Saturday, January 6, 2024

Agnieszka Couderq and Her Novel about Polish Jesuit in China, January 20, 2024, Playa Vista

Happy New Year!  This is the Year of the Dragon, so it is quite fitting to start it with an event about China.  Helena Modjeska Art & Culture Club is pleased to invite members and guests to a meeting with Agnieszka Couderq, author of a novel, The Last Envoy of the Ming Dynasty. Historical novel in two volumes. The meeting will be in Polish and will be held on January 20, 2024 5pm, at the Centerpointe Club in Playa Vista (6200 Playa Vista Dr, Playa Vista, CA 90094). The presentation starts at 5:20 to 6:20 plus QA period and a wine-and-hors-d'oeuvres reception. Parking under the building.

The author will have some copies available for signing and sale. The work is in two volumes: Volume I - The Sun, the Moon and the Cross; Volume II – Light and Darkness. The publisher is Oficyna Wydawnicza RYTM:

About the Author

The author is Polish and American, currently living alternately in Warsaw and Los Angeles. Initially growing up in communist Poland, she came to the United States in 1980 as a teenager and completed her studies in geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines in Colorado. Shortly after graduating, she contracted cancer, with little chance of survival. This near-death experience at a young age had a profound impact on her. It defined her entire life, creating a lens through which she viewed all its twists and turns, ups and downs. These experiences drew her very early to issues of faith and suffering. As an avid reader who read various books written by authors living on many continents, she has been developing her writing skills for years, creating stories for children and poetry. Only after encountering the story of Michał Boym during her studies in sinology did she feel the strength to writing a novel with a view to its publication. The book she wrote is the essence of her life experiences and thoughts. Having lived in many countries and cultures, she has learned to appreciate them. She seeks to know them in depth and does this primarily by learning their languages. Therefore, Ms. Couderq speaks Polish, English, French, Spanish and Chinese fluently and understands Russian well. 

About this Book

The Last Envoy of the Ming Dynasty is a fictionalized story about the authentic figure of the Polish "Marco Polo". - Michał Boym, a 17th-century Polish Jesuit and missionary in China, who, as the official envoy of the last emperor of the Ming dynasty, Yongli, went to Europe to represent the only Catholic court in Chinese history. Father Michał Boym SJ is considered one of the precursors of Western knowledge about the Middle Kingdom. One of his many works is Medicus Sinicus, the first treatise published in Europe on Chinese traditional medicine, whose roots date back to the third millennium BC. He is also among the European precursors of modern economic geography.

When Michael Boym, a young, promising and idealistic Jesuit, arrives in Portuguese Macau at the end of A.D. 1644, little does he expect that only five years later he will meet the (platonic) love of his life and be thrown into the vortex of epochal changes and political intrigues taking place on both the Asian and European continents. While the power of the Ming dynasty crumbled under the pressure of the pagan Manchus, Father Boym undertook a dangerous journey across lands and oceans to defend it before the most powerful Catholic rulers and the Pope himself. In this diplomatic role, he violated the rules of his order, the Society of Jesus, while participating in the power game between the main colonial players in the Far East, the Portuguese, Dutch and British, and in Europe, between the local powers.

The narrator of the novel is the "author", an old friend of the main character and a fellow Jesuit, and the scenes of Michał Boym's presence at the court of the Ming Emperor, and then during his legation in Europe, are interwoven with events taking place at the same time in China in the last phase changes between the Ming and Qing dynasty. Most of the circumstances described in the book are consistent with the facts. Readers will therefore learn about the geopolitical panorama of Europe and Asia in the 17th century and the history of relations between these two parts of the world.


In the autumn of 1649, Father Michał Boym, a young Polish Jesuit missionary, arrives at the court of the Chinese Emperor Yongli, the last ruler of the Ming dynasty, in crisis. He is to help his Austrian brother, Andreas Koffler, in leading the path of Jesus Christ to the only Catholic imperial court in the history of the Middle Kingdom. Boym's missionary zeal does not come without a price. He must leave his life in a wealthy Polish family and break the promise he made to his brother. The compulsion to choose between keeping promises made to loved ones and calling on the Lord will haunt the Pole until the end. At court, he meets the love of his life, the Dowager Empress Helena. Older than him, she is a beautiful, brilliant and powerful woman and, like him, deeply religious. He also assists at the baptism of the heir to the throne. This event marks the culmination of over a hundred years of Jesuit missionary efforts in Asia. It creates an unparalleled opportunity for the Vatican and Catholic European powers to gain the upper hand in the fierce competition against British and Dutch interests. The prospect of Catholic China, his great faith, and his intense yet platonic feeling for the Empress are the driving force that drives him to overcome countless dangers and obstacles that test his convictions and commitment to the Church and its cause.

Faced with constant attacks by the Manchu Qing dynasty, which controls the northern part of China, the two Jesuits convince the emperor to send Boym to Europe to gain support for the Ming dynasty. From now on, his fate will be inextricably linked with his legation. In addition to official letters, he carries with him the fruits of his studies on Chinese culture - the first European atlas of China and the first treatise on Chinese medicine by a European. From the very beginning, his mission fell victim to great European politics and economic rivalry between the main players of this era of the decline of the Habsburgs and the rise of Louis XIV's France, as well as their game for influence in the Vatican. On the other hand, due to the competition of the Dutch East India Company in the Far East, the Portuguese in Macau feel more and more pressure to side with one of the warring dynasties. The same dilemma divides the Jesuit Mission into two competing factions: the Qing and the Ming. The political division in the secular and religious spheres of the Portuguese Estado da India works to the detriment of Boym's mission. And so, when he goes to Europe, another envoy goes to the Vatican on behalf of the "northern" Jesuits. He is to convince the Vatican and European courts that the cause of the Ming dynasty is irretrievably lost, and the only force in China to be reckoned with is the Manchu Emperor Qing Shunzhi.

Father Martino Martini SJ also travels with his most precious opus - his own atlas of China. And so a race begins between two brothers that will decide the future of the Chinese Empire and the Catholic religion in the Far East, and will make one of them famous. Meanwhile, in China, the armies of Chinese traitors who defected to the Manchu side and Ming loyalists are fighting a bloody brotherly war between themselves, the outcome of which remains open...

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