The Chosŏn Envoys to Beijing and their View on the Jesuits in the Qianlong Period of Persecution: Hong Tae-yong’s Tamhŏnyŏnki as a Case Study
As Matteo Ricci arrived to China, the Jesuits began their missionary activities in the Empire spurring new cultural interactions between East and West. While the current scholarship is particularly focused on the activities between late Ming and early Qing, the activities that took place during the Qianlong persecution have been ignored by the academia. At that time, however, some missionaries were still working at the Qintianjian (Imperial Astronomical Bureau), also trying to preach
sermons to Chinese common people as well as to other individuals, such as the members of the Korean embassies to Beijing.
Members of Chosŏn envoys to Beijing (Yŏnhaengsa) were granted by the Qing court the permission to visit different places in Beijing, therefore getting in contact with different people and activities. They got the opportunity to visit the church in the capital city and to meet the Jesuits, as well. This opportunity aroused the envoys’ curiosity about the Jesuits’ culture and religion. In 1765, one of the members of the embassy, Hong Tae-yong (1731-1783), got the opportunity to interact with two members of the Jesuits, Ferdinand Avguštin Hallerstein (1703-1774) and Antoine Gogeisi (1701-1771): that encounter helped Hong to learn more about the situation of Beijing missionaries which he successively recorded in his travel journal Tamhŏnyŏnki.
The records of Tamhŏnyŏnki about the missionaries and Hong Tae-yong’s interest on Catholic Church were related to the social and intellectual background of Hong Tae-yong in Chosŏn Kingdom. The Tamhŏnyŏnki’s records not only help us understand the envoys’ interest in Beijing’s Catholic culture, but they also reshape the discourse of the missionaries’ activities during the period of persecution, providing evidence that the missionaries were still working hard on their religious activities at that time. Also, the Tamhŏnyŏnki encouraged other intellectuals in Chosŏn to understand Western culture in general and Catholicism. This text, then, shows how the Korean envoys’ travel journals shaped the image of the missionaries, thus shedding new light on Ming-Qing Catholicism as well as on the development of Western learning in the Korean peninsula.