Diary, Mendez Pinto

One of the most important results of the early modern period was the spread of European culture generally, and Christian religion particularly, throughout the globe. The selection below, taken from the diaries of Mendez Pinto, a Portuguese sailor captured by the Chinese, illustrates the early stages of contact between Europe and the East. Pinto was shipwrecked around 1537, and landed in the Chinese town of Sempitay. There he encountered Inez de Leyria, a Chinese Christian of Eurasian ancestry, who boldly approached him as a fellow Christian. The episode demonstrates that unofficial channels of Christianization—most likely through the Silk Road—were available prior to 1580, when the Jesuits were granted official permission to enter China, the most powerful state in the world at the time. The excerpt also shows that women played a crucial role in this early transmission of European culture in Asia. Moreover, we learn that, in contrast to Confucian mores which excluded women from major public roles, Christianity offered de Leyria a leadership role in the local community, as well as ties to a larger global identity.

Source: The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, the Portugese. London, 1663. Reprinted and translated by Henry Cogan. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1892.

Whereupon a woman who was come thither amongst the rest to see us. . . . She gave us two Mazes, which amounts to about sixteen pence of our money, advising us to make no more such long voyages, since our lives were so short. Hereupon she unbottoned one of the sleeves of a red sattin gown she had on, and baring her left arm, she showed us a cross imprinted on it, like the mark of a slave, Do any of you know this sign, which amongst those, that follow the way of truth, is called a cross? . . . To this falling down on our knees, we answered, with tears in our eyes, that we know exceedingly well. Then lifting up her hands she cried out, Our Father, which art in Heaven . . . speaking these words in the Portugal tongue, and because she could speak not more of our language, she very earnestly desired us in Chinese to tell her whether we were Christians; we replied that we were; and for proof thereof . . . repeated all the rest of the Lord’s Prayer, which she had left unsaid, wherewith being assured that we were Christians indeed, she drew aside from the rest there present, and weeping said to us, come along Christians of the other end of the world, with her that is your true sister in the faith of Jesus Christ . . .

She carried us home to her house, and there kept us all the while we remained in that place, making exceeding much of us, and using us very charitably. Here she shewed us an oratory, wherein she had a cross of wood gilt, as also candlesticks, and a lamp of silver. Furthermore she told us, that she was named, Inez de Leyria, and her father Tome Pirez, who had been great ambassadour from Portugal to the King of China and that in regard of an insurrection with a Portugal captain, made at Canton, the Chineses taking him for a spy, and not for an ambassadour . . . clapped him . . . in prison . . . . [He was] into this place, where he married with her mother, that had some means, and he made her a Christian, living so seven and twenty years together, and converting many Gentiles to the faith of Christ, whereof there were above three hundred then abiding in that town; which every Sunday assembling in her house to say the catechisme: whereupon demanding of her what were their accustomed prayers, she answered, that she used no other but these, which on their knees and hands lift up to Heaven, they pronounced in this manner, O Lord Jesus Christ, as it is most true that Thou art the very Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgine Mary for the salvation of sinners, so Thou wilt be pleased to forgive us our offences, that thereby we many become worthy to behold Thy face in the glory of Thy kingdom, where Thou art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy [page 193] Ghost. Amen. And so all of them kissing the cross, imbraced one another, and thereupon every one returned to his own home. Moreover, she told us, that her father had left her many other prayers, which the Chineses had stollen from her, so that she had none left but those before recited; whereunto we replied, that those we had heard from her were very good, but before we went away we would leave her divers other good and wholsome prayers, Do so then, answered she, for the respect you owe to so good a God, as yours is, and that hath done such things for you, for me, and for all in general. Then causing the cloth to be laid, she gave us a very good…dinner, and treated us in like sort every meal, during the five days we continued in her house. . . . [D]uring the five days we remained in her house, we read the catechism seven times to the Christians. . . . [B]eside, Christophoro Borbalho made them a little book in the Chinese tongue, containing the Pater noster, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and many other good prayers. After these things we took her leaves of Inez de Leyria, and the Christians who gave us fifty Taeis in silver, which stood us since in good stead . . . and withall Inez de Leyria gave us secretly fifty Taeis more, humbly desiring us to remember her in our prayers to God.