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Several Opinions on Spreading the Western Knowledge of Mechanics to China in the Seventeenth Century

Wang Bing (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

As to the spread of the Western knowledge on mechanics to China in the seventeenth century, a number of studies have been made so far. However, based on thorough researches, the author of the paper gives some important opinions which have been generally neglected.

(1) In 1607 Matteo Ricci had mentioned the functions and powers of the mechanical devices in "Yi Jihe Yuan Ben Yin" (Introduction to the Translation of Elements of Geometry, 1607). It should be considered as the beginning of spreading the Western knowledge on mechanics in China. Twenty years later, almost same words were given in Wang Zheng's "Yuan Xi Qi Qi Tu Shuo Lu Zui Xu" (Preface of Collected Diagrams and Explanations of Wonderful Machines from far West, 1627). These words were so similar that it is probable they had the same origin.

(2) A great number of books had been brought by the Western missionaries from their own countries to China by the 1610s. It led that Li Zhizao, a Chinese scholar of insight, presented a memorial to the Emperor in 1613 to ask translating the valuable and useful books into Chinese. Around and after then, fragmentary knowledge of the Western machinery, some "wonderful machines" as well as practical ones, were mentioned in a few Chinese books written by Sabbathin de Ursis, Jules Aleni and Johann Adam Schall von Bell.

(3) Nicolas Trigault and others brought more than 7000 books from Europe in 1618 and made a long voyage to China three years later. This was a well-known event that the European books imported in most numerous, the books about various machines being more than 1000. It was the useful agricultural machinery described in these books that deeply interested Wang Zheng. "Yuan Xi Qi Qi Tu Shuo Lu Zui" (Collected Diagrams and Explanations of Wonderful Machines from the Far West, 1627), which translated and painted by Johann Terrenz and Wang Zheng, became the first book explaining the elementary knowledge of mechanics and introducing practical machinery.

(4) In the books "Xin Zhi Lin Tai Yi Xiang Zhi" (On the New-made Astronomical Instruments of Observatory, 1674) and "Lin Tai Yiqi Tu" (Designs of Astronomical Instruments, 1664), compiles by Ferdinand Verbiest, the knowledge on mechanics was involved in the descriptions of the manufacture, mounting and uses about the new-made six astronomical instruments. The latter book had been praised highly by the well-known scholars at that time, such as Li Guangdi, Wang Xishan, Zhu Yizun, Mei Wending and Yan Juoju. Bur the knowledge has been paid less attention to so far. In fact, the knowledge of simple machines as well as that of mechanical drive and cutting in the books were introduced much more and further than in any books before.

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