Previous research on the activities of Jesuit missionaries in China during the first half of the 17th century has been largely limited to (1) the establishment of China studies in modern Europe (2) the 'Chinese Rites' Controversy, and (3) the Chinese impact on Europe during the Era of Enlightenment, as exemplified in the 'Ancient vs. Modern Debate.' In contrast, little is known about the records related to the Korean Peninsula left by Jesuit priests conducting missionary work in China, and consequently there is an almost complete dearth of scholarly research on the subject. The underlying reasons for this are manifold: (1) previous scholarly research, both in Korea and abroad, has been one-sidedly focused on China and Europe, (2) a considerable portion of records left by the Jesuit missionaries have been lost or their whereabouts difficult to ascertain, and (3) comprehensive research is hampered by the fact that the surviving records are in a wide array of Western languages such as Latin, Spanish, French, and German.
On this backdrop, this study seeks to uncover records on Korea penned by Jesuit missionaries working in China in the first half of the 17th century and thereby examine how Korea was introduced to Europe at large during the period in question. Of the Jesuit missionaries active in China at the time, Matteo Ricci (1551-1610), Martino Martini (1614-1661), Alvaro Semedo (1585-1658), and Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659) left a considerable amount of records detailing the turmoil in East Asia during the transitionary period between the Chinese Ming and Qing Dynasties. These records not only provided valuable insight into Chinese history and culture of the period but also made specific references to contemporary Korean historical events, such as the Imjin War, the Second Manchu Invasion of Korea, and the 'Humiliation at Samjeondo.' Consequently, their accounts contributed significantly to introducing the history and culture of Korea to Europeans of the time. This study seeks to uncover these records and bring them to light to the academic establishment.
Secondarily, this study seeks to investigate the intellectual foundation on which the Jesuit missionaries based their work in China during the first half of the 17th century. As stipulated in numerous previous studies, the Jesuits sought to facilitate their mission agenda by espousing sinocentricism and by adopting a mission policy of accommodation. To elaborate, by acknowledging China's self proclaimed status as the 'Middle Kingdom,' the Jesuits in effect adopted a heteronomous and hierarchic world view in which all surrounding nations were essentially satellite states, subordinate and peripheral to China. This study seeks to assess Korea's place within this world view.
The Jesuit missionaries at the time, personally experienced a crisis in their customary tenet of sinocentricism, with the Manchu invasion of China and the ensuing downfall of the Chinese Qing Dynasty. To their consternation, the Jesuits now had to rely on the good grace of the Manchu invaders, once scorned as barbarians, to keep the mission alive in China. This meant that they could no longer cling to the tenets of sinocentricism. This study asks how their shift in intellectual foundation influenced changes in the ways the Jesuits viewed Korea at the time.
Prior to the Jesuit missionaries in China in the first half of the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries stationed in Japan in the late 16th century had provided information on the history and culture of people inhabiting the Korean Peninsula, in their reports on the Imjin Japanese Invasion of Korea. This study will, therefore, compare accounts on Korea from these two sources. It is quite revealing how Jesuit missionary groups, separated by their respective areas of activity, can harbor such fundamentally different views on a common subject.