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Qiqi tushuo 奇器圖說 "Annotated Illustrations of Marvellous Machines"

Qiqi tushuo 奇器圖說 "Illustrated description of marvellous machines", also called also called Yuanxi qiqi tushuo luzui 遠西奇器圖說錄最, is a description of Western tools and machines written by the German Jesuit missionary Johannes Schreck (1576-1630, Chinese name Deng Yuhan 鄧玉函) and translated by Wang Zheng 王徵 (1571-1644).

Schreck came to China during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644), in 1621, and dwelled for a while in Jiaxing 嘉興 and Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang, before proceeding to Beijing. He took part in the compilation of the calendar Chongzhen lishu 崇禎歷書 but died before this handbook was completed. Schreck has also written the books Renshen shuogai 人身說概, a medical compendium on the human body, Cetian yueshuo 測天約說, an astronomical treatise reporting Galileo's discoverings, Dace 大測 and Geyuan baxian biao 割圓八線表, two books on trigonometry, and Huangchi juli biao 黃赤距離表 and Zhengqiu shengdu biao 正球升度表, tables about the distance between the ecliptic and the celestial equator, and the volume of balls, respectively.

Wang Zheng once served in the local government of Yangzhou 揚州, Jiangsu, and rose to the post of assistant army supervisor (jianjun qianshi 監軍僉事) of Denglai 登萊, Shandong. When Beijing fell to the rebel Li Zicheng 李自成 (1606-1645), in 1644, Wang committed suicide. He had written several philosophical books, like Liaoxindan 了心丹, Baizijie 百子解, Xueyongjie 學庸解, Tianwenci 天問辭, or Yuan Zhenren zhuan 元真人傳.

The 3-juan-long Qiqi tushuo is a richly illustrated overview of a lot of common, but also extraordinary machines used in early modern Europe. The framework of the book is embedded in Chinese cosmology, in which man plays a part only as part of the ten thousand beings produced by Heaven and Earth. Yet the cosmos also produced numbers for mathematics, lengths for measuring, and weight for to be used to move objects.

The text of the book is logically composed of presenting general principles of laws of nature, and then going on to the specific application of these laws in practice. The authors present for the first time the Latin alphabet (used in drawings and mathematical formulas) to Chinese readers. The first part (Zhong jie 重解) explains the physics of weight and describes gravity, buoyancy, the centre of gravity, specific gravity and methods for finding the centre of gravity in bodies of various shapes. It also expounds Archimedes' principle of hydrostatics.

The second part (Qi jie 器解) presents in 92 paragraphs the structural principles, calculation methods and applications of various simple machines and mechanisms. In the third part (Quanqi tushuo 全器圖說), the authors present in nearly 60 drawings demonstrating the practical uses of various machines. Among them, there are lifting machinery, of transport machinery, water-drawing machinery, grain-processing machinery (windmills, watermills), mechanical sawing machines, and rotating machinery. In addition, the book shows a mechanical turntable (zhuandui 轉碓), a mechanical bookshelf (shujia 書架), a water sundial (shui rigui 水日晷), a plough (daigeng 代耕), as well as three types of water guns (shuichong 水銃).

The machinery described in the book includes levers (ganggan 杠桿), pulleys (huache 滑車), reels (lulu 轆轤), bearings (zhoucheng 軸承), winches (jiaopan 絞盤), cranks (quguai 曲拐), crank connecting rods (qubing liangan 曲柄連桿), running wheels (xinglun 行輪, people use their own gravity inside or outside the wheel), lamp wheels (denglun 燈輪), star wheels (xinglun 星輪), cams (tulun 凸輪), sprockets (lianlun 鏈輪), variable speed gears (biansu chilun 變速齒輪), fixed pulleys (dinghualun 定滑輪), combined pulleys (hualun zu滑輪組), flywheels (feilun 飛輪) and pumps. These machines are moved by animal power, manpower, gravity, wind, water, elasticity and inertia.

Each illustration (tu 圖) is explained (shuo 說) in a few words. A great part of the illustrations is a copy of figures in Agostino Ramelli's (1531-1600) Diverse et Artificiose Machine from 1588 and Fausto Veranzio's (1551-1617) Machinae Novae from 1616.

The book includes an attachment written by Wang Zheng himself. It is called Zhuqi tushuo 諸器圖說 "Illustrated description of various machines" and presents a selection of remarkable mechanisms.

The Qiqi tushuo was first printed during the Tianqi reign-period 天啟 (1621-1627) in Yangzhou, with a length of 2 juan, and then again during the Chongzhen reign-period 崇禎 (1628-1644), in a 3-juan version. It is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Shoushange congshu 守山閣叢書. There is another print from the Jiaqing reign-period 嘉慶 (1796-1820) edited by Wang Jiezeng 王介曾, and one, in moveable letters, from the Daoguang reign-period 道光 (1821-1850), the Lailu Hall 來鹿堂 edition.

Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1858. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.
Zhang Baichun; Miao Tian (2008). Chuanbo yu huitong: Qiqi tushuo yanjiu yu jiaoyi [Transmission and Integration: “Qiqi tushuo.”] Edited by, Matthias Schemmel, Jürgen Renn, and Peter Damerow (Nanjing: Jiangsu Science and Technology Press).
I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Prof. Erich Zettel, Konstanz, for much information about Johannes Schreck.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

June 17, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail