David Mungello’s work, while drawing on important publications by pioneers such as Knud Lundbæk, does at last give us a convenient synopsis of the career of a man whose breadth of reading in Chinese was probably over a century ahead of anyone else in the West. For that alone he surely does deserve to be remembered, and for ensuring that David Mungello certainly deserves our thanks.
Through these five chapters Mungello gives an intimate, almost encyclopedic overview of the fate of Prémare and of Figurism. He paints a picture of a fervent missionary and scholar. This work is concise and gives an excellent overview of the history of Figurism along the red thread of Prémare’s life and work in China and its ultimate failure to “save” the China mission. . . Mungello also makes a beautiful statement on academic freedom, even though, or maybe because, Prémare’s thoughts were radical and possibly heretical: no one deserves to be silenced.
M. performs a great service not only to sinologists but also to a broader readership, especially Catholics, by retrieving this little-known chapter of Catholic missions in China. In hindsight, the silencing of Prémare was a terrible injustice to this scholarly and saintly Jesuit, whose sole goal in elaborating Figurisme was to facilitate the con- version of the Chinese to Christianity by showing that God was already present at the beginning of their history and has revealed himself to their ancestors. May Prémare’s story provide a cautionary tale to contemporary church leaders, especially in Asia, not to fail to discern God’s hidden presence among their people, and not to silence those who try to point to it.