source: matteo ricci

Toonneel van China (China Illustrated). Athanasius Kircher. Engraving (print). 1668. 

Toonneel van China depicts colleagues Xu Guangqi (徐光启) and Matteo Ricci during the Ming Dynasty. A learned scholar-bureaucrat, Xu collaborated with Italian Jesuit Ricci to translate well-known western texts into Chinese, including part of Euclid’s Elements, and various Chinese Confucian texts into Latin. 

In addition to working as a scholar-bureaucrat, Xu Guangqi, who later adopted the baptismal name Paul Siu, was a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer. Even while serving in office, he was an outspoken critic of what he considered to be dwindling Chinese education, visible through declining interest in practical science and mathematics. Following some Legalist principles, Xu put forward the concept of "Rich country and strong army" (富國強兵) due to his concern about China’s defense capabilities. During his retirement in his hometown of Shanghai, Xu experimented with different western irrigation methods and crops. His love for agriculture culminated in his publication of the Nong Zheng Quan Shu (农政全书), among the first comprehensive agricultural treatises known.

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Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit who brought his mathematical, cartographical, and astronomical knowledge to China and adapted to Chinese culture. His name in simplified Chinese is 利玛窦, in traditional Chinese 利瑪竇 (in pinyin Lì Mǎdòu). He’s also known under his courtesy name 西泰, Xītài. 

In 1578 Alessandro Valignani, superior of Jesuit missions in the East Indies sent Ricci on a mission to Asia, and in 1580 he entered China via Macau, the Portuguese colony in South China. There he took an intensive language course which made him one of the first Western scholars to master Chinese script and Classical Chinese. Entering real China in 1583 with Michelle Ruggieri, his Jesuit companion, Ricci dressed first in the clothing of a Buddhist monk and then later as a Confucian mandarin. Ricci’s aim was to adapt to the customs of China to be more accessible. Ricci also brought with him Western clocks, musical instruments, mathematical and astronomical instruments, and cosmological, geographical, and architectural works with maps and diagrams. These, along with Ricci’s phenomenal memory and mathematical and astronomical skills, attracted an important audience among the Chinese elite.

In 1601 Ricci was called to meet with Emperor Wanli in Beijing as the first western person to be invited into the Forbidden City. For nine years Ricci and other Jesuits dialogued with members of the Chinese intelligentsia. In these dialogues Ricci sought to build a Chinese-Christian civilization.

Ricci died in Beijing on May 11, 1610, at the age of 57. By the code of the Ming Dynasty, foreigners who died in China had to be buried in Macau. Diego de Pantoja made a special plea to the court, requesting a burial plot in Beijing, in the light of Ricci’s contributions to China. Emperor Wanli granted this request and designated a Buddhist temple for the purpose. In October 1610, Ricci’s remains were transferred there.

By the time he died, Ricci left behind 2,500 Chinese Catholics, with many in the educated classes. He also left behind a Treatise on Friendship, a Treatise on Mnemonic Arts, a Chinese translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, a book of Chinese apologetics -The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, and Ten Discourses by a Paradoxical Man.

After Ricci’s death certain of his decisions were questioned by Church authorities. Especially questioned was Matteo Ricci’s acceptance of Chinese ancestor worship as a legitimate, nontheological memorial to their ancestors that Catholic converts could practice. Later missionaries, not as schooled in Chinese culture, questioned this interpretation and brought their case to the Vatican. After decades of debate, in 1705 the Vatican decided that the Chinese practice of ancestor worship rites was incompatible with Catholic doctrine and was forbidden. Hearing this, the Chinese emperor banned Christian missions from China in 1721, closing the door that Ricci worked so patiently to open.

This is Matteo Ricci’s Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the Earth and it’s the oldest surviving map to provide the Chinese with a larger view of the earth.
It was engraved by Li Zhizhao, a Chinese mathematician, astronomer and cartographer.  Ricci’s map is about 12-½ feet long and 5-½ feet high and is carved onto 6 wooden blocks that were printed on rice paper.

My inner history nerd is asdklfkfjgh-ing at this.

