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Michael Shen Fu-Tsung

Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung, also Michel Sin, Michel Chin-fo-tsoung, Shen Fo-tsung, Shen Fuzong[1] (Chinese: 沈福宗; pinyin: Shěn Fúzōng; Wade–Giles: Shen Fu-tsung, died 1691),[2] was a Chinese mandarin from Nanjing and a convert to Catholicism who was brought to Europe by the Flemish Jesuit priest Philippe Couplet, Procurator of the China Jesuit Missions in Rome. They left Macao in 1681 and visited together Flanders, Italy, France, and England. He later became a Jesuit in Portugal and died near Mozambique while returning home.

Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung
Shen Fo-tsung.jpg
The Chinese Convert, a portrait of Shen Fu-Tsung by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1687
Native name
Chinese: 沈福宗; pinyin: Shěn Fúzōng; Wade–Giles: Shen Fu-tsung
Known forBeing an early Chinese visitor to Western Europe

Visit to EuropeEdit

Flanders and RomeEdit

Michael Shen Fu-Tsung arrived with Philippe Couplet by boat from Portuguese Macau in October 1682. They visited the city where Couplet was born, Mechelen. They then left for Rome, where Couplet tried to obtain a Papal authorization to celebrate mass in Chinese.[3]


Michael's Chinese name in characters: 沈福宗 ("Shen Fu-Tsung")[2]

Shen was presented to King Louis XIV on September 15, 1684, and he demonstrated how to use chopsticks and how to write Chinese characters.[4] He is described as participating in a royal dinner with Couplet, wearing green silk with deep blue brocade, decorated with Chinese dragons.[3] They also visited the Maison royale de Saint-Louis, where they set up a display of Chinese silk portraits.[3]

England and later lifeEdit

After his visit in France, Shen Fu-Tsung also went to Oxford where he met with Thomas Hyde in 1685,[5] and he taught him some Chinese.[6] Shen Fu-Tsung apparently communicated in Latin.[7]

Shen Fu-Tsung also met with King James II.[8] It is the first recorded instance of a Chinese man visiting Britain.[9] The king was so delighted by this visit that he had his portrait made, and had it hung in his bedroom.[9]

Shen Fu-Tsung was able to catalogue the Chinese books that were present in the Bodleian Library, and to describe their content, something which nobody had been able to do until then.[9] He also showed the librarian the correct way to hold a Chinese book, starting with which way was up.[9]

Shen Fu-Tsung left England in 1688 and went to Lisbon, where he entered the Society of Jesus. He died in September 1691 of a shipboard fever as he was returning to China, somewhere near Portuguese Mozambique.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century” Jonathan Spence, National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture (2010) archived copy
  2. ^ a b Chinese Books and Documents in the Jesuit Archives in Rome By Albert Chan (2002) ISBN 0-7656-0828-6 p.395
  3. ^ a b c David E. Mungello Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (1989) University of Hawaii Press ISBN 0-8248-1219-0 p. 255
  4. ^ The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art by Michael Sullivan (1989) ISBN 0-520-21236-3 p. 98
  5. ^ Lewis A. Maverick review of A Cycle of Cathay: The Chinese Vogue in England During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. by William W. Appleton. In The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Feb., 1952), pp. 246-247
  6. ^ Ballaster, p.262
  7. ^ The Dragon and the Eagle: The Presence of China in the American Enlightenment Alfred Owen Aldridge (1993) p. 17
  8. ^ Keevak, p.38
  9. ^ a b c d BBC Quote: Dr David Helliwell of Oxford University describes how Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library, showing the librarian which way up to hold Chinese books as well as what they contained.


  • The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Feb., 1952)
  • Keevak, Michael (2004) The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar's Eighteenth-century Formosan Hoax Wayne State University Press ISBN 0-8143-3198-X
  • Ballaster, Rosalind (2005) Fables of the East: Selected Tales 1662-1785 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-926734-0
  • Mungello, David E. (1989) Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0-8248-1219-0