The Xiguo jifa. Treatise on Western Mnemonic Arts by Matteo Ricci S.J. Its Importance in Chinese Language Learning

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When Ricci first studied Chinese characters he affirmed that they seemed to be invented specially for ars memorativa, the method that Jesuit missionaries used in order to memorize and learn foreign languages. On the grounds of this technique Ricci elaborated different ways of interpreting Chinese written characters, taking into account, at the same time, Chinese philological tradition and trying to conciliate these two cultures. He thought that remembering Chinese characters would be easier starting from their graphic form, that showed transparently their semantic content and/or their phonetic value. The interpretations he gave were related both to Western and to Chinese tradition, putting them together and giving evidence of similarities and differences between these two worlds. Following Ricci, other missionaries developed and enriched the images he elaborated in the interpretation of Chinese characters, with the aim of finding elements of contact between European and Chinese culture, with particular attention to the origin of languages. This article describes and underlines some of the images and techniques used by Ricci, their origin either in Western or in Chinese tradition and it shows how they were developed later on by other missionaries in works written for a European public. Moreover it is shown how these interpretation of Chinese characters helped European and Chinese intellectuals reaching a mutual understanding of each other.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteLight a Candle. Encounters and Friendship with China. Festschrift in Honour of Angelo S. Lazzarotto P.I.M.E.
EditorRoman S.V.D. Malek, Gianni P.I.M.E. Criveller
Numero di pagine16
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2010

Serie di pubblicazioni



  • Matteo Ricci SJ
  • mnemonics


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