August 10, 2015 — Jesuit Father Jerry Martinson and the team at Kuangchi Program Service (KPS), a television production company in Taipei, Taiwan, have found a way to teach China about the Jesuits: through documentary dramas. Broadcast around the country, their most recent film on 18th-century Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione was seen by an estimated 360 million.
Fr. Martinson, an American Jesuit who has lived in Taiwan since 1967, has worked at KPS for 40 years, writing, hosting and producing many cultural and educational radio and television series. But what he truly wanted was to make films about famous Jesuit missionaries to China. One such missionary was Italian Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, the first Westerner to enter Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Chinese imperial palace, in 1601.
However, these missionary stories were censored by the Chinese government — until KPS decided to combine Ricci’s story with that of Paul Xu Guangqi, a Chinese convert to Christianity and friend of Fr. Ricci who, with the aid of the Jesuit priest, brought Western geometry to China. By focusing on the Chinese Guangqi and downplaying the Italian foreigner, Fr. Ricci, KPS was able to shoot a film about Fr. Ricci for a Chinese audience, something that had never been done before. The series debuted on Chinese television in 2006, and Fr. Martinson quickly began a second missionary film on 17th-century German Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell.
In order to avoid censorship by the Chinese government, Kuangchi’s films teach about the missionaries by emphasizing their scientific and cultural impact on China while sparking curiosity about the Society of Jesus and Christianity. “The whole purpose is to bring these values to the people of China, no doubt about it,” Fr. Martinson said.
KPS plans to air the Castiglione film at the Milan Expo this year, where they hope the Italian people will learn more about their Jesuit ancestor. Other Chinese broadcasters plan to air the docudrama soon, increasing its exposure.
Now that Kuangchi has built a solid reputation for quality productions, Fr. Martinson and the production team are already brainstorming for their next project. “We want to tell…the other stories, because the real growth of the church in China happened at the grass roots,” said Fr. Martinson.