1656  — 1737

Claude Visdelou

Jesuit missionary in China and one of the royal mathematicians sent by Louis XIV to the court of China.

Visdelou was born in Trebry, Cotes-du-Nord, France. One of the royal mathematicians sent by Louis XIV to the court of China, he arrived in Peking (Beijing) in 1688. Not chosen to stay at court, Visdelou was allowed to preach anywhere in China. Quickly gaining fluency in Chinese, he worked in several mission stations and at times served as the imperial official to welcome incoming missionaries to China.

At the 1705 Canton discussions on the Chinese Rites issue with Charles Maillard de Tournon, the papal legate, Visdelou openly rejected the Jesuit accommodation position. Three years later the emperor banished Visdelou to Macao, where the next year de Tournon secretly consecrated him a bishop. He left immediately for Pondicherry, India, where until his death he continued to send to Rome extensive translations from Chinese historical sources.


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.


  • H. Gourdon, “Description du royaume de Laos et des pays voisins, presentees au roi du Siam en 1687 par des ambassadeurs du roi de Laos,” Revue Indochinoise 18 (1912): 203-206; K. F. Neumann, “Claude Visdelou und das Verzeichnis seiner Werke,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, vol. 4 (1850), pp. 225-242; J. Witek, Controversial Ideas in China and in Europe: A Biography of Jean-Francois Foucquet, 1665-1741 (1982), pp. 37-40, 110-115.

About the Author

John W. Witek

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