The logo of the Macau Ricci Institute in Macau, as it is shared with its founding institution the Taipei Ricci Institute is a provocative one, a symbol with deep and multiple resonances in traditional Chinese culture. It shows a man standing on the back of a tiger, trying to ride the tiger, which is moving forward, apparently in the direction indicated by the rider. While we may be concerned about the folly of trying to ride a tiger, the website of the Ricci Institute has this to say about its meaning: “The image taken from a flat wine vessel in bronze dating from the time of the Han Dynasty, is of a Taoist Immortal riding a tiger. The Tiger, prince of the wild beasts of the mountain, is the animal in which resides the ‘Yin,’ the vital principle of Earth. The Tiger signifies the ‘Yin’ that calls forth the action of the ‘Yang.’” If the tiger symbolises “Yin” then the rider symbolises “Yang” (MRI, 2017). Riding the tiger, according to the MRI website, symbolises mastering the forces of the earth.

The gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening. A very small group has privileged access to vital resources while a growing number of people find themselves totally left behind. If we refer to the “wealth-gap” between top and bottom of the economic “pyramid” we usually focus on the disparity in access to financial resources. Those who seem locked in a vicious circle of poverty, violence and denial of rights quite often do not have proper access to education and adequate professional training. Hong Kong’s wealth gap, for example, has widened to a historic high, with the richest households now earning about 44 times what the poorest families scrape together, in spite of government efforts to alleviate poverty.

Education constantly opens the mind to new insights, skills, values and beliefs. However, the entrance to education seems to be more and more restricted to rivileged clubs to which large segments of society are unable to have access. The third issue of the Macau Ricci Institute Journal therefore explores a few perspectives on how education could be more oriented towards the benefit of the larger society rather than perpetuating a hermit kingdom where only status, power and money count. For example, the ratings and rankings of international universities and colleges seem to refer to a host of parameters, emphasising quality of teaching, financial resources and research strength. However, a key driver may be the all-too-common perception that an institution only gives access to an exclusive club mostly defined by networks of power and money. With their aspirations narrowed to power and money, students become focused above all on the initial salary they may anticipate after their graduation.


When we look at the sheer size and multiple dimensions of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its related projects we may often wonder how it is possible to come to grips with such a complex beast: Six new land corridors of the “Road” and the Maritime “Belt” throughout the seas, with new spaces around the globe getting more and more connected with each other. Beyond the vast expanses, what could turn out truly as innovative when the BRI was launched in 2013 is the call for reciprocity, peace and cooperation, mutual learning and mutual benefit within it. The most recent BRI summit which took place in Beijing in April 2019 insisted on the aspect of “openness and inclusiveness,” described in Mike Thompson’s opening essay, as a source of inspiration despite growing criticism from a number of countries related to a supposed “debt trap diplomacy” and an overreliance on environmentally harmful projects. Looking beyond such criticisms, our view of the BRI will focus on its spiritual nature or perhaps better the spiritual promise of the BRI. As Yang asks: what are the conditions for fulfilling the promise of a genuine “openness and inclusiveness”? He points toward a common ground of key values and institutions reflecting the Confucian principle of reciprocity (in Chinese “shu”, 恕), a principle that is at the core of mutually beneficial business relationships and technology transfers, which should benefit all stakeholders. So far 125 countries have signed 173 agreements with China in the period between 2013 through 2018, with a total Chinese investment into BRI projects of about $90 billion (People’s Daily Online, 2019).

Moral leadership begins with moral education. But moral education often is reduced to compliance and legalist approaches. This tendency to equate morality with a duty to follow the rules—judging from what we see around us nowadays—is highly ineffective, if not counter-productive. The whip of indoctrination coercing support for ideological creeds just seems to provoke greater and better organized resistance. When official textbooks for schools aim to infuse “patriotic values” following a similar logic, the predictable failure seems programmed in advance as most students are likely to resist such intrusions into their conscience.

The insights of the participants of the Symposium 2019 which marked the 20th anniversary of the Macau Ricci Institute form an excellent road map for a much needed spiritual journey that each one of us may undertake as the coronavirus puts an end to the easy escape of tourist travel. The Zen tradition describes the inner journey as an “ox path” as it does not hide the pains of a dreadful and bumpy road that leads to inner freedom. Coping with the pandemic may open a decisive new opportunity for each of us to wake up to our own unique “ox path” marked out by Contemplation, Mission and Martyrdom.

