The study of the Catholic mission in Beijing is an ideal arena to uncover the deep structures of Chinese-Western socio-cultural and economic relations in early modern times. This presentation focuses on the Qing imperial court, where missionaries worked as scientists and artisans, seen as an urban microcosm, a node in a vast planetary network, and the site of informal social networks. The missionaries nested within these networks to pursue their interests (primary for them, evangelization), and stubbornly resisted bureaucratic control and autocratic hegemony, using their professional skills and gift-giving to obtain patronage. The historical experience of these individuals behind the public façade of power humanizes and nuances the claims of grand political and economic narratives, from the ‘Great Divergence’ between China and the West, to Qing state building. Through this group, we can expand the analysis to a larger network of individuals and institutions (also using digital scholarship approaches), extending from the Qing court to the entire world.
Eugenio Menegon teaches Chinese and global history at Boston University (USA). His 2009 book Ancestors, Virgins, and Friars: Christianity as a Local Religion in Late Imperial China centred on the life of Catholic communities in Fujian province between 1630 and the present. His current project is an examination of the daily life and political networking of European residents at the Qing court in Beijing during the 17th-18th centuries.