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Taixi shuifa 泰西水法

Feb 22, 2022 © Sabine Kink, Ulrich Theobald

Taixi shuifa 泰西水法 "Hydromethods of the Great West" is a handbook on water-related techniques and questions written during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by the Italian father Sabatino de Ursis (Chinese name Xiong Sanba 熊三拔, 1575-1620), who in 1606 came to China as a Jesuit missionary. He stayed in Beijing among the entourage of Father Matteo Ricci (Li Maodou 利瑪竇, 1552-1610), from whom he learned Chinese.

The book with a length of 6 juan was composed with the help of Xu Guangqi 徐光啟 (1562-1633), who, together with Ricci, also wrote a book on Western geometry (Jihe yuanben 幾何原本, based on Euclid's Elements) and the agricultural encyclopaedia Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書. He also compiled a treatise on calendrical astronomy, Chongzhen lishu 崇禎曆書.

The first two fascicles of the Taixi shuifa describe the function, structure and usage of several types of waterwheels and other water-lifting devices. The text introduces the so-called "dragon-tail pump" (longweiche 龍尾車, with the mechanism of Archimedes' screw) that draws water from a river. The second chapter introduces the "jade balance-beam pump" (yuhengche 玉恒車, the piston pump of Ctesibius) and the "continuous [water]-rise pump" (hengshengche 恒升車). Here, short information is appended about the "single-tube pump" (zhuantongche 專筒車) and the "double [continuous water]-rise pump" (shuangshengche 雙升車).

The third chapter is dedicated to the construction of water reservoirs. The fourth fascicle, called "further [information] about hydromethods attached" (Shuifa fuyu 水法附餘), expounds methods to detect underground watercourses for the digging of wells, and discusses the use of "medicinal dews" (yaolu 藥露) and hot springs to prevent and treat diseases. Chapter 5 is an Aristotelian discourse on the nature and properties or "principles" of water (shuili 水理), while the last part of the book includes the images of the various water tools described in the text.

Figure 1. The dragon-tail pump (longweiche 龍尾車)
The illustrations show the enclosure surrounding shaft and helix of the Archimedean screw, and the different options for applying a driving mechanism to it. The Heavenly stems and earthly branches characters serve as numerical references to link up text and illustrations. In these technical drawings the focus is clearly on design and working mechanism of the device. Siku quanshu 四庫全書 edition.

The Taixi shuifa introduced ancient Western knowledge to China, and due to its combination of scientific explanations with practically applicable techniques stands out among traditional Chinese books on the use of water resources. However, all mechanical devices described in the text failed to replace traditional Chinese tools, either in agriculture or in mining.

The book was finished in 1612. The Saoye Shanfang Studio 掃葉山房 reproduced this print as a facsimile. The text is also appended to usual editions of the Nongzheng quanshu. It is part of the series Tianxue chuhan 天學初函 (1626), which is reprinted in the series Zhongguo shixue congshu 中國史學叢書. The text is part of the agricultural section in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Jiang Chao 蔣超 (1992). "Taixi shuifa 泰西水法", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Shuili 水利 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 436.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1648.
Wang Chunlin 王春林, ed. (2001). Keji bianji da cidian 科技編輯大辭典 (Beijing: Di er junyi daxue chubanshe), 342.
Du Zhengguo 杜正國 (1992). "Taixi shuifa zhong de wulixue zhishi 《泰西水法》中的物理學知識", Zhongguo keji shiliao 中國科技史料, 1992 (2): 66-69.
Hua Hong'an 華紅安 (1998). "Woguo shoubu tuijie xifang shuili de zhuzuo: Taixi shuifa 我國首部推介西方水利的著作──《泰西水法》", Shuili tiandi 水利天地, 1998 (3): 31.
Kink, Sabine (2019). "Beistand für die Himmlischen Kräfte: Pumpentechnik in Sabatino de Ursis' Taixi shuifa 泰西水法 (Hydromethoden des Großen Westens, 1612)", Rundbrief des Agricola-Forschungszentrums Chemnitz, 27: 25-42.
Kink, Sabine (2020). "Shared Ideas, Divergent Approaches: The Hydromethods of the Great West (Taixi shuifa 泰西水法) and the Question on Tides", Zhongguo kexue jishu shi 中國科學技术史 / Chinese Annals of the History of Science and Technology", 2020 (1): 63-101.
Kink, Sabine (2021). "Justifying Collaboration between Chinese Literati and ‘Subjects from Afar’: The Paratexts of the Taixi shuifa 泰西水法 (Hydromethods of the Great West; 1612)", L'Idomeneo 30: 173-208.
Xu Guangtai 徐光台 (2008). "Xu Guangqi yanshuo Taixi shuifa Shuifa huowen (1612) de lishi yiyi yu yingxiang 徐光啟演說《泰西水法‧水法或問》(1612)的歷史意義與影響", Qinghua xuebao 清華學報, 38 (3): 421-449.
Zhang Baichun 張柏春 (1995). "Ming mo Taixi shuifa suo jieshao de san zhong xifang tishui jixie 明末《泰西水法》所介紹的三種西方提水機械", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 1995 (3): 146-153.