ProjectTranslating Western Science, Technology and