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This essay aims to reconstruct the genesis of the ethnographic collections put together by the Xaverian missionaries in China in the first half of the 20th Century and later incorporated into the Chinese Museum of Parma. Senator Federico Lampertico donated the first nucleus of the collection to the bishop of Parma, Guido Conforti, the founder of the missionary order. The article will analyse in-depth the interactions of the Xaverians with the Chinese population and study the work of Father Odoardo Manini, who had been sent to China with Father Caio Rastelli. Their activities will be compared with other ecclesiastics, like Celso Costantini, also operating in the Far East. Sent to China in 1920 by Pope Pius XI, Celso Costantini was tasked with reforming Catholic missions according to the dictates of the encyclical Maximum Illud which Pope Benedict XV had promulgated a few years earlier and with whom missionary activity, respectful of the traditions of non-European populations, was profoundly renewed with the goal of favouring the relevance of the local clergy and limiting the interference of western powers. Some Xaverian order publications will be examined, such as the Regolamento (‘Regulation’) drawn up by Mons. Conforti, the periodical Fede e Civiltà (‘Faith and Civilization’) published from 1903, and the letters between the Procuratorate General and the missionaries operating in China, published in 1977. In order to understand the criteria for choosing individual artifacts and the competitive dynamics between the various orders active in the Asian country until the end of the Civil War in 1949, he the Museum of Chinese Art collections will be analysed from a comparative perspective with the ethnographic finds collected in China by Catholic missionaries and incorporated into some Italian museums. Finally, the contribution provided by the Xaverians to the preparation of the Vatican Universal Missionary Exposition, organized during the Jubilee of 1925, will be examined, at the end of which many of the works exhibited were incorporated into the Museo Missionario-Etnologico (‘Missionary-ethnological museum’) section of the Vatican Museums.
Alessandro Di Meo is an Early Career Member at the Royal Historical Society in London. He graduated in Historical Sciences at the University of Rome La Sapienza, and did Ph.D. in Historical Sciences and Cultural Heritage in 2019 at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo. He published a book Tientsin, la concessione italiana. Storia delle relazioni tra il Regno d’Italia e la Cina (1866-1947), Ginevra Bentivoglio Editoria, Rome 2015, and his PhD thesis, Nelle terre incognite. Esploratori, avventurieri, missionari e ammiragli italiani nel Sud-Est asiatico (1865-1885), Ginevra Bentivoglio EditoriA, Rome, 2021.