1560  — 1640

Lazzaro Cattaneo

Jesuit missionary in China.

A member of a noble family in Sarzana near Genoa, Italy, Cattaneo entered the Society of Jesus at Rome in 1581. After completing his training in Portugal, he went to Goa, India, and in 1589 became superior of the mission on the Fishery Coast. In 1593 he arrived in Macao to study Chinese and the following year was with Matteo Ricci in Shao-chou (Shaoguan). As interim superior of that mission, Cattaneo was the first to discuss Christianity with Hsu Kuang-ch’i, one of the pillars of the early church in China.

Cattaneo accompanied Ricci on his first trip to Peking (Beijing), but no imperial audience was possible because of Chinese participation in the war against Japanese invaders in Korea. During this journey Cattaneo added the five tones and aspiration marks for all the words in the Mandarin official language dictionary that Ricci composed. This system remains today a standard feature of Sino-Western dictionaries. Cattaneo later worked at Nanking (Nanjing), spent some years at Macao, and then returned to Nanking and Nan-ch’ang (Nanchang) in 1606. At the urging of Hsu, he opened the mission in Shanghai, where the entire Hsu family became converts. He later went to Hangchow (Hangzhou), where he continued his apostolic labors until his death there.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • Lazzaro Cattaneo, “Ling-hsing i-chu” (Introduction of the soul to God) and “Hui-tsui yao-chi” (On contrition and sorrow for sin), described in Pasquale M. d’Elia, ed., Fonti Ricciane, 3 vols. (1942-1949), 1:332-334, 2:31-33. George Dunne, Generation of Giants: The Story of the Jesuits in China during the Last Decades of the Ming Dynasty (1962), pp. 49-50, 55-56, 68-70, 118-126; Louis Gallagher, China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci (1953), pp. 257-258, 287-291; D. E. Mungello, The Forgotten Christians of Hangzhou (1994), pp. 15-18, 54, 72.

About the Author

John W. Witek

Associate Professor of East Asian History, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA