Francisco Varo (1627-1687) was a Dominican
priest from Spain
. He arrived in southern China in 1649 and lived there for the remainder of his life. Varo was renowned for his command of Chinese
, and especially for his ability to speak the highly compressed formal style that was traditionally favored by Chinese officials.
Varo's greatest contributions were his textbooks on Chinese. He wrote a grammar, which was enormously influential for the next two hundred years. He also wrote two dictionaries - one Chinese-Spanish and one Chinese-Portuguese. These materials are the best existing record of real spoken language in 17th century China.
The language Varo described was a variety of Nanking (Nanjing) Mandarin. Today the standard form of Chinese is based on the Beijing accent, and few people realize that until the mid-19th century Beijing was a linguistically insignificant place. Nanking's language was the prestige koine throughout the Empire, and especially in the South.
Varo is said to have been active in the opposition to the Jesuit position on the Rites Controversy.