– Marco Carvalho
Missionaries, educators, scientists, mathematicians and also merchants. The little known role of the members of the Society of Jesus as agents of commerce set the tone for the lecture “Jesuits and Global Goods – Commercial Routes from Macau to Europe, Asia and Latin America.” The initiative promoted by the Macau Ricci Institute and Argentinian historian Omar Svriz Wucherer argued that the Jesuits were active agents in the circulation and dissemination of Chinese products in such remote locations as Paraguay or other faraway corners of the Spanish colonial empire in Latin America.
A researcher affiliated with Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, Svriz Wucherer claimed on Wednesday that the members of the Society of Jesus did not only promote the transit of goods between peripheral regions of the Iberian empires, but also encouraged their consumption by local populations in Latin America: “With this project, I tried to answer the big question of how the goods from China disseminated in different territories, namely in Europe and Latin America,” professor Wucherer told O Clarim. “In my study, I take the case of the Jesuits and I try to understand how this order tried to do commerce with different goods – silk, musk and other goods – and how they went from Macau or from China in general to other territories through the Jesuits’ activities,” the Argentinian researcher explains.
The discovery in the inventory of the Paraguayan missions of the Society of Jesus of references to porcelain, silk, musk and other products as being directly introduced from China aroused the curiosity of the Argentinian scholar. The fact became a starting point for an extensive and thorough investigation. Omar Svriz Wucherer argues that the commercialization of Chinese products and, conversely, the introduction of European luxury products, such as watches, in the imperial court in Beijing, helped the Jesuits to secure funding for the missions they developed in the outlying regions of both the Iberian empires: “The Jesuits had the need to auto-finance their missions, so the commerce and the transaction of goods are very important in the way they financed themselves in the 17th and the 18th centuries,” the researcher told O Clarim. “The quantity of silk, of porcelain and of other Chinese goods that we find in Paraguay is very small, it is very limited, but, on the other hand, this kind of goods is very expensive,” Mr Wucherer claims.
A visiting researcher at the Macau Ricci Institute, Omar Svriz Wucherer has spent the last two months looking for information and identifying sources in the Macau Historical Archives. The Argentine scholar argues that in order for the history of the Society of Jesus to be fully understood, the economic and political activities of the Jesuits should not be underestimated: “To resort to commerce is something very usual not only for the Jesuits, but also for other religious orders because they needed money, of course, to survive in what were then the frontiers of the Empire. The important thing in my research is that we should not separate the evangelical mission from the economical and political activities. To know the Jesuits, to know the Society of Jesus, we need to have in mind this point-of-view,” Omar Svriz Wucherer concludes.