Changing an economic paradigm seems an impossible Herculean task. The focus of the dominant economic model on profit maximization and cost cutting, while favouring a one-sided economic development without any serious regard for the environment, is so entrenched that any move to change it seems so far doomed to fail. In order to adequately address the complex issues related to changing any economic models, the 2020 Symposium of the Macau Ricci Institute at the University of Saint Joseph proceeded as a spiritual conversation: to enhance the ability to listen to each other’s different perspectives each participant was required to pick three major points in the papers of the other participants.

The pandemic of COVID-19, as painful and disastrous as it has been, may offer a wake-up call for many to become finally aware that the gap between the rich and the poor keeps opening: while on the one hand some of the richer countries are able to vaccinate several times their population, on the other hand, some countries only know for sure that a countless number of people will die because they did not even get the basic protection or were victims of irresponsible political decisions.

China has become of central importance not only for East Asia but for the whole of humanity. We want to continue our respectful dialogue with its people, aware that China is an important key for a peaceful world and has great potential for enriching our faith tradition, as many of its people long for a spiritual encounter with God in Christ.” (The Documents of General Congregation 35 of the Society of Jesus, Decree 3, 2008, p.65)

Crises bear a great potential for risks and opportunities. The ongoing pandemic and the eruption of wars indicate first of all the risk that all that we cherish may perish and swiftly disappear in a few moments. On the other hand, crises afford us a great chance to wake up and embark on a spiritual journey. During the so-called Ignatian Year which stretched from May 2021 through July 2022 Jesuits and their partners in mission tried to explore how the gun loving Basque gentleman named Inigo got transformed into a Saint whose name referred to an early Christian martyr—“Ignatius”--who, according to his own testimony, longed to be devoured by wild beasts in his burning desire to become united with the Crucified Jesus Christ. How is it possible that a narcissistic ego may gradually be turned into an oblation poured out for the salvation of the world?

Changing China may seem at first sight a most absurd enterprise, given how its cultural patterns seem so deeply entrenched in the strongly hierarchical traditions characteristic of the “Middle Kingdom”. Nevertheless, this view ignores the fact that China and especially its wisdom and ethical traditions are in a constant process of change, as they often are revised to achieve social progress. As Zhou Shoujin documents, one of the most important of these events was the May Fourth New Culture Movement which started in 1919. This movement had a profound impact in China related to its belief that science and democracy, nicknamed “Mister Sai” (science) and “Madame De” (democracy), will eventually transform China’s cultural traditions. In the Republican era the question was whether the moral imperatives of the Confucian “Junzi”, the morally refined person, would simply be replaced by some Western approach to science and democracy or if there could be a synthesis between the ancient wisdom traditions, accommodating a democratic and scientific worldview. China’s traditional ethos based on the hierarchical structure of legitimate moral authority was thus enriched by an awakening of awareness of the pluralism of civilizations and a sincere desire for genuine dialogue among civilizations.

On 9 October 2023 in Beijing we celebrated the 400th birthday of Ferdinand Verbiest who is considered one of the most outstanding missionaries in China following in the footsteps of Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell. The Symposium on “Exploring the Mysteries of Heaven with Ferdinand Verbiest: Dialogue between Science and Faith” provided an opportunity for the Macau Ricci Institute at the University of St. Joseph to cooperate with the Embassy of Belgium in China, the Yale Center Beijing, the Korean Center for Innovation and the Swiss Chamber of Commerce. This overview of the extremely rich encounter limits itself to briefly highlighting three core dimensions of our combined effort which was in line with the last fourth centenary celebration in 2010 recalling the death of Matteo Ricci 400 years ago. From a Western point of view, it may not easily be understandable how much the memory of friends is greatly valued and appreciated in China over the span of several centuries. While it was encouraging to see how many people on different levels of society in Belgium did enthusiastically join this event on a stunningly beautiful autumn day in Beijing–which included a visit to the six Astronomical instruments at the Ancient Observatory in downtown Beijing–should not let us ignore the fact that Ferdinand Verbiest like other luminaries did a long time ago fall into oblivion in Europe.