Divers voyages et missions du père Alexandre de Rhodes de la Compagnie de Jésus en la Chine et autres royaumes de l’Orient, avec son retour en Europe par la Perse et l’Arménie is a travel book written by the Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660) which was published in 1653. In it, he narrates his voyage of 35 years and his missionary work.
During Alexandre de Rhodes’s time, European presence in South-East Asia was rather limited. Europeans were principally there to trade, but the merchants were often accompanied by missionaries. Therefore, most travel texts about South-East Asia were produced by a relatively small number of merchants and missionaries. These texts were immensely popular during the seventeenth century, because Europeans were very curious about these foreign lands, their inhabitants and their customs.
Alexandre de Rhodes’s book was published when he was working in France (namely in Marseille, Lyon and Paris) between 1652 and 1654, in order to gain support for the Christian church in Vietnam. He was asked to fulfill the three following tasks: “to impress the Pope of the extreme need to send bishops to Tonkin and Cochinchina; to seek material help from Christian princes for the missions; and to ask the superior general to send more missionaries to the countries of Asia.” At the beginning of de Rhodes’s travel narrative, the Jesuit explains that the reason why he decided to write Divers Voyages […], was because many great people who have read his short texts about his travels, have asked him to offer the public a full version.
Divers voyages et missions du père Alexandre de Rhodes de la Compagnie de Jésus en la Chine et autres royaumes de l’Orient, avec son retour en Europe par la Perse et l’Arménie is divided in three parts: Alexandre de Rhodes’s journey from Rome to China, his missions in Tonkin and Cochinchina (today’s Vietnam) and finally his return from China to Rome. The main topic of this book is de Rhodes’s proselytizing work and his methods of conversion, but he does describe some of the foreign lands, customs, and politics as well.
The part about his journey in Tonkin and Cochinchina is the longest one, because he spent most of his time there. The first chapters describe Cochinchina’s and Tonkin’s historical relationship, governments, its armies, language, customs as well as its religions. De Rhodes also writes about their fertile lands, gold mines, high quantities of pepper, silk, sugar and other resources. After that, all the chapters on today’s Vietnam are mostly about his many successes and few failures in converting the natives, the government’s repression he and other Christians sometimes faced, and circumstances he portrayed as miracles. A recurring representation throughout the book is that of Vietnamese natives being highly receptive and devoted to Christianity, even risking their lives for their faith.