Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography Xaverian Missionaries - V.le S. Martino, 8 - Parma, Italy 0521-257.337

A bright idea: a museum for all cultures

It is not a collection of folklore
P. Emilio Iurman

 

First exhibit of the Ethnographic Chinese Museum, Parma, Italy
The Chinese Museum as it appeared in 1912

1901

The date attests that the Xaverian institute and museum were born practically at the same time. Two fruits of a single plan that Conforti perceived as "a daring project."

The coincidence might be unusual; but it shows a clear vision of the objectives, programs and guidelines for both institutions, the congregation and the museum.

First of all, the founding of an institute exclusively missionary, with its unique and fundamental task to share the proclamation of the gospel (faith) in non-Christian lands.

Secondly, the creation of a museum highlights the willingness to be open to the knowledge of the cultures of the peoples who the missionaries approached (culture). This is clear not only by the invitation of Conforti to his missionaries to send "to the Mother House cultural elements of ethnology and art," as he wrote in the first rules (1898), but with equal force, with the foundation of an official periodical of the Institute, that combined in its title "Faith and Civilization" (Fede e Civiltà - 1903), both sides - religious and cultural - of the initial project of Conforti.

The history of missions testifies that this method is faced by the church since the time of the Jesuits and Fr. Matteo Ricci (XVI century), and it is assuring that this was proposed to the Xaverian institute at his birth!

In an age marked by a strong Euro-centrism and, in the case of missionaries, also influenced by the experience of the encounter of Europe with Christianity, it would be ahistorical to think that the title of the magazine could not refer to a replica of religious and cultural models developed in Europe. But there is no doubt that the contents of the journal conveyed the deep knowledge acquired by the Chinese people, with its customs and traditions, its culture and society, its philosophy and religion.

It was not unusual that the missionaries would encounter criticism for their downright respectful and sympathetic ways of the Chinese society, unknown to most, if not in some superficial way.

By establishing a museum, with the exhibits of objects and artistic productions, and crafts from different countries, the missionaries would give good evidence - certainly not the only one, but perhaps the most significant - to the commitment of Xaverians in the field of culture.