Born in Toulon, France, Amiot entered the Jesuit order in 1737 and was ordained in 1746. He reached Peking (Beijing) in August 1751 and was granted an audience with the Qianlong emperor. His research on the peoples and spoken languages of China led to lifelong study of many aspects of Chinese and Manchu culture. He engaged in considerable correspondence with learned people in Europe, including Henri Bertin, minister to Louis XV, who raised many questions about China.
Amiot published voluminous accounts of the history, chronology, physics, literature, mathematics, and music of China, as well as an extensive life of Confucius. When he learned in 1775 that the pope had suppressed the Jesuit order, he suggested to the French government that the Paris Foreign Mission Society take charge of the Peking mission, but the pope sent the Congregation de la Mission (Lazarists, also known as Vincentians), which Amiot welcomed. His last letters to his sister reflect his concern about the French Revolution and its impact on the mission in China. Overwhelmed by news of the regicide of Louis XIV, which he received on the evening of October 8, he died during the night.
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.
- Most of Amiot’s essays are in Memoires concernat l’histoire, les sciences, les arts, les moeurs, les usages, etc., des Chinois par les missionnaires de Pekin, 17 vols. (1777-1814).
- Joseph Dehergne “Une Grande collection: Memoires concernant les chinois (1776-1814),” Bulletin de l’Ecole francaise de l’Extreme-Orient 70 (1983): 267-298; “Jean-Joseph-Marie Amiot,” in Louis Pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiquec sur les Jesuites de l’ancienne mission de Chine (1932-1934; repr. 1971 and 1975), pp. 837-860; Camille de Rochemonteix, Joseph Amiot et les derniers survivant de la mission francaise a Pekin (1915).
- Painting, circa 1790. Reproduction in Alain Peyrefitte “Images de l’Empire Immobile”.