Our parent company, the Commercial Press, has been continuing the work of famous missionary, man of science, Sinologist, and potential Roman Catholic Saint Matteo Ricci–an extraordinary chap who, if you didn’t already know, was a famous member of the still-extant Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. Sent as part of the Jesuit mission from then Portuguese controlled Macau, Ricci became possibly one of the first European missionaries to learn the Chinese language to a properly high standard. This, along with his reputation for ability in the sciences, may have been what allowed him to end up by invitation at the Court of the Wanli Emperor, where he was ideally placed to carry out his task, and indeed he managed to convert a number of high-ranking officials to Roman Catholicism.
Apart from his religious activities, however, Ricci was also a renowned Sinologist, something probably facilitated to a large extent by his knowledge of Chinese. And in addition to producing a famous map for the Chinese which incorporated Chinese names as well as European geographical knowledge hitherto little known in China (if at all), Ricci also tried his hand at writing a dictionary. He thus co-authored a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary, which was only uncovered in 1934 in the Jesuit archives. Also, notably, he seems to have devised a system of representing Chinese characters in the Latin alphabet, in what must surely be one of the earliest such efforts.
And it’s in the spirit of Matteo Ricci that in 2002, the Ricci Chinese-French Dictionary was released in Paris. The seven-volume work had been more than half a century in the making, and as of now is a standard purchase for such universities as Harvard, Yale, and the University of Paris with both Chinese learners and Sinologists in mind. It incorporates 13,500 Chinese characters and 330,000 character combinations, covering such diverse topics as Astronomy, Chemistry, Biology, Finance, Law, Philosophy, Art and Literature, among around 200 such topics.
Working on the original edition in Taipei
The Commerical Press has recently published an updated one-volume edition of this same work, with new content added to reflect modern times. It has also reorganized the characters by order of pinyin, to facilitate use of the dictionary by Chinese mainlanders. However, tradition is not dispensed with, as the dictionary not only incorporates modern usage of many characters, but also notes how they were used in the past, possibly when Matteo Ricci would have been knocking about the streets of Beijing.
In addition to the main text of the dictionary, there are also 17 appendices, making up about a 10th of the book, which cover topics likely to be of especial interest to Sinologists, covering such areas as Ancient Chinese cosmology and astronomy, the book of Changes (易经), Buddhism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, traditional religion, Bronzeware, calligraphy, and so on. All-in-all it’s quite the tome.
You can grab a copy of this reference book here.