5 April 2016
LI MINGCHE (1751-1832). Yuantian tushuo [The heavens illustrated and explained]. Edited by Ruan Yuan (1764-1849). N.p.: Songmeiuan Press [preface dated 1819].
5 volumes, 2°(284 x Xylographic printing on fine native paper, numerous maps, diagrams and illustrations (small hole in one World map). Each volume bound in Asian style between drab paper wrappers, sewn with white thread; modern cloth folding box.
Only(?) Edition. Li Mingche was a Daoist priest and mathematician, and his work is an early nineteenth-century attempt to come to terms with Western science while acknowledging the achievements of the Chinese ancients. The work presents both cosmology and world geography. Li made use of the old Jesuit works and included copies of Matteo Ricci’s hemispheres and other examples of post-sixteenth-century cartography. In addition to the hemispherical World maps, there are nineteen fine maps of the Chinese provinces. Li also drew upon the Kangxi atlas (based on Sino-Jesuit surveys) for these, but retained the latitude and longitude graticules. It was edited and with a preface by Qing official Ruan Yuan, the author of a standard biographical study of Chinese mathematicians.
“It was not to be expected that the over-emphasized, and in many respects erroneous, claims of the Jesuits for the superiority of the European science of their time would escape a strong reaction. ... Unexpectedly, the Jesuit intervention led in due course to a rediscovery on the part of the Chinese of the achievements of their own civilisation before the Ming decadence...in 1819 the treatise of the Taoist Li Ming-Chhê Yuan Thien Thu Shuo (Illustrated Discussion of the Fields of Heaven), while also still Tychonic, referred to the achievements of the ancients in China” (Needham, p. 457).
Bibiotheca Lindesiana (Chinese) 74; see Joseph Needham, “Astronomy,” in Science and civilization in China, III, pp. 171-461.
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