Professor Menegon Presents Research in San Diego and at Brandeis

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April 25th, 2013

EAS Colloquium Menegon 042313

Professor Eugenio Menegon presented his current research on Europeans, Western commodities, and gift-giving strategies in late imperial Beijing at the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego on March 22, 2013 (

For another presentation at Brandeis University’s East Asian Studies Program Colloquium on April 23, 2013, entitled “The Emperor’s Clockmaker: Gifts and Power Networking in 18th Century Beijing,” Menegon focused in particular on an Italian clockmaker at the Qing imperial court, the Italian Discalced Augustinian Sigismondo Mainardi (1713-1767). Below is a summary of this recent paper:

During the course of the late seventeenth and of the eighteenth century, around thirty European Catholic missionaries lived in Beijing, partly employed in technical services at the imperial palace and at the Directorate of Astronomy, and partly engaged in religious work. In 1724, Christianity was forbidden empire wide. Yet the foreigners, with semi-official permission, continued missionizing in the capital and its environs, employed a good number of Chinese personnel, purchased residences and other real estate (including shops and rental property), and built churches within the Imperial City, the “Tartar City,” and near the Summer Palace. Besides producing luxury objects for the emperor and members of the imperial court in official imperial workshops, as well as privately at home, the priests also imported Western commodities (snuff tobacco; chocolate; wine; clocks and other mechanical devices; glass objects etc.) for their own use, as exotic gifts, and for resale on the capital’s market. The emperor and the Qing court (Manchu nobles, eunuchs, and other officials) allowed the Europeans to remain in Beijing and tolerated their religious activities in exchange for their exotic commodities and their services, including those useful for important state-building projects. The European missionaries used their skills and a relentless gift-giving strategy not only to please their main imperial patron, but also to create a network of support among princes, ministers, employees of the Imperial Household Department, eunuchs, and Beijing commoners. Financial ledgers and reports preserved in European and Chinese archives, in particular, uncover the activities of a European clockmaker at court, Sigismondo Mainardi (1713-1767), and reveal how luxury objects, such as clocks and watches, became the currency of negotiation between divergent interests, contributing to weaken Qing imperial prohibitions and laws, and to create ad hoc arrangements tolerated by the emperor, and benefiting the palace personnel, the missionaries, and their communities.