New York University, USA
Zvi Ben-Dor Benite’s research centers on the interaction between religions in world history and cultural exchanges across vast space and deep time. He is the author of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Harvard, 2005); The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford, 2009); and co-editor of Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought: Writings on Identity, Culture, and Politics (Brandeis, 2013); and an edited volume on Sovereignty (forthcoming with Columbia University Press). He is currently working on a number of projects that he badly needs to finish. Ben-Dor Benite enjoys writing short fiction in Hebrew and satire about academic life.
This paper discusses an enigmatic passage Matteo Ricci wrote in 1584 about the Muslims of Canton. In the paper I explain the various broader contexts behind the passage—Ming maritime policies, history of Islam in Southern China, Portuguese activity in region and the arrival of the first Jesuits. I show that Ricci tells a nice fat lie about the Muslims of the city and discuss at length why he had to that. Following Carlo Ginzburg’s essay on a later Jesuit Charles Le Gobien, I discuss the broader circumstances of Portuguese arrival in the Indian Ocean from a fresh new angle: that of Jesuit lies.
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