Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Dominique Parrenin

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 11
Dominique Parrenin

by Joseph Brucker


Born at Russey, near Besançon, 1 Sept., 1665; died at Pekin, 29 Sept., 1741. He entered the Jesuit order, 1 September, 1685, and in 1697 was sent to China. At Peking (1698) he attracted the attention of K'ang-hi. His varied knowledge, and familiar use of the court languages, Chinese and Tatar-Manchu, gained him the good-will of the emperor. Father Parrenin utilized this favour in the interest of religion and science. While satisfying the extraordinary curiosity of K'ang-hi, especially about physics, medicine, and the history of Europe, he demonstrated how the scientific culture of the West was due to Christianity. Obliged to travel with the emperor, he visited the native Christians. Well liked by important personages at the court and the highest dignitaries of the empire, he led them to look with favour on the spreading of Christianity. In the "Lettres édificantes," he has written of the admirable example set by the princes of the Sounou family, whose conversion, begun by Father Suarez, he completed. He rendered the greatest services to religion during the reign of Yong-tching (1723-35), son of K'ang-hi. The new emperor soon made known his aversion for Christianity, and only his consideration for the missionaries at Peking, principally for Father Parrenin, prevented the extermination of Christianity in China. This emperor respected the missionaries., not for their scientific knowledge, but for their character and virtues. He demanded services of more tangible importance, notably at audiences granted to the ambassadors of Russia and Portugal during the long negotiations, both commercial and political, with the former of the two powers. The Chinese ministers needed the missionaries, not only as conscientious and trusty interpreters, but men capable of dispelling Chinese ignorance of European matters and of inspiring confidence. Parrenin, who had served the government of K'ang-hi so capably in this dual rôle, was no less serviceable under Yong-tching. He was assisted by his confrères, Fathers Mailla and Gaubil. the mission at Peking continued to exist among most violent persecutions, and became the salvation of the Christians in the provinces: as long as Christianity sustained itself at the capital, its position in the rest of the empire was not hopeless; subaltern persecutors hesitated to apply the edicts in all their rigour against a religion which the emperor tolerated in his capital, and against men whose confrères the emperor treated with honour.

Science is indebted to Parrenin for his services in drawing up the great map of China (see REGIS, JEAN-BAPTISTE). He roused in K'ang-hi a desire to see his entire domain represented by methods more exact than those of the Chinese cartographers. Father Parrenin had a hand in the preparations of the making of this map in the provinces of Pechili, Shan-tung, and Liao-tung. He also collaborated on a map of Peking and its environs, which the emperor caused to be made in 1700. He translated into the Tartar-Manchu language for K'ang-hi several of the works published in the "Mémoirs de l'Academie des Sciences" at Paris. In 1723 Dortous de Mairan, of the Académie des Science, and Fréret, perpetual secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions, sent him their "doubts" about the history, chronology, and astronomy of the Chinese. His answers led to other questions, and this scientific correspondence continued until 1740. Father Parrenin's conduct may not always have been above reproach during the agitation caused in the Chinese missions by the famous controversy about the rites (see CHINA: THE QUESTION OF RITES). But his whole life contradicts to odious character attributed to him by writers who edited with more passion than truth "Mémoires historique du Cardinal de Tournon" and the "Anecdotes sue l'Etat de la Religion dans de Chine".

Lettres édificantes et curieuses. 26e Recueil. Préface et Lettre du P. Chalier (Paris, 1753); Lettre du P. Antoine Gaubil on the death of P. Parrenin, MS. 12223 in the Bibliothéque Nationale, with the letters of Parrenin to Mairan and Fréret (1729-60), unedited; Lettres de M. de Mairan au R. P. Parrenin, contenant diverses questions sur la Chine (Paris, 1759-70); BRUCKER, Le mission de Chine de 1722 à 1735 in Revue des questions historiques, XXIX, 491 (1881); Idem, Correspondance scientifique du missionaire francais à Peking au XVIIIe Siécle in Revue du monde catholique. XXVI, 701, (1883); DE BACKER-SOMMERVOGEL, Bibliothéque des éscrevains de la C. de J. VI, 284-290, IX, 757; Cordier, Bibliotheca Sinica.

Joseph Brucker.