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Father Boym Illustrates a Chinese Banquet

by Zhou Hongcheng

Food in History

Winter Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(4) page(s): 5

Can you imagine a picture of a Chinese banquet drawn on a map in the 17th century by a Jesuit missionary? One such, unpublished and preserved in Fondo Borgia Cinese 531 called Atlas Sinarum Imperii was done by Father Michal Boym (1612 - 1659 CE). He was one of the first westerners to travel in China; he wrote several books on fauna, flora, and geography in China, and two Chinese dictionaries including one in Chinese-Latin and the other in Chinese-French. Both were published after he died, as were other things, too.

Boym was born in Lwow, a Polish-Lithuanian city, to a rather rich family. His grandfather had come to Poland from Hungary. Michal Boym was one of six sons, His father, Pawel, a doctor to King Sigismund of Poland. He and a brother joined the Society of Jesus and his printed material spread to Europe after he died.

Michal Piotr Boym, also spelled Boim, joined the Jesuits in 1631. He studied in Krakow and elsewhere, went to Rome, received a blessing from Pope Urban the VIII, went on to Portugal, and with nine other priests went to Portuguese Goa and on to Macao. Later, he went to Hainan and opened a small mission there. He did other things, too.

When returning to Europe, he did get rid of his habit as some in his society felt he should not interfere in China’s internal problems because he might be a threat to the Manchu. After that, he was put under house arrest, then jailed; but he did escape and finally did get to see the Pope. In 1656, he was able to return to China. Much of the last parts of that trip were on foot and without papal support. He did reach Guangxi, but died in 1659 before getting to see the Chinese emperor.

His works, many in color and illustrated, were published after he died; they showed many Chinese cities whose locations were not known when he was alive. His Flora Sinensis was published in 1656. In it he describes medicinal properties of Chinese plants, how the Chinese measure the pulse, etc.

Some of his maps and experiences in Ming China are in the Vatican Library. The one about the Chinese Banquet, Convivia Sinarum, some pages shown on this page, introduces some of the unique Chinese foodways at such a feast. It shows they ate with wood or ivory chopsticks, used porcelain bowls, some were seated at separate tables, as seen in a separate picture, drank warm wine and warm tea, and did greet each other before feasting, and they gave gifts to their hosts such as candied food, a golden spoon, and other utensils. His information was correct. It was done after information by Father Matteo Ricci (1552 - 1610) and Alvaro Semedo (1585 - 1658) who did tell about formal banquets in Ming China.

Boym’s works were cited by many famous authors in the 17th century such as by Martino Martini (1614 - 1661) and Athanasius Kircher (1602 - 1680). They both wrote books introducing China to the west, but only Boym's have colored pictures showing how to eat at the Chinese tables. He also drew eleven plants and ten animals on his map titled: Atlas Sinarum Imperii. It is an unpublished manuscript preserved in the Fondo Borgia Cinese 531 in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vatican. More recently, it is seen in Zhenhui Zhang and Xiping Zhang's Translators Works of Michael Boym. That was published in Shanghai by East China University Press in 2013. Boym also wrote about Chinese fruits, medicinal plants, and animals. I do hope others do more research about this missionary man. _____ Hongcheng Zhou, at this time, is a PhD candidate at Zhejiang Univeristy in Hangzhou. He recently completed studies as a visiting scholar of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; and his interests are Sino-Western food relations since the Great Geographical Discovery. He can be reached at: zhc180@gmail.com _____

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