CRUZ, Frei Gaspar da (Évora ? ? Setúbal, 1570)
A Dominican friar, he developed his activity in the East during two consecutive decades. From mid 16th century onwards, the European vision of the world was completely shaken by the knowledge that was being gathered about Asia. The dissemination of this knowledge in Portugal was difficult due to the official control over the editorial activity, which aimed to provide a certain secrecy over commercial routes, with the publication of books and pamphlets being, therefore, discouraged in Lisbon. This situation only changed when the Portuguese started to lose (to the Dutch) their domination in the East, but it was too late to invert the power that the centres in Northern Europe had obtained in the meanwhile. This scenario may explain why Gaspar da Cruz?s Tratado em que se contam muito por extenso as Coisas da China, com suas particularidades, e assim do Reino d?Ormuz?(Treaty in which Chinese Matters are extensively presented, with their particularities, as well as those of the Kingdom of Ormus?), printed in Évora by André Burgos in 1570 (or 1569?), had little dissemination, despite being the first work about China published in Europe, and was only reprinted in the 19th century. Other factors may explain its reduced success, namely its publication in a year of plague, rightly known as ?Great Plague,? it being written in Portuguese, a language with a reduced impact in Europe, and the rapid outdating of its content due to the constant arrival of new information.
Friar Gaspar da Cruz developed his activity as a missionary in the Far East. In 1548, he headed to India with other fellow missionaries and set up residences in Goa, Chaul and Cochin, visiting Ceylon and departing to Malacca, where he founded a convent of the Dominican Order in 1554. He then moved to Cambodia in 1555-1556 and, through Laos, arrived in China in 1556, first visiting Guangzhou and then moving to Guangdong after obtaining an authorisation from the mandarins. Between 1557 and 1559, Friar Gaspar da Cruz travelled again to Malacca and was part of a group of Dominicans that headed to Ormus in 1560 to preach the Gospel. The stay may have not attained the expectations of evangelization, since the flock only comprised the soldiers stationed at the fortress, so he left Ormus in 1563. He may have travelled towards the western coast of India, because he was in Goa in 1564, from where he eventually returned to Lisbon. This was his last stop, since he got the plague here and passed away in Setúbal in 1570.
The route he took suggests that his travelling was determined by a prospecting mission that intended to gauge the propensity of local populations to accept evangelisation. The incursions of the Dominican friar were not always approved by the Jesuits, who considered his excessive zeal to be counter-productive. Friar Gaspar da Cruz?s short stays in both Malacca and Cambodia are proof of this and denounce a lack of adaptation and possibly an apostolic inflexibility. The evangelic experience in Cambodia is so frustrating that Friar Gaspar da Cruz himself left the country disappointed, considering that the local populations were not ready to be converted. Following Portuguese merchants, he ends up heading to China and lands on Lampacau, an island in the bay of Guangzhou sough after by the Portuguese ships. Despite the unfavourable environment, the time he spent in Southern China allowed him to observe and collect the necessary information to prepare his Treaty. As the Jesuits would defend, Friar Gaspar da Cruz also shared the opinion that an embassy in Beijing would provide the indispensable conditions for the missionary work.
A piece of travel literature, the Treaty, as an individual work, presents a fortunate intertwining between the use of sources, namely the writings of Galiote Pereira, a soldier-merchant that was taken prisoner with other Portuguese in China around 1550, and direct observation, later serving as inspiration to authors such as the Spaniard Mendoza or the Portuguese Fernão Mendes Pinto. The Treaty was the first book authored by a westerner to give a detailed and global vision of China, over whose society he did not hide his admiration. The information it provides was collected during his stay in Guangzhou and also sourced from Galiote Pereira, an origin that he does not conceal. ?As a Portuguese fidalgo, [Galiote Pereira] simply gathered an unsorted number of notes, written as they came to him, without any great concerns in their formal organisation; our author [Friar Gaspar da Cruz] combined them with his own research, providing the whole text with a systematic and coherent organisation? (LOUREIRO, 1997: 31). Decades later, both Pereira?s and Cruz?s accounts would inspire and provide information to Escalante and Mendoza. Until the publication of Bernardino de Escalante?s Discurso de la navegacion que los Portugueses hazen à los reinos y Províncias del Oriente, y de la noticia q se tiene de las grandezas del Reino de la China in Seville eight years later (1577), no other work on China was published, since Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza?s Historia de las cosas mas notables, ritos y costumbres del gran Reyno de la China only left the press in Rome in 1585. The result of a papal order, Mendoza?s work attained a great dissemination in Europe, despite not representing more than a summary of what was known in Europe about China until then, thanks to João de Barros and particularly to Gaspar da Cruz. The big problem with Mendoza is that he does not mention his sources, let alone explains his criteria of selection. An interlinked chain of information is then established, covering chroniclers, travellers and Portuguese religious men, with Friar Gaspar da Cruz representing the maximum reference. Not even the Jesuit letters can compete with the vivid notes of daily living registered by Gaspar da Cruz. Published over fifty years before Fernão Mendes Pinto?s Peregrinação (1614), the Treaty gained prominence as a credible account and a source, due to its usage.
The Treaty does not reveal an unknown reality; its novelty is the overview of every aspect of life in China that Friar Gaspar da Cruz directly experienced and that positively struck him, excluding questions of faith. ?The curiosity of the Dominican friar was truly insatiable, and there were few aspects of Chinese life that he did not researched? (LOUREIRO, 1997: 37). The Dominican friar strolled and visited, observed, registered, concluded and wrote. Contrary to what would happen with Peregrinação, the Treaty is a first-person narrative, the voice of the author with the purpose of providing an insight to what is different, certainly attaining the political and religious goals that the author had been assigned (MARGARIDO, 1977: 170). While Friar Gaspar da Cruz describes as an observer, Fernão Mendes Pinto takes part as an author. The intercultural dimension is not detectable in Gaspar da Cruz, but this does not diminish the immense interest of the Treaty as a trip report. ?Contrary to many of his predecessors (?) he enquired on his own, delved deeply into questions, searched for answers and did not simply opt to impressionistically register the facts that he was faced with? (LOUREIRO, 1997: 52). The Treaty and its vast information, its liveliness and its detail were probably only surpassed when the news sent by the Jesuits started to reach Europe after they established themselves in Beijing (1583). More than two decades had passed.
LACH, Donald F., Asia in the Making of Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965-1994. 3 v. LOUREIRO, Rui, ?Introdução?. In CRUZ, Gaspar da ? Tratado das Coisas da China (Évora, 1569-1570). Lisboa: Cotovia: CNCDP, 1997. 285 p. (p. 13-54). MACHADO, Diogo Barbosa, Bibliotheca Lusitana Historica, Critica, e Cronologica? Lisboa: Na Officina de Ignacio Rodrigues, 1741-1759. 4 v. (v. 2, 1747, p. 347-348). MARGARIDO, Alfredo, La multiplicité des sens dans l?écriture de Fernão Mendes Pinto et quelques problèmes de la littérature de voyages au XVIe siècle. Paris: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1977. p. 159-199 (Separata, Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português; 11). SILVA, Inocêncio, Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional, 1858-1911. 9 v., 20 v. Suplemento (v. 3, p. 128; v. 9, p. 413).
Author: Maria Luísa Cabral
Translated by: John Silva