Italian priest, scholar, and explorer (1552-1610). Born the eldest son of a pharmacist, Ricci went to Rome in 1568 to study law and soon decided to become a Jesuit to study science and theology. He also worked to improve his memory, using an ancient technique in which he constructed imaginary buildings to hold imagined objects with mnemonic significance. This technique allowed him to perform astounding feats of memorization.

After he was ordained, Ricci served as a missionary in China--originally, he lived in a Portuguese colony at Macao, but he was later given permission to live in China. He tried to follow as many Chinese customs as possible: he dressed as a Confucian scholar, learned the Chinese language, wrote and published books in Chinese, and adopted the Chinese name Li Ma-tou. He wrote a number of mathematical texts and published an annotated map of the world.

Ricci was a great admirer of the principles of Confucianism, and he enjoyed getting to show off his memory by memorizing lists of several hundred randomly chosen characters. One of his most prized possessions was a small crucifix which was said to be made of splinters of the True Cross.

Ricci's books and sermons gained converts among the Chinese--some of them were quite influential--but he also earned some enemies. In 1592, he sprained an ankle escaping from an angry mob and walked with a limp afterward. However, he was officially allowed to enter Peking in 1601. He was allowed to visit the imperial court, though he was not permitted to meet the Emperor. When he died, he was buried in Peking by imperial permission.

Ricci had a significant impact on Chinese science by making Western mathematical results, at that time centered on Euclid, available to Chinese mathematicians. His letters back to Europe added to European knowledge of China and may have had some effect on the Enlightenment. However, some church leaders chafed at his practice of allowing traditional Chinese religious rituals during Catholic ceremonies--in fact, Pope Clement XI condemned Ricci for it, though he waited 'til after his death to do so.

Research from GURPS Who's Who 2, compiled by Phil Masters, "Matteo Ricci" by William H. Stoddard, pp. 52-53.

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