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The role of urban real estate in Jesuit finances and networks between Europe and China, 1612-1778 Vermote, Frederik


This dissertation examines the role of urban real estate in the finances and networks of the Jesuit missions in China. Starting in 1612, when Jesuit missionaries working in China envisioned for the first time a strategy for making the missions financially independent from Europe, I will investigate how and why it took until the second half of the eighteenth century for the Christian communities in China to become financially self-sustaining. The procurators and their subordinate treasurers, the Jesuits primarily in charge of the financial management of the missions, are the subject of this dissertation. How did they combine the resources and personnel extracted from Europe, India, and China to establish an autonomous financial foundation for the missions in China? This dissertation argues that their most reliable source of income was revenue from investments in urban real estate. The arc of this dissertation spans both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries examining the Portuguese and the French Jesuit missions in China. Through a close analysis of Jesuit procurators’ activities and personal networks this dissertation will assert that while they realized the necessity of economic integration in the global missions early on, procurators encountered great problems in realizing this goal. As such, this dissertation recognizes the limitations of global networks by exploring the role of global contact and the circulation of missionaries, money, and mail and by looking at the Jesuit search for financial opportunities in the local and regional economy to become self-sustaining communities. Only by studying the Jesuit finances in China over a time-span of 166 years does the relationship between Longobardo’s strategic planning for financial independence in 1612 and the French Jesuits’ budget for their missions in Beijing in 1778 become fully clear. This dissertation’s most important contribution is in charting the growing importance of revenue from investments in urban real estate. Ironically, just as the missions in China had begun to galvanize local resource networks largely independent of the central organization of the Society, European monarchs expelled the Jesuits from their realms and Rome finally dissolved the Jesuits as a Society.

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