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History of Science Science in Asia - The Great Wall

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LibraryThing: Science in Asia Week 12: Science in Asia

European and Chinese Science in the Age of Galileo

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday 11:59 p.m. 10

Science in India and China + quiz

60-90 min
  1. At Janux, watch the “From the vault” video prompt for this assignment.
  2. Share your thoughts in the Discussion at Janux.
  3. Read my supplemental notes about Jesuit-Chinese collaborations, which describe some representative examples of collaboration in European and Chinese science in the age of Galileo,
  4. Quiz: Afterwards, take a Topic 2 quiz in the assignments area of Janux. The quiz will be composed of 12 of the true/false questions listed in the Study questions below. Topic 2 quizzes must be completed before Thursday night at 11:59 p.m.
  5. Optional: Some additional print sources are recommended at LibraryThing.
  6. For additional images, see the History of Science Collections Flickr collection on China.


Thanks for joining me in the History of Science Collections of the University of Oklahoma Libraries. Let’s look at a few treasures from the vault that throw light on the fascinating story of European and Chinese collaborations in science during the age of Galileo.

Matteo Ricci, edited by Nicolas Trigault, De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas (Lyon, 1616): This book recounts the establishment of the Jesuit mission in China in the late 1500s led by Matteo Ricci. Under Ricci, in order to identify with the Chinese, the Jesuits committed themselves to avoid commercial entanglements with European traders. Under Ricci’s leadership, the Jesuits adopted Chinese names and dress, traveled extensively and immersed themselves in Chinese language, philosophy, art and literature. Ricci was the first western scholar to master Chinese, and needed no interpreter to accompany him. At the same time, the Jesuits brought to China western mathematics, cartography, astronomy and scientific instruments. When Ricci predicted a solar eclipse in 1592 with greater accuracy than the astronomers of the Chinese court, Emperor Wan-li invited Ricci to Beijing. Ricci arrived in Beijing in 1601, and resided there until his death in 1610, translating Euclid and other works into Chinese.

Johann Schreck was a friend of Galileo’s who assisted him during his telescopic observations. Schreck was inducted into the Academy of the Lynx, an early scientific society, only 8 days after Galileo. A few years later, he joined the Jesuits and went to China, where he wrote this work on engineering in Chinese. How many people know Galileo had a friend in China? This book was later published in Japan, so its story throws light not only on scientific exchange between Europe and China, but also on the circulation of scientific ideas throughout Asia.

Athanasius Kircher, China monumentis (Amsterdam, 1667): Back in Rome, Kircher collected all the information he could gather from Jesuits in China, publishing this massive encyclopedia on China, Tibet, India, Korea and Japan in 1667. As a matter of course, all Jesuits received basic training in mathematics, including the mathematical disciplines of geography and astronomy. However, during the 4-year journey from Italy to China, Schreck tutored his fellow Jesuits to an advanced level in astronomy. His most proficient student was Johann Adam Schall von Bell, shown here in his official dress as a mandarin of the first rank. Other portraits include Jesuits and various Chinese dignitaries and collaborators. Here we see Matteo Ricci and a Chinese astronomer and diplomat, Xu Guangqi. The work includes two notable early maps, one of Asia, and one of China itself.

Athanasius Kircher, Chine… Illustrée de Plusieurs Monuments (Amsterdam, 1670): This copy is a French edition, published three years after the Latin first edition. Kircher also documented Chinese and Sanskrit characters. Like many others, Kircher tried to assimilate ancient Chinese events into a universal history.

Johann Adam Schall von Bell, Historia narratio (Vienna, 1665): This book is Schall von Bell’s account of the Jesuit work in China after Ricci. Schall established a new Chinese calendar and provided a new basis for predicting eclipses. In 1645, the first Qing emperor appointed Schall as Director of the Bureau of Astronomy, head over all astronomers in China. Working closely with Chinese collaborators, Schall oversaw the publication of more than 30 works in Chinese. These Chinese works drew upon the writings of Galileo, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and John Napier. Titles include the first description of the telescope written in Chinese, which Schall presented to the emperor along with a working replica of Galileo’s telescope. Another work was a history of astronomy, notable for the first mention of the name of Galileo in Chinese.

The collaboration between Schall, the Jesuit astronomers, and their many Chinese collaborators signals the birth and early-modern high point of international relations between Europe and modern China, with repercussions in Japan and throughout Asia.

Science is a story. What stories do you want to hear and tell about the Jesuits and their Chinese collaborators?


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, 2 points each.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux