. Cummins (1993, p.226) cites the Jesuit Henri Bernard-Maitre as saying that ‘it was almost exclusively due to Navarrete that Europe came to learn of the Rites Controversy in East Asia.’

There is considerable renewed interest in this matter, not as an arcane theological debate mainly of historical import, rather as a prism through which we can see refracted the many hues of ideologies and attitudes when religions come into contact and conflict, ranging from the exclusivist ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ [no salvation outside the church] through inclusivism (Christianity teaches the full truth, and is the fulfillment of what other religions have only dimly glimpsed), to pluralism (all religions are equally valid paths to salvations), and relativism (no unique or absolute truth). Clearly, these religious isms have broader cultural resonances. The Jesuit position on this matter is well articulated, richly documented and amply represented in the literature — to the point of virtually drowning out all dissenting voices. In order to reconstruct the intellectual debate — minus the fratricidal feuds, political rivalries and curial intrigues — we need to revisit the underlying philosophical and theological arguments. In this regard, the early Dominicans have left valuable documents. Unfortunately, few of these tracts are widely known, and only two of them, namely Navarrete’s Controversias (1679) and Alexandre’s Apologie (1700) are even published at all. In my recent visit to the Provincial Archives of Avila, Spain, I was able to examine a fair sample of 16–17th century documents. Among the unpublished manuscripts, I single out three, all written by Francisco Varo.26 Varo’s manuscripts are fairly extensive. For instance, the 1681 Tratado en que se ponen los fundamentos runs to 327 folios (recto and verso, or 654 pages). A close study of these sources can no doubt shed new light on the intellectual issues surrounding the first serious clash between Chinese and European world views.

By way of conclusion, it is fair to say that while the Dominican missionaries have had an auspicious beginning as cultural emissaries in China, their efforts have declined some what in the subsequent periods. Over the last four and half centuries or so, the totality of the Dominican contribution to Western sinology pales in comparison to that of the Jesuits. In terms of scope and instant popularity, there is nothing in the Dominican scholarship that remotely approaches, for instance, Jean- Baptiste Du Halde’s Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise (1735, 4 vols), or Lettres édifiantes et curieuses des Missions étrangères par quelques missionnaires de la Compagnie de Jésus (1702–1776, 34 vols.), or its sequel Mémoires concernant l’Histoire, les Sciences, les Arts, les Moeurs, les Usages, etc., des Chinois (1776–1791, 15 vols.). In terms of originality and lasting impact, Matteo Ricci’s 《天主實義》 stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ricci’s predecessors like Michele Ruggieri and Juan Cobo presented the Christian beliefs and values from an essentially Euro-centric perspective. In contrast, Ricci took the unprecedented step of attempting to meld Christianity with Chinese culture, in the process radically re-inventing Confucianism.27 Just as St. Thomas Aquinas baptized Aristotle, Ricci sought to christen Confucius and, simultaneously, sinicize Christianity. It was an act of imaginative daring — or, some may say, hermeneutic adventurism. Whichever it may be, Ricci has profoundly changed the way we think and talk about cross-cultural encounters.

Having said that, we should not let the dazzling achievements of some to blind us to the contributions of the others. As we look back at the dawn of modern East-West cultural contact, let us remember the early Dominican friars who blazed the trail in many spheres of Western sinology.


I am grateful to Frs. Bonifacio Solís and Donato González for facilitating my access to the Dominican Archivo de la Provincia, Avila, Spain. Dr. Alicia Relinque, visiting Professor at the City University of Hong Kong (2003), has been very helpful with library research at the Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid.


Benavides, Miguel (et al.). 1583? [1951]. Doctrina christiana en letra y lengua china. Manila. Facsimile version, with Spanish translation by Antonio Domínguez, and a historicobibliographical essay by Jesus Gayo Aragon. Manila. 1951.

Boxer, C.R. 1953. South China in the Sixteenth Century. London: the Hakluyt Society.

Breitenbach, Sandra. 2000. Introduction to Francisco Varo 1703 [2000], ed. by W. South Coblin & Joseph Levi.

Breitenbach, Sandra. 1996. Die chinesische Grammatik des Dominikaners Francisco Varo (1627–1687): Arte de la Lengua Mandarina (Kanton 1703). Ph.D. dissertation, University of Göttingen.

Chen, Matthew Y. 2000. Tone Sandhi: Patterns across Chinese Dialects. Cambridge University Press.

Chen, Matthew Y. 2003. “Francisco Varo (1627–1687), a pioneer in the history of Chinese linguistics.” Paper presented at the International Conference on Western Chinese Study, Beijing Foreign Studies University, September 12–14. To appear in Journal of Chinese Linguistics.

Chen Qinghao 陳慶浩. 1990. “第一部翻譯成西方文字的中國書 --- 《明心寶鑑》.” 《中外文學》. 21.4: 73–87.

Cobo, Juan. 1593 [1986]. 《辯正教真傳實錄》 [Apología de la Verdadera Religion / Testimony of the True Religión], Canton 1583. Facsimile edition, prepared by Fidel Villaroel. University of S. Tomás Press, Manila, 1986. With English and Spanish translations, and introductions by Alberto Santamaría, Antonio Domínguez, and Fidel Villaroel.

Cobo, Juan. 1593 [1959]. Beng sim po cam 《明心寶鑑》 Espejo Rico del Claro Corazón. Manila. Facsimile edition, by Carlos Sanz, Madrid: Librería General. 1959.

Cummins, J.S. 1962. The Travels and Controversies of Friar Domingo Navarrete 1618-1686. Cambridge: the Hakluyt Society. 2 vols.

Cummins, J.S. 1993. A Question of Rites. Friar Domingo Navarrete and the Jesuits in China. Cambridge: Scolar Press.

Da Cruz, Gaspar. 1569. Tractado em que se cõtam muito por estêso as cousas da China. Evora. English translation in Boxer 1953.

Gayo Aragón, Jesús. 1951. Ensayo histórico-bibliográfico. In Benavides 1593 [1951]. University of Sto. Tomas, Manila, p.1-104.

González, José-María. 1964. Historia de las Misiones Dominicanas en China. Vol.1: 1632–1700. Madrid: Juan Bravo.

González, José-María. 1966. Historia de las Misiones Dominicanas en China. Vol.5: Bibliografías. Madrid: Juan Bravo.

Jensen, Lionel M. 1997. Manufacturing Confucianism. Duke University Press.

Jiménez, J.A.C. 1998. “Spanish friars in the Far East: Fray Juan Cobo and his book Shi Lu.” Historia Scientiarum vol. 7–3, pp. 181– 198.

Liu Dun. 1998. “Western knowledge of geography reflected in Juan Cobo’s Shilu 《實錄》 (1593).” Paper presented at the Conference on the History of Mathematics: Portugal and the East II, Macao, October 11-12, 1998.

Luis de Granada. 1583 [1989]. Introducción del Símbolo de la Fe. Salamanca. Edited by José María Balcells. Madrid: Catedra. 1989.

Missions étrangères de Paris. 1997. Missions étrangères & langues orientales : contribution de la Société des Missions Étrangères à la connaissance de 60 langues d’Asie : bibliographie. Archives & Bibliothèques Asiatique, Missions étrangères de Paris. Series Recherches asiatiques. Montréal (Quebec): l’Harmattan.

Peverelli, Peter J. 1986. The History of Modern Chinese Grammar Studies. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Leiden. Peyraube, Alain. 2001. “Some reflections on the sources of the Mashi Wentong.” In Michael Lackner, Iwo Amelung and Joachim Kurtz (eds.). New Terms for New Ideas. We s t e rn Knowledge and Lexical Change in Late Imperial China. pp. 341–356.

Quétif, Jacobus and Jacobus Echard. 1719–21. Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum. Paris. 2 volumes. Supplement by Remigius Coulon and Antonius Papillon. Rome and Paris, 1909–1934.

Sanz, Carlos. 1958. Primitivas relaciones de España con Asia y Oceanía. Madrid: Librería General.

Sun Chaofen (ed.). 1997. Studies on the History of Chinese Syntax. Berkeley: Journal of Chinese Linguistics, Monograph series, n.10.

Van der Loon, P. 1966–67. “The Manila incunabula and early Hokkien studies.” Asia Major v.12:1–42, v.13:95–186.

Varo, Francisco. 1703 [2000]. Arte de la lengua mandarina. Canton. Facsimile edition, with English translation by Coblin, W. South & Joseph Levi. Francisco Varo’s Grammar of the Mandarin Language (1703). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2000.

Zhu Dexi 朱德熙 1982. “漢語語法蕞書序.” 商務印書館.


1 Cf. González 1964, v.1, p.31.

2 The term ‘arte’ in the Spanish original derives from Lat. ‘ars grammatica’, or the art of grammar.

3 For a historical survey, see González (1966), Peverelli (1986), Sun Chaofen (1997), Breitenbach (2000), Peyraube (2001).

4 For an overview, see Chen 2000.

5 For a detailed analysis of Varo’s chapter on tone sandhi, see Chen 2003.

6 Varo left Europe on his China-bound journey through Mexico in 1646, and was unlikely to have been acquainted with the Grammaire de Port-Royal or Grammaire générale et raisonnée, of Antoine Arnauld and Claude Lancelot, published in 1660.

7 There is a long debate concerning which locality the name Chincheo refers to in the 17th century documents: today’s Quanzhou / Chuanchow 泉州 or Zhangzhou / Changchow 漳州? Boxer (1953) devotes an entire appendix (p.313–326) to this question, and concludes that it was used as a generic term to refer to the Bay of Amoy / Xiamen 廈門 in general. The dialect in question is then the Amoybased lingua franca of Southern Ming.

8 A relative of Matteo Ricci.

9 I examined a microfilm version of Jordá’s Arte sinico in the Archivo de la Provincia of Sto.Tomás, Avila, Spain. Its basic descriptive schema resembles that of Varo.

10 De la propagación de la fe en las Filipinas, by Francisco Montilla, a Franciscan. Cobo’s Lingua sinica is also registered in Quétif-Echard 1721, v.2:306a–307a. However, P. van der Loon (1966–67, p. 18) notes that “no other contemporary author makes mention of a grammar or dictionary by Cobo” and that “such a work may never have been completed.”

11 Jiménez (1998:182) claims Martín de Rada (1535-1578), an Augustinian, wrote an Arte y vocabulario de la lengua chinense.

12 The linguistic contribution of the Missions Étrangères de Paris seems to be quite substantial as well, as documented in a recent bibliography. See Missions Étrangères de Paris 1997.

13 A modern facsimile edition is now available, prepared by Fidel Villarroel, with Spanish and English translations and an extensive introduction.

14 This booklet in Chinese characters carries no date, and no Chinese title. J. Gayo Aragón (1951) pegs the date at 1593, and proclaims Benavides’ Doctrina as the first book ever printed in the Philippines. P. van der Loon (1966-67, p.25) on the other hand, dates it between 1587 and 1607.

15 The Dominicans are also credited with having produced in 1604 the first typographic (movable types) book in the Philippines, Ordinationes Generales Provinciae Sanctissimi Rosarii Philippinarum. See P. van der Loon (1966-67, op. cit., p.25ff).

16 For a philological study of Hokkien based on philippine incunabula, see P. van der Loon (1966-67), and philological notes by Antonio Domínguez to Benavides 1593? [1951].

17 See Jiménez 1998, and Liu 1998, esp. introductions by Alberto Santamaría, Antonio Domínguez and Fidel Villaroel to Cobo 1593 [1986].

18 His Tractado is available in English translation, as part of Boxer (1953).

19 Gaspar da Cruz himself was allowed to stay in Canton for only one month in 1556 (see González, 1966, p.12)

20 González (1966, p.12) remarks that Mendoza (Mendoça) ‘borrowed’ extensively from Gaspar da Cruz: ‘El P. Juan González de Mendoza copia, en gran parte, el libro de P. de la Cruz, en su célebre Historia de las cosas más notables... de China, 1585. No hay más que confrontar los dos libros para convencerse de ello.’

21 Incidentally, Benavides (1552–1605) was the first Dominican to minister to the Chinese in the Philippines (1587– 90), and later Archbishop of Manila (1603-05).

22 From the introduction to the facsimile edition prepared by Sanz 1959. For a recent paper on Beng sim po cam, see Chen Q.H. 1990.

23 ‘letras quebradas y iluminadas’, literally ‘broken and illuminated letters’, refers to the way copyists cut up in two halves an initial letter in a manuscript for decorative purposes. See Balcells’ footnote 16 on p.146.

24 The full title cited by González (1966, p.70) reads: ‘Escala del cielo, “en el cual por el conocimiento de las creaturas se da a conocer el Creador de todas ellas”.’ [Ladder to Heaven: in which by means of the knowledge of the creatures one attains the knowledge of the Creator of them all]. Little else is known about the content of this work.

25 Navarrete is the subject of a recent book by Cummins (1993). Book VI (Tratado Sexto) of Navarrete’s Tratados históricos, políticos etc. is available in English translation by Cummins (1962).

26 Varo’s manuscripts are located in the Provincial Archives of the Dominican order in Avila.

27 Jensen (1997, p.9) went so far as asserting that Confucius is ‘a figment of the Western imagination’. He adds: ‘There is as much that is genuinely Chinese in Confucianism [i.e. as ‘ manufactured ’ by Western intellectuals] as there was in chinoiserie.’ (p.144)

Professor Matthew Chen has studied in Hong Kong, Rome, and obtained his Ph. D. in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972. He has taught for many years at the University of California, San Diego, before joining CityU in 1999. He is currently CityU’s Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a member of the Core Team of our Centre for Cross- Cultural Studies. His publications focus mainly on phonology, historical linguistics, and tonology in particular, with a recent book entitled Tone Sandhi: Patterns across Chinese Dialects (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Holding a degree in philosophy and theology, he has an abiding interest in the intellectual issues surrounding the early cultural contacts between China and the West.