During the first half of the 17th century, the person most responsible for bridging the cultural gap between the East and West was Martino Martini. Martini was born in the northern Italian city of Trent in 1614. Martini was Italian by heritage, but since Trent had at one time been part of the Hapsburg Austria, some sources record him as being of German origin. Martini joined the order in 1623 and studied mathematics under Athanasius Kircher, arguably one of the most brilliant minds of the times, at the Collegio Romano. As soon as he was ordained, Martini requested and was granted permission to be assigned to China. He arrived in Macau in 1643. Ming China, at the time, was in a topsy-turvy state owing to incessant attacks by the Manchu. Nevertheless, Martini managed to personally travel to the inner 7 cities, observing and faithfully recording what he was able to learn about Chinese history, culture, and geography. In order to defend the position of the Chinese Jesuit order in the so-called "Chinese Rites" controversy and also to muster support for the mission, Martini traveled back to Italy in 1651, and he drafted a series of books during transit. Bellum Tartaricum, Novus Atlas Sinensis, and Sinicae historiae decas prima were all China books and drew a vivid picture of the chaotic period of the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties. Reports on the Ming military involvement in the Imjin War and the Manchu invasion of the Korean Peninsula were included in the volumes.
Martini's Bellum Tartaricum was published in Antwerp, Cologne, and Vienna in 1654. It was in a mass market format, comparable to today's paperback edition, and was immensely popular. In the preface, Martini states that the purpose of the book was to (1) provide public information on Jesuit mission activities, (2) satisfy Europe's growing interest in Chinese history, culture, and geography, and (3) provide advertisement for the two upcoming books on China. However, for all means and purposes, Bellum Tartaricum took on the characteristics of an on-site report of sort on the decline of the Ming Dynasty and the corresponding rise of the Manchu.
Historically speaking, Bellum Tartaricum is particularly significant in that it was first to provide Europe with news of the ill fated Korean expeditionary forces of 12 thousand (under General Gang Hong-rip) sent to aid Ming China against its struggle against the Manchu and the ensuing invasion of Korea by Manchu forces. Martini relates that even after the fiasco, the Chinese Emperor sent an envoy to Korea bearing gifts to coax the Korean King to dispatch additional troops. Martini adds that since he left for Europe in 1651, he did not know the result of the war in Korea. In Novus Atlas Sinensis, published in 1655, Martini states that the Koreans rebelled against the occupying Manchu when the latter required Koreans to wear Manchu attire. Despite this, it is interesting to note that very little in the way of information is provided about the First and Second Manchu Invasion of Korea, respectively in 1627 and 1636. Neither does he mention by name General Gang Hong-rip or Crown Prince Sohyeon. Despite this, Martini's account of the Korean crisis was generally on the mark. Commenting on the warlike disposition of the Korean people (which he qualified was not as poignant as the Japanese), Martini includes an interesting piece of information that the Manchu troops were known to disguise themselves as Koreans when attacking the Ming forces.
Bellum Tartaricum portrays Korea as a tributary state of the Chinese, in every sense of the word. Korea not only dutifully dispatched troops at the Ming China's request but also later survived by the skin of their teeth by sheepishly establishing a new tributary relationship with Manchu, on the proviso that they be allowed to keep their traditional hair style and customs. Martini goes on to add that later when the Manchu reneged on their promise and demanded that Koreans following Manchu hair style and attire, the obstinate and conservative Koreans rebelled, compelling the Manchu to stage another invasion.
Martini's Bellum Tartaricum was aimed at the general populace and was thus relatively short (some 200 pages) and penned in a comfortable writing style. Between 1654 to 1706, it was translated and republished in Latin, French, German, English, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and Danish. The Latin edition in particular underwent no fewer than 7 printings. By the late 17th century, some 25 versions of the book were in circulation. Such a printing history was unprecedented, considering the pathetic printing conditions at the time. The English edition came out in London in 1654, the same year as the Latin edition. This English edition was published by John Crook, the same John Crook who had published the English edition of Semedo's Imperio de la China. As previously stated, the two books were later combined and published as a single volume by Crook.
English intellectuals such as Robert Howard (1626-98) and John Webb (1611-72) were known to have relied on this book as one of the primary sources of information on China. Martini's Bellum Tartaricum also served as the basis for a dramatic play. During the 1673-1674 season, English playwright Elkanah Settle (1648-1724) is said to have staged a play at Duke's Theatre about a heroic love story based on Martini's book. The play turned out to be a flop; nevertheless, the very fact that such a play was staged in the first place is revealing of the wide recognition of Martini's book among the British and other Europeans at the time.
