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Exploring Ricci’s Legacy with May Visitors

Matteo Ricci died on May 10, 1610, so it’s fitting that two groups of visitors to TBC in May were focused on learning more about him. On May 12, students from the Colegio Mateus Ricci in Macau came to visit, and on May 17 graduate students from Peking University got up close and personal with our rare books and treasures. TBC Interns and current UIBE students Laury Castro and Noel Atukunda reflect on the visits.  

“The buses arrived on campus in the middle of a storm,” Laury recalled, “and there were so many students we couldn’t fit them all in one tour like we usually do.” The Beijing Center’s offices are decorated with artifacts, relics, and treasures spanning almost all of Chinese history, the better to bring the past to life and illuminate the future.  “At first, they didn’t want to touch anything, as all the antique artifacts can be intimidating,” she continued. “Still, once they got to the Tibetan corner of the library, a cozy lounge decorated with traditional Tibetan artifacts, they sat and started to play around with some of the items; when one of the items got loose, the boy’s face was of worry and embarrassment, but Molly Gu, our external relations officer, told him not to worry, that was ok to be curious and that’s the reason those items are there. For me, this was the highlight of their visit: they would take out books, call their friends to look at the title, take a gazillion pictures with the books, and were just interested in our book collection and historical artifacts.” 

After the young scholars explored the library, TBC Executive Director Simon Koo gave them a really interesting lecture about the influence and impact of Matteo Ricci. Since their school is named after him, they knew some things already, but Macau was just the beginning of Ricci’s Chinese journey over four hundred years ago.  

 I think visiting TBC is an exciting opportunity for high school students to gain an appreciation of the importance of understanding the past and develop a greater appreciation for their own culture and heritage,” Laury added.  


The next week, Peking University students filled the halls. Dr. John Alekna’s History of Science graduate students had a busy day! They arrived at TBC for a tour of the offices and treasures, then spent time handling selected works from our rare book collection – and after lunch at UIBE’s campus, journeyed to the Zhalan cemetery to visit the tomb of Matteo Ricci himself.  

“The students’ remarks were majorly on the cultural significance of these ancient foreign language texts written about China, specifically how they contributed to bridging the gap between the West and China,” Noel noted. “Something I really enjoyed while taking pictures of their tour was when some students looked at our historical map collection and analyzed the latitudinal and longitudinal lines in an attempt to make a correlation between the maps’ style designs and the historical timelines of the regions in China they depict. 

In the Scholar’s Cottage, students were able to flip through the pages of the rare books with great care. Dr. Alekna explained the different historical printing techniques made a difference in what survived over the years. “I was hanging on to his every word!” Laury described. The rest of the tour offered them an opportunity to explore the TBC Executive Director’s Office, which houses even more treasures and antiques. Moritz Kuhlmann, former TBC scholar-in-residence and guest expert for the day, encouraged the students to touch the artifacts for themselves and seize the opportunity to connect with history. He offered a lot of knowledge on Chinese history and scientific advancement as well.  

At the Zhalan Cemetery, both Laury and Noel were awed. “Unlike tombs I’ve visited before back in my country, these ones were about 7 to 8 feet tall, and apart from the headstones with a brief background of the priests, the tombs were also engraved with multiple inscriptions especially on the front sides. The tour was very interactive and thus, a very splendid opportunity to learn first-hand about the Jesuits in connection to China,” Noel, who is from Uganda, said. 

Both schools come from very different backgrounds but are united in learning, and we’re glad to be able to play a role in their journey. TBC really enjoys having guests and is open for visitors by appointment. For more information, contact us at [email protected].