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Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
ISBN 0140080988 / 9780140080988 / 0-14-008098-8
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Matteo Ricci (1552-1616), an Italian Jesuit, entered China in 1583 to spread Catholicism in the largely Confucian country. In order to make a persuasive argument for the educated Chinese to abandon their traditional faith for the new one he was carrying, Ricci realized that he would have to prove the general superiority of Western culture. He did so by teaching young Confucian scholars tricks to increase their memory skills--an important advantage in a nation with countless laws and rituals that had to be learned by heart. Ricci attracted numerous students with this method; more important, Ricci came to have a sympathetic understanding for China that he communicated to Rome, and thence to the European nations at large. Spence's portrait of Ricci is a gem of historical writing. --Gregory MacNamee [via]