Italian Studies | Seminar – A tale of two Italian missionaries in China – School of Languages and Cultures Italian Studies | Seminar – A tale of two Italian missionaries in China – School of Languages and Cultures

Italian Studies | Seminar – A tale of two Italian missionaries in China

Italian Studies seminar

A tale of two Italian missionaries in China: Fr. Angelo A. Zottoli S.J. (Chao Deli 晁德蒞, 1826–1902) and Fr. Agostino Massa S.J. (Ma Aoding 馬奧定, 1813–1856)

Dr Antonio De Caro (University of Zurich)

Wednesday 19 April 2023, 5pm (Sydney time)


After the restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814, European Jesuit missionaries slowly started to re-engage in their missionary activities across China. Italian Jesuit missionaries, once again, had been at the forefront of these cross-cultural and interfaith encounters. Starting from the early 1840s, Italian Jesuit missionaries began to be engaged with the French-led Jesuit mission in Shanghai, in the small village of Zi-ka-wei (or Xujiahui 徐家匯), now a vibrant district of the city. Italian missionaries, and European missionaries more generally, established a successful mission in the area trying to balance their own political ambitions, genuine evangelical purposes and, at times, a Euro-centric worldview promoted by both Jesuit missionaries and European lay people. 

The “edifying” tales of the pioneering Jesuit missions in the global Cinquecento and Seicento strongly resonated in the epistolary exchanges of the young Italian Jesuit missionaries who faced new problems, opportunities and novel ethical and missiological dilemmas. Oftentimes, the missionaries strongly felt their own inadequacies and praised the magnificent efforts of the ‘Old Society’ compared to the novel inadequate efforts of the ‘New Society’.  

Two crucial Italian Jesuit missionaries trumped these inadequacies and established a cross-cultural encounter with both European missionaries and Chinese individuals: Fr. Angelo A. Zottoli S.J. (Chao Deli 晁德蒞, 1826–1902) and Fr. Agostino Massa S.J. (Ma Aoding馬奧定, 1813–1856). Both Zottoli and Massa, in different ways, had been engaging with both European missionaries and Chinese students. In particular, Zottoli sought to establish a cross-cultural Latin-Chinese curriculum that had been widely appreciated by both Chinese and European students. Massa, during his early education, demonstrated a high level of competence in Chinese language that had been extremely valuable during his stay in Shanghai from 1846 until his death.  

This presentation will be providing a historiographical framework taking into consideration these two figures in the wider context of the Sino-Italian interactions during the 19th century. In particular, it will offer the opportunity to engage critically with primary sources on the education of Italian missionaries during the mid-late 19th century, their ambitions and their fears. Furthermore, it will take into consideration their activities in Shanghai, their difficulties, and their crucial achievements. Stemming from an interdisciplinary approach, this presentation will provide an overview on these two Italian missionaries and their efforts to re-establish a cross-cultural dialogue between Chinese individuals and European ones in a challenging time.   

About the presenter

Antonio De Caro is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Zurich for the GLOBECOSAL (Global Economies of Salvation. Art and the Negotiation of Sanctity in the Early Modern Period) project funded by the ERC (European Research Council) and the SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation). Dr. De Caro completed his B.A. and M.A. at the Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy. In 2016, he left Italy and reached Hong Kong, where he earned his Ph.D. degree in Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2019. Afterwards he completed a three-year postdoctoral project in collaboration with the Centre for Early Medieval Studies at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. In 2021, he also joined the Department of Chinese Studies at Masaryk University as a teaching fellow. In 2022 he collaborated with scholars involved in the SERICA project at the University of Turin, in Italy, as a postdoctoral research fellow. In the same year, he joined the Centre for the study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh as a visiting fellow. His main areas of interest are the Jesuit missions in China and the diffusion of Roman Catholic material culture in China and East Asia during the early modern era.

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The event is finished.


Apr 19 2023


5:00 PM


Online (Zoom)


Italian Studies

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