Amicitia palatina: The Jesuits and the politics of gift-giving at the Qing court

Menegon, Eugenio. Amicitia palatina: The Jesuits and the politics of gift-giving at the Qing court. In Magda Abbiati and Federico Greselin (éd.), Il liuto e i libri: Studi in onore di Mario Sabattini. Venezia : Edizioni Ca’ Foscari-Digital Publishing, 2014, p. 547-561. (Coll. “Sinica venetiana”; 1). URL : http://blogs.bu.edu/emenegon/files/2014/11/MENEGON-Amicitia-Palatina-Sinica-Venetiana-1.pdf (Consulté le 19 mai 2015)

Scholars of late imperial China have studied gift-giving within two main contexts: official corruption flourishing at the interface of imperial bureaucratic institutions and society; and exchange of tribute items in the diplomatic and trade system with foreign countries and other tributary peoples. Gift-giving from European Catholic missionaries in Beijing to emperors and members of the Ming and Qing courts, however, occupied a space between these two spheres. The missionaries’ gifts were mostly exchanged and perceived within the customary economy of gift-exchanges among officials, although they also responded to the court’s pursuit of foreign exotic items. These objects usually did not figure within the highly-charged symbolic economy of tribute, which entailed a Qing imperial counter-offering of gifts. Missionaries used these exchanges to gain political stature within the court, and lubricate their patronage network in Beijing, especially in the late Kangxi era (1710s-1720s). Gifts, therefore, were in the final analysis a way for European missionaries to position themselves within existing hierarchies of power and try to exploit them to their own advantage within a fully Chinese framework.

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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