Describing and Disciplining the Body: Giacomo Rho's (1593-1638) Treatises on Anatomy and Fasting
Wei Jiang is a historian specialized in early modern global Christianity, with a particular reference to the Catholic missionary rivalries in China, Japan, and the Philippines. She is also interested in the reception of Italian and European Renaissance ideas in late Ming and early Qing China, as well as in modern South Asian Christianity. Before coming to I Tatti, Wei worked for three years as postdoctoral researcher in Religions Studies at the University of Bonn. She obtained a PhD in Historical Research from King’s College London, after an MA in Comparative Literature and a BA in Hispanic Studies from Beijing Foreign Studies University. She has also been a Fellow of the Fondazione Cini in Venice and the Medici Archive Project in Florence.
This project explores the introduction of Italian and European Renaissance representations of the human body, both anatomical and ascetic, into late Ming China (1368 –1644), through a study of two works written by the Lombard Jesuit missionary Giacomo Rho (1593 –1638). While Rho is credited with at least twenty-two Chinese works on scientific and spiritual topics, this research focuses on Zhaike (齋克 “On fasting and mortification,” 1634) and Renshen tushuo (人身圖說 “Illustrated Explanation of the Human Body,” c. 1637), two works challenging the notions of bodily purity and subjectivity embedded in Daoism and Buddhism by the means of both asceticism and anatomy. Giacomo Rho, with his wide scientific and religious interests, is a brilliant example of the global projection of the late Italian Renaissance. Renshen tushuo transmitted to China anatomical knowledge that, through Ambroise Paré’s (c. 1510 –1590) mediation, originated ultimately in De humani corporis fabrica, composed by Andreas Vesalius while he was Explicator Chirurgiæ at the University of Padua. On the contrary, at present it is not clear from which European sources Zhaike derived. By studying Rho’s presentations of the natural and the ascetic body, of corporality and spiritual senses, linking science and theology, it will be possible to examine a radical, literally “embodied” dimension in the encounter between China and Renaissance Italy, as a focal point of early modern Europe.