1614  — 1661

Martino Martini


Jesuit missionary, geographer, and historian of China.

Martini was born in Trent, Italy. After studying at the Roman College (the Jesuit college in Rome), he volunteered for missions and entered China in 1643. By using astronomy, he determined the locations of several cities he visited. The Manchus invaded Hangchow (Hangzhou) but showed him respect and gave him a permit to stay. By 1650 a number of Chinese had become converts because of his leadership. That year he was appointed the procurator of the mission to go to Rome for discussions on the Chinese Rites issue with church officials.

En route to Europe, Martini was temporarily held prisoner by the Dutch in Batavia, but he arrived in Rome in 1654. Also that year his Novus Atlas Sinensis (New atlas of China) appeared, as did his study of the Manchu conquest, which was soon reprinted and translated. During his return voyage to China, he translated a Chinese historical work, which later was published in Munich. (For decades, this was the only such work translated into a Western language.) In 1659, after obtaining in Rome the 1656 decree favoring the Jesuit views of the rites, Martini returned to Hangchow, where he built a new church in 1660 and died a year later.


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.


  • Martino Martini, De bello tartarico in Sinis historia (1654), Novus Atlas Sinensis (1655; the 1981 repr. Includes Eng. tr.), and Sinicae historiae decas prima (1658). B. Bolognani, L’Europa scopre il volto della Cina. Prima biografia di Padre Martino Martini, missionario, sinologo, geografo (1614-1661) (1978); Franco Demarchi and Riccardo Scartezzini, eds., Martino Martini, umanista e scienziato nella cina del secolo XVII (1995); G. Melis, ed. Martino Martini: geografo, carlografo, storico, teologo (1983).

About the Author

John W. Witek

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