(ANSA) - Rome, December 19 - Italy and China are joining forces to prepare a major show celebrating the man who forged the first real ties between their countries over four centuries ago. The exhibition will focus on Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), a Jesuit priest and academic who spent most of his adult life in China and eventually became a member of the court of Ming Emperor Wanli.
Officials from Italy's Marche region, where Ricci was born, and representatives from the Culture Ministry have travelled to China to meet with their local counterparts and Italian diplomatic staff.
The goal is to stage the exhibition in 2010, the 400th anniversary of Ricci's death, at several locations, starting with Beijing. It will then move onto Nanjing, followed by two stops in Shanghai: one in a former Jesuit orphanage that is being renovated and one in the Expo 2010.
Ricci studied mathematics and astronomy for several years in Rome, where he entered the Jesuit order, before setting out for the Far East in 1578 at the age of 26. He spent four years in Goa on the west coast of India before travelling to China where he settled in Zhao Qing in the southernmost Guangdong Province and began studying Chinese.
It was during this period that the Jesuit priest produced his first global Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries, which revolutionized Chinese understanding of the rest of the world.
In 1589 he moved to Zhao Zhou and began sharing European mathematical ideas with Chinese scholars, winning renown for his extraordinary memory and knowledge of astronomy.
The reputation of Li Madou - as he was known in China - spread, and in 1601 he was finally allowed into the Forbidden City of Beijing, where he worked until his death in 1610. During his life, the Jesuit sought to bridge the gap between Chinese and Italian cultures more by discussion of ethical and philosophical questions than by focusing on religion.
''Matteo Ricci and Marco Polo are now the two best-known Italian figures in China,'' said Italian Consul Massimo Roscigno at the meeting of officials. But while Ricci's work is today familiar to Chinese schoolchildren of all ages, only university-level students learn about Italian explorer Marco Polo, who also travelled to China.
In Italy, Ricci has only recently become a familiar name. Despite his reputation in China, the Catholic Church condemned him for heresy 100 years after his death and he was only rehabilitated by Pope Pius XII in 1939.
His memory has largely been neglected since then but a recent documentary and a successful exhibition in Rome have sparked a revival of popular interest in his extraordinary life. photo: portrait of Matteo Ricci painted in 1610 by Yu Wen-hui.