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The Introduction of Newton's Theory into China before 1860

Han Qi (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing)

Based on some new Chinese and Western sources, this paper gives a detailed analysis of the background of the introduction of Newton's theory into China. It is in two parts. First, it will describe the context of the compilation of the Lixiang kaocheng houbian. Through the correspondence of the French astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle (1688-1768) with the Jesuits in China, it will point out that the lunar tables, which were compiled by an Italian Jesuit N. Grammatici on the basis of Newton's theory of moon, were used in the compilation of the Lixiang kaocheng houbian. Because of their precision in the prediction of lunar eclipses, this can explain why the Newton's theory of moon was indirectly introduced into China around 1730. It will also compare the Chinese tables with Grammatici's original tables which were published in 1726.

The second part will deal with the first Chinese translation of Newton's Principia (the Shuli gezhi). The translation was made by Alexander Wylie (1815-1887), a very famous British Protestant of London Missionary Society, in collaboration with the Chinese mathematician Li Shanlan (1811-1882) at the Muohai shuguan (London Missionary Society Press). With the new discovery of the manuscript Shuli gezhi, the author points out that the definition of motion, laws of motion, and the first four chapters of Book I (on the motion of bodies) of the Principia were translated into Chinese.

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