Translating Western Science, Technology and Medicine to Late Ming China: Convergences and Divergences in the Light of the «Kunyu gezhi» 坤輿格致 (Investigations of the Earth’s Interior; 1640) and the «Taixi shuifa» 泰西水法 (Hydromethods of the Great West; 1612)

In 2018 the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) has granted an amount of more than 0.5 million Euro for a new three-year research project, directed by Prof. Hans Ulrich Vogel, Chair of Chinese History and Society, Department of Chinese Studies (Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, Faculty of Humanities) of Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. After the completion of the three-year period in 2021 the project was further extended to 2025.

Three important historical actors discussed in this project, from left to right Johann Adam Schall von Bell, Georgius Agricola and Xu Guangqi.

This project has been prompted by the sensational rediscovery of the Chinese version of Georgius Agricola’s (1494-1555) De re metallica (1556). The Chinese rendering of this famous mining and metallurgy classic, initiated by the well-known Ming official Li Tianjing 李天經 (1579-1659) and supervised by the outstanding German Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell (Tang Ruowang 湯若望, 1592-1666), was lost for more than 350 years. One aim of our project is to completely translate this Chinese version, entitled Kunyu gezhi 坤輿格致 (Investigations of the Earth’s Interior; 1640), into English, with the inclusion of all relevant historical records. Hereby, the Jesuits’ highly selective and complex approach to this translation, both with regard to the selection of Western reference texts and the inclusion of new geological and mineralogical ideas and concepts, will be elucidated. This will provide us with unique insights into the scope and limitations of the transmission of useful and reliable knowledge from Europe to the Middle Kingdom. Moreover, it is important to find out how this translation was received and perceived by Chinese readers and what the fate of this mining and metallurgy treatise was until its recent rediscovery. [Read more]