11 facts about Wú Lì

Wu Li (simplified Chinese: 吴历; traditional Chinese: 吳歷; pinyin: Wú Lì); ca. 1632-1718 was a Chinese landscape painter poet and calligrapher from Jiangsu who lived during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

Wu was born in Changzhou in the Jiangsu province of China. His style pronounce was ‘Yu Shan’ and his sobriquet was ‘Mojing Daoren’. Wu moot poetry from Qian Qianyi. He was taught painting by Wang Shimin and Wang Jian, and was influenced by the painters Huang Gongwang and Wang Meng. His landscapes utilized abstemious brush strokes and light colors. His distinctive style elevated him to where he is now identified as one of the Six Masters of the to the fore Qing period.

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Wu converted to Catholicism, and became a believer of the Society of Jesus. In 1688, after seven years of training at St. Paul’s College, Macau, he was ordained one of the three first Chinese Jesuit priests, taking the name Simon-Xavier a Cunha. He spent the surviving 30 years of his liveliness serving tirelessly as priest in rural villages.

The dramatic decrease and fall of the Ming Dynasty and the coming to capability of the Manchu Qing Dynasty caused the crisis of a number of intellectuals, who looked for supplementary directions for them and for the country. The teaching of the Jesuits’ learned missionaries, based out of Macau, appealed to them. Several literati, steeped in Confucianism and Buddhism, sought widening religious horizons, accepting the ‘Western Teaching’. Conversion to Christianity was for them the arrival point of a spiritual and personal journey toward religious fulfillment. The converts saw in the Christian teaching an opportunity to revitalize, morally and scientifically, a country in crisis.

Wu often went to the Xing Fu Buddhist convent in Suzhou during his middle-age years and was a near friend of monk Mo Yong, but from 1675 upon he was at an angle toward Catholicism through his retrieve with Jesuit missionaries Lu Rima (Franciscus de Rougemont), Bai Yingli (Phillippe Couplet), and others. He was converted and christened (by?) Ximan Sawulue (Simon Xaverius). In 1681 Couplet was recalled to Europe. Wu expected to go with him, but his plans did not materialize afterward they reached Macau. Wu remained in Macau for five months and returned to his hometown in the summer of 1682. He returned to Macau in the winter and allied the Society of Jesus.

At the age of 50, Wu Li’s spirit took a dramatic turn. After the death of his wife and his masters, obeying to an internal quest for spiritual excellence, fascinated by the Jesuit art and architecture, and after having been a Catholic for seven years, he chose to associate the Jesuits in Macau in pursue of the ‘heavenly learning’. There he strenuously searched ‘the Western Lantern’, struggling to learn a additional language (Latin) and to acquire a extra religious dimension, on the lines of the ‘Spiritual Exercises’, as a son of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

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He was consecrated a priest on 1 Aug 1688 in Nanjing by Chinese bishop Luo Wenzao. His first pastoral assignment was in Shanghai. In 1691 he was put in suit of the religious affairs of the Jiading Catholic Church.

Wu Li indeed chose for himself a alleyway of self-discipline and sum dedication to the supplementary faith and to the supplementary ministry. Often disguised as a peasant or fisherman, he traveled for thirty years from village to village to evangelize. Wu Li could have become a wealthy and well-known court painter, as had his buddy Wang Hui, but he chose then again the complexity of Jiangsu countryside to abet as an itinerant missionary and pastor, struggling adjoining tremendous difficulties and with destitute results. He was a good shepherd, in imitation of Christ, totally devoted to the spiritual welfare of peasants. The poems that he kept writing as a priest illustrate exceptional qualities of his tireless dedication, his faith, his joys and the moments of frustration.

Wu Li in no artifice rejected his Chinese identity, as shown by the fact that his paintings maintained an autochthonous style, and he signed them in the same way as his Chinese name. The extent of Western assume in his symbolic art, if any, has been discussed by scholars, with no certain consensus reached.

Scholars, however, agree upon the exceptionally important value of Wu Li’s personal experience. Wu Li was a man of rare qualities: a fine Chinese intellectual, a remarkable artist, a Jesuit, a missionary and a priest unquestionably devoted to his flock.

Wu died at age 86 after serving 30 years as a priest. He composed many poems reflecting his own preaching career and religious feelings, which are collected in an anthology, San Yi Ji. His sermons from 15 Aug 1696 to 25 Dec 1697 and additional religious comings and goings were compiled by Zhao Lun, a convert in Jiading, in a book, Kou Duo (Record of Word and Deeds), the first deposit of sermons by a Chinese priest.

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