The Treatise on Western Mnemonic Arts 西国记法 by Matteo

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					The Treatise on Western Mnemonic Arts 西 国 记 法 by Matteo Ricci: its
importance in Chinese language learning process

Chiara Piccinini (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milano)

Studies in the use of memory as part of the learning process of a language have
always been an important subject since ancient times, both for Western and for
Chinese intellectuals. The “art of memory” for Western intellectuals was part of
rhetoric, and it helped the orator to think how to organise a speech. Chinese
mnemonic tradition was based on repetition of schemes in order to remember names.
The contacts established by Western missionaries with Chinese scholars allowed the
differences between two ways of memorisation to emerge, but at the same both
Chinese and Western intellectuals learned from each other. This was evident in
Matteo Ricci’s compilation, “Treatise on the Western art of memory”, where he
explained the method for memorisation used in the West, but he elaborated his
explanations using Chinese language elements and the construction of images that
could be easily associated to characters in their graphic representation through the use
of metaphors; these last ones were classified following the classical way of
representation used for Chinese characters. Recently, this method of memorization
has been discovered again by sinologists because of its importance as a new way of
approaching Chinese language learning: in fact, mnemonics is a sort of ‘multi-
dimensional’ way of learning, involving different levels of the structure of language:
the spoken level, the written level and the semantic level at the same time. This
method can thus be modified and adopted in the acquisition of modern Chinese

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