Method of Loci; Memory Palace

Becoming eidetic, having photographic memory

Some people are born with eidetic memory; pin-pointing visual information precisely with no problem. But not everyone can be so blessed to be born with such a great memory; however, you could train yourself to become this way. 

The Method of Loci, is the theory of creating a memory palace in your mind. By picturing the most familiar setting in your mind you can then place more visuals there to help you remember everything precisely.

If you ever claim that you know a setting like the back of your hand, then this place will be the perfect mind map to letting you remember absolutely everything. 

The theory of memory palace is to place what you want to remember in the certain parts of your brain. Picture you’re in a familiar place, starting right from the entrance, through hallways, rooms, corridors, all the way through to the exit - while at the same time placing bits of information you need to remember in these different spaces.

But to improve this practice to another level make sure as you’re putting in these information to put some creativity into it and imagine the most visual images you can about them. [the theory suggests to use horrific visual aids, the scarier, the better]

According to your memory, this space will eventually fill up because there is only such a range in reality. But though reality has a limit, your creativity and illusions do not. You can create more rooms and corridors to this setting, more space to fill with information you need to remember. 

If you have been able to do everything here, congratulations, you have just trained yourself to have eidetic memory.

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To find out more, you can also read The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence.

Once I thought learning was a multifold experience and I would not refuse to travel [even] ten thousand Li to be able to question wise men and visit celebrated countries. But how long is a man’s life? It is certain that many years are needed to acquire a complete science, based on a vast number of observations: and that’s where one becomes old without the time to make use of this science. Is this not a painful thing? And this is why I put great store by [geographical] maps and history: history for fixing [these observations], and maps for handing them on [to future generations]. Respectfully written by the European Matteo Ricci on 17 August 1602.
—  Preface for Kun Yu Wang Guo Quan Tu - A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World (1602) by Matteo Ricci

【科學史上的今天】10/06——利瑪竇誕辰(Matteo Ricci, 1552-1610)

萬曆二十四年(1596 年)九月裡的一天,傳教士利瑪竇看了一眼房間裡的自鳴鐘,胸有成竹的等著他事先宣告的日蝕時刻到來。他期盼這次的成功預言不只令南昌地區的官民震驚佩服,還能一路傳到朝廷,讓他有機會覲見中國的皇帝。

他來中國已經 13 年,為了化解阻力,他試過換上佛僧的服裝傳教,無奈似乎弄巧成拙,人們總以為天主教是佛教的一個分支而已。倒是他帶來的自鳴鐘、天球儀、日晷儀等器械引來更多人前來觀賞;尤其他繪製的「坤輿萬國全圖」竟是中國第一張世界地圖,讓中國人開了眼界,才知道原來世界如此之大。那些士大夫們似乎更受撼動,一位知府還將地圖借去刊印流傳。利瑪竇心想:或許透過科學,他們更能接受來自西方的宗教;因而他製作更多地球儀、天體儀、日晷等分送給不同官員,並改穿上儒士的服裝。

其實利瑪竇來沒多久,就恰恰遇上中國欽天監兩次準確預報日蝕的時間,讓他相當訝異中國在天文科學上原來也有獨到之處。只是天文學到明朝停滯已久,所沿用元朝的大統曆已經超過百年未作修正,利瑪竇發現朝廷這次預測的日蝕時間將會有很大的誤差,這正是他的絕佳機會。

日蝕如他所預告的準時出現,利瑪竇果然聲名大噪。五年後他終於被召見前往皇宮,然而他並未如願見到皇上──萬曆皇帝根本不理朝政久矣。他進貢的天文儀器並未產生他希望的影響力,但他至少獲准定居北京,可以繼續影響朝中的士大夫們;其中最重要的一位就是徐光啟。

徐光啟與利瑪竇將歐幾里得的《幾何原本》前六卷翻譯成中文。我們現今使用的點、線、面、三角形、銳角、直角、鈍角、平行線、對角線、圓心、外切、……等名詞就是源自於此。只不過,也就只有這些數學名詞像文物般流傳下來,利瑪竇帶進來的科學知識與方法,根本滲透不入僵化的古老中國,就像他進貢的物品只是被束之高閣……。