Almost all editions of the Bellum Tartaricum, including the 1654 Amsterdam first edition, includes a map of China, and each map also includes a rendering of the Korean Peninsula. Among these, the 1654 London edition is noteworthy because (1) Korea is correctly pictured as a peninsula instead of as an island, (2) in lieu of the customary state designation of 'Chosun,' Korea is marked as 'Corea,' (3) a specific region (namely Kingki, which presumably refers to the modern day Province of Kyonggi) is marked, (4) Jeju Island (known to Europeans at the time as 'Fungma') is not drawn in, and finally (5) the shape and location of the Korean peninsula is distorted to the point that the lower tip stretched all the way down to Nanjing. Interesting enough, in the 1655 Novus Atlas Sinensis, published barely a year after Bellum Tartaricum, Martini does include Jeju Island in the map. The discrepancies between the two are likely attributable not so much to Martini's lack of accurate geographical information of the region but rather to poor editing due to his overeagerness to get the book published as expeditiously as possible.
Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis went a long way in broadening the geographical knowledge of Asia for Europeans of the time. In 1655 Novus Atlas Sinensis was incorporated into the 6th volume of the famous Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus. This atlas was a scholarly tour de force of current day map-making technology and geographical information. Although Martini was not directly involved in the production of the maps of China included in his Bellum Tartaricum, he did personally supervise the production of maps and illustrations included in Joan Blaeu's edition. Whereas the illustrations in the previous book depict the Chinese as mere 'asianized' renderings of western characters, the drawings in the latter book was comparatively more realistic. Until the publication of J. B. B. D'Anville's atlas of Asia in the 18th century, Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis was widely recognized as the authoritative map of the Far East.
In truth Novus Atlas Sinensis was not based on Martini's own geographical surveys but rather on Luo Hongxian's Guang Yu Tu, arguably the most accurate map of Chinese origin to date, and Matteo Ricci's Kunyu Wanguo Quantu. Novus Atlas Sinensis is composed of a 171 page main section, 81 pages of preface and appendix, a single page inner cover page, and 17 colored maps. Of the colored maps, there are a full page map of China, entitled "Imperii Sinarum Nova Descriptio," and 15 separate detailed maps of major Chinese cities. Also included is a map of Korea and Japan, entitled "Japonia Regnum." In this map, the Korean Peninsula is distorted into an elongated oval and is designated as "Corea." The Peninsula is decorated with geographical icons depicting mountains and two rivers (one marked as "Yalo" for the Yalu River, and the other unmarked but presumed to be the Han River) are clearly identifiable. The eight provinces are marked as "Hienking," "Pinggan," "Kingki," "Kianguen," "Hanghai," "Kingxan," "Chungcing," and "Ciuenlo," following the Chinese pronunciation. The Jeju Island is accurately marked as "Fungma" , based on the Chinese pronunciation of "Tamna."
Novus Atlas Sinensis can be best described as a combination of sociology and geology, what in modern terms would be known as the multi-disciplinary field of sociogeology. Martini allots 19 pages of the appendix to cataloguing the longitude and latitude of major cities and forts, as well as the contents of his conversation with Jacobus Golius, the leading Asian specialist in the Netherlands. The last page of the catalogue includes references to Liaodong and the Korean Peninsula. For Martini, depicting China in terms of specific longitude and latitude proved to be a formidable undertaking. As an ardent proponent of the notion of the 'Middle Kingdom,' Martini was naturally inclined to set Beijing as the latitudinal center of the world. This, however, was in direct contradiction to the European convention of Greenwich as prime meridian. Martini cunningly circumvents this problem by setting not one but two prime meridians.
Information on the Korean peninsula provided therein was more detailed and extensive than any other source available at the time. Korea, a peninsula state, borders Manchu (transcribed here as Niuche) at a large river. This much had already been provided in the accounts of Luís Fróis and Richard Hakluyt. Furthermore, while Antonio Carletti does name the 8 provinces that comprise the Korean Peninsula, his manuscript was not published until the early 18th century. In Joan Blaeu's Atlas Novus, Martini provides the correct names of all 8 provinces (according to their pronunciation in Chinese). However, Martini incorrectly lists Pyongyang as the capital city. On an interesting note, Martini explains that the designation 'Corea' was in fact introduced to Europe via Japan, and that the Chinese prefer 'Chaosien' or 'Chaohsien.'
Martini was the first to introduce the theory of 'Gija Joseon(箕子朝鮮)' to the West. In truth João Rodrigues, a Jesuit priest in Japan had already made references to Gija Joseon in his manuscript; however, the manuscript was not published during his life time. In Novus Atlas Sinensis, Martini bases his outline of Korean history on Gija Joseon. According to Martini, the special relationship between Korea and China dates back as far as 1211 B.C., when Emperor Wu of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty conferred a new stretch of land to his close relative Gija, who subsequently become the founding ruler of Korea. As the story goes, this new kingdom was thereafter referred to as Joseon by later Chinese Han emperors. After the fall of the Han Dynasty, Korea seemed to be released from Chinese control, but later achieved political stability by becoming a tributary state during the Chinese Tang Dynasty. Martini relates that when new Korean rulers assumed the throne, they are obligated to travel to Beijing to pay their respects to the Chinese emperor. Martini also explains that in 1651, during the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Koreans rebelled against the Chinese when they were required to follow Manchu customs and dress. Clearly Martini regards Korean history as an inconsequential side story to Chinese own history. With the exception of Joseon, Martini makes no reference to other earlier Korean dynasties such as Goguryeo, Shilla, Baekje, or Goryeo, preferring to gloss over the names with the all encompassing designation of 'Corea.' Nevertheless Martini's was the first European account to provide an, albeit cursory, overview of Korean history.
Martini also writes about the natural environment of the Korean Peninsula. According to him, the land is so fertile that the Korean people can produce practically everything they need, and there is an abundance of rice and wheat. Korea is particular famous for its pears and pearls, and he also lists ginseng, paper, lacquer ware, and writing brushes as Korean goods particular prized by the Chinese. Gold and silver are in abundance in Korea, and the major cities are teaming with people, although Martini admits he doesn't know exactly how much. Martini surmises that despite (or owing to, as the case may be) its large population and land size, Korea tends not to associate with foreign countries outside China and Japan.
Martini makes reference to Korea's culture and customs. He states that Korea's cities, structure, administration, customs, attire, language, etiquette, and religious practices are similar to those of China. However, he qualifies that Korean women, unlike their Chinese counterparts, frequently appear in the public and customarily travel with their husbands. Furthermore, the youth of Korea are allowed to select their spouses without prior consent of their elders. In making comparisons between the funeral rites of Korea and Japan, Martini writes that Koreans house the tightly bound remains in a beautifully decorated coffin for three years before burial.
Martini's Sinicae historiae decas prima was published in Munich in 1658. In the book, Martini traces China's ancient history from the time of Noah's flood to the birth of Jesus Christ, more specifically from the beginning of the reign of Emperor Fu Hsi in 2952 B.C. to the middle of the Han Dynasty. Through the book, Martini sought to educate his European readers to the fact that China possessed a cultural history just as long and illustrious as that of Greece or the Ancient Roman Empire, and that China was as much a cradle of civilization as the Biblical Middle East. To be sure, the book was a must read for Europe's China specialists; however, it failed to achieve the notoriety or wide readership enjoyed by Bellum Tartaricum, evidenced by the fact that only two separate Latin editions (Munich in 1658 and Amsterdam in 1659) were ever published.
In providing a multifaceted description of China in Sinicae historiae decas prima, Martini consistently uses the ancient Roman Empire as a frame of reference. He contends that China and the ancient Roman Empire had indeed a lot in common, such as their long history, extensive territorial mass, and manifestation of resplendent culture. Whereas Semedo recognizes Europe's superiority in the areas of science and technology, Martini sees China as having the upper hand in both culture and science. He states that although the Europeans may well be superior in physical terms, the Chinese are nevertheless the more intellectually astute, evidenced by the marvelous achievements in industrial technology, bridge building, and waterway construction. In sum, Martini discerns China to be on at least equal, if not superior, footing to Europe.
Martini's drawing of cultural comparisons between China and the Ancient Roman Empire made for him the decline of the Ming Dynasty all the more unfortunate. Like the Roman Empire in the past, China was now beset and eventually conquered by barbarians. Martini's rather nonchalant reference to China's neighbors as 'barbarians' and his rather farfetched comparisons between the geographical characteristics and culture of Europe and those of China presumably derive from his eagerness to better reflect the tastes of his European readers, thereby facilitating their indoctrination to the realities in China.
Martini's narrative amply reflects his Christian view of history. If his accommodation of sinocentricism stemmed from his sense of pragmaticism, then his view of history was firmly grounded in his devout faith. He believed that the Manchu invasion of China was a fulfillment of nothing less than God's Divine Will. Just as He had brought down the once invincible Roman Empire to spread Catholicism throughout the world, God was doing the same here in China. In Martini's eyes, the Manchu people, as well as their leadership, possessed the tolerance to someday accept Catholicism. In this manner, both Martini and Ricci works exhibit the contradiction of uncritically accommodating the 'Middle Kingdom' mentality of the Chinese gentry in one hand, yet welcoming the so-called 'barbaric' Manchu people as potential promoters of their mission cause on the other hand.