1565  — 1630

Li Zhizao


Only high-ranking Chinese intellectual baptized by Matteo Ricci, and one of the "three pillars" of the early Catholic Church in China.

Li was one of the Chinese officials who willingly learned European astronomy, geography, mathematics, and Catholic doctrines from Matteo Ricci. Baptized Liang (Leon) by Ricci, Li converted to Catholicism upon the earnest persuasion of the critically ill Ricci one month before the latter’s death (May 1610). Upon conversion, Li helped missionaries spread the Gospel to his native home and sheltered them during precarious times when they came under suspicion and were rejected by other Chinese officials. He helped the missionaries with their translation work by polishing up their Chinese and did some writing himself to propagate Catholicism. Li, Xu Guangqi, and Yang Tingjun are considered the three pillars of the early Chinese Catholic Church.


This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • Li Chih-tsao,” in Eminent Chinese of the Ching Period, ed. A. Hummel (1943-44). 
  • Peterson, Willard J., “Why Did They Become Christians? Yang Ting-yun, Li Chih-tsao, and Hsu Kuang-chi,” in East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582-1773, ed. C. Ronan and B. Oh (1988). 
  • Standaert, N., Yang Tingyun: Confucian and Christian in Late Ming China (1988).

About the Author

China Group

A Collaboration of China Scholars