The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
, 2008 - Jesuits
- 350 pages
In 1577 a Jesuit priest named Matteo Ricci set out from Italy on a long journey to bring the Christian faith and Western thought to Ming dynasty China. He spent time in India and Macao before entering China in 1583 to undertake mission work. Travelling widely, Ricci learned local languages, mastered Chinese classical script, drew the first-ever map of the world in Chinese and acquired a rich appreciation of the indigenous culture of his hosts. In 1596 Ricci wrote a short book in Chinese on the art of memory for the governor of Jiangxi province, who was preparing his three sons for China's demanding civil service examinations. In it he described a 'memory palace' in which to hold knowledge such as might help the three brothers and their peers in the Ming social elite to pass their exams with flying colours. Ricci must have hoped that, in gratitude to him for instructing them in mnemonic skills, they would use their newly won prestige to further the cause of the Catholic Church in China. To capture the complex emotional and religious drama of Ricci's life, author Jonathan Spence relates the missionary's experiences via a series of images. Four of these images derive from events described in the Bible, the others from Ricci's book on the art of memory that was circulated among members of the Ming dynasty elite. A rich and compelling narrative about a remarkable life, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci is also a significant work of global history, juxtaposing the world of Counter-Reformation Europe with that of Ming China.