Samantha and Angelica are the two students on an expedition in China following the travelogues of the Jesuits based on Kircher’s China Illustrata, which is part of the UM Special Collections.
Samantha and Angelica arrived in Beijing and began their expedition by going through the city, stopping to visiting the Lama Temple and the Emperor’s Summer Palace. Moving through the Chinese capital and interacting with the people there, the girls were able to truly appreciate the dedication and effort undertaken by the Jesuits when travelling to China, as they had to undergo years of learning the language and culture before they were able to enter the country. Later that day, the girls were able to go to St. Joseph’s Church which was built by two Jesuit priests in 1655, one of the few remaining testaments to the presence of the Jesuits in China.
On their second day, the girls continued to look for traces of the Jesuits in modern-day Beijing and were able to make it to the Church of Immaculate Conception and learn more about it. Their day was packed with destinations to visit so they then made their way to the Chinese Millennium Monument, where they were able to spot Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit and one of the two westerners honoured with a place on the monument. Their next stop was the Ancient Observatory, where there are many instruments brought by the Jesuits still on display, and the girls were even able to spot one that was brought all the way from the Netherlands. Samantha and Angelica ended their day by taking in the beautiful sights from the Temple of Heaven.
See also: The Beijing blog posts
The third day found both girls on top of the Great Wall of China. They were able to learn more about the Jesuits’ time in China and their observations of people visiting the Wall in the 1600s matches what the girls saw this past week, as the Great Wall of China still remains a popular tourist attraction even centuries later.
The Imperial City, or the Forbidden City, was their first visit of the fourth day. Unlike the Jesuits before them who were not granted entrance to the Imperial City as access to it was still forbidden in the 1600s and could therefore only view the palaces from outside, Samantha and Angelica were 2 out of the 80,000 daily visitors to the City. They were able to see and appreciate the sights that were denied to the Jesuits who visited the place centuries before them. Eager to find more traces left behind by the Jesuits in China, their expedition following in the footsteps of the Jesuits took them to the final resting place of so many who had come before them; to the Zhalan cemetery where 53 Jesuits and 10 missionaries were buried. It took some convincing to make the guards grant them access but the girls were determined and were eventually allowed entry to the cemetery where they could pay their respects to the people who have inspired their journey so far.
Taking a night train, the girls travelled west and arrived in Datong, in what is today the Shanxi province, the next morning. The stretch of the Great Wall found in this part of China is where the Jesuits passed by in 1664 and the girls were able to find it with the help of the Jesuits’ travelogues and the guidance of the locals.
See also: The Datong blog posts
The next day, they explored the Northern mountains of China, which are considered holy and has been the subject of Kircher’s writings. They came across many Taoist and Buddhist temples on their way to Mt. Hengshan and interacted with the people and gurus who held these mountains sacred. The girls reflected on Kircher’s observation of the superstitious beliefs of the Chinese with regard to the mountains and how his observations would hold up in a critical study today.
Samantha and Angelica have posted many breathtaking pictures, excerpts from Kircher’s China Illustrata and comparative observations between themselves and their Jesuit predecessors whose footsteps they follow as they continue their Expedition in China.
Follow the travel blog of the china expedition here: Two Girls on Expedition in China
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The Expedition in China was made possible with the support of the University Fund (Universiteitsfonds) and the Maastricht Academic Heritage Fund. Special thanks to the UM Language Centre.