1655  — 1728

Louis Le Comte

Jesuit missionary in China.

Le Comte, one of five Jesuit mathematicians sent to China by Louis XIV in 1685, was born in Bordeaux, France. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1671. En route to China, he recorded many astronomical observations. Although the emperor did not select him for service at court after he arrived in 1688, he and two confreres were allowed to preach anywhere in China. He worked in the provinces of Shansi (Shanxi) and Shensi (Shaanxi). Due to Portuguese pressures against the presence of French Jesuits in China, Le Comte was sent to France to report on the status of the mission. From Paris he proceeded to Rome, where he discussed these matters with Jesuit superiors. Shortly after his return to Paris, he published a book of eight letters addressed to different nobles and clerics. In it he upheld the Jesuit accommodation policy toward the Chinese Rites and customs. The condemnation of this work by the Sorbonne in 1700 was a catalyst in opening the discussion of the Chinese Rites controversy in Europe. Despite his desire to return to China, Le Comte became the confessor of the Duchess of Burgundy and later died in his native city.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • Louis Le Comte, Nouveaux memoires sur l’etat de la Chine (1696; repr., F. Touboul-Bouyere, ed.), Un Jesuite a Pekin: Nouveaux memoires sur l’etat present de la Chine, 1687-1692 (1990). See also Jacques Davy, “La condemnation en Sorbonne des ‘Nouveaux memoires sur la Chine’ de P. Le Comte,” Recherches de science religieuse 37 (1950): 366-397.

About the Author

John W. Witek

Associate Professor of East Asian History, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA