ISSN : 0023-3900
This paper addresses an extremely favorable portrayal by an envoy of Joseon Korea, Jeong Du-won, of the Portuguese Jesuit João Rodrigues, whom Jeong met in the course of his tributary mission to Ming China in 1630–1631. In his subsequent report to the Joseon king, Jeong portrayed Rodrigues as a benign gift-giver, while portraying himself as a passive recipient of Western gifts. Jeong’s characterization of the Jesuit and his gifts has provided modern historians with an important case to illustrate their Eurocentric account of Western Learning in Korea, an account in which the Koreans played simply the passive role of recipient of European culture. While questioning this Eurocentric account, I shall situate Jeong’s portrayal of the Jesuit in its political contexts—Jeong’s China mission and the bureaucratic politics of the Joseon dynasty. The image of Rodrigues as the benign gift-giver was created by Jeong, the Joseon envoy who served as the transmitter of higher culture from China to Korea. In his self-serving rhetorical efforts to legitimize the “barbarian” informant from the West, he managed to legitimize his own achievements within the China mission.
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