Blog / February 2006

  • 5 February 2006Matteo Ricci and the Art of Memory

    This is a mnemonic I have shared in the Study area, it is for the kanji "fervent" :
    "The fervent Matteo Ricci; an Italian Jesuit priest whose missionary activity in China during the Ming Dynasty marked the beginning of modern Chinese Christianity; is not allowed in the local temples. In order to understand the Chinese culture first, he built a *Trojan Horse* out of *bamboo* to get himself into a Buddhist temple."
    Of course the "bamboo Trojan horse" is completely made up, it corresponds to what James Heisig calls "primitives", it is simply a code that we use to remember how to write the chinese (sometimes japanese) characters, from memory.

    The story of Matteo Ricci however, is real. I thought it may be compelling for those who are facing doubt about the use of mnemonics and their application to learning how to write over two thousand kanji from memory :

    "Ricci brought blazing intelligence to the task of learning who the Chinese were and how to bring Christianity to them. He learned their language, technology, and culture.

    Then, in 1596, Ricci wrote A Treatise on Mnemonics, in Chinese, for the governor of Jiangxi Province. In it he recreated the medieval European idea of a memory palace -- an edifice you build in your mind and furnish with mnemonic devices. Recollection is a process of walking through the rooms and associating information with their contents. Those contents must be distinct and dramatic. ( Source ).
    In Chinese you need at least 3000 characters to be literate, compared to the 2000 of Japanese. Not only that, but Matteo Ricci learned to write in ancient chinese, which was more complex than the simplified forms that we have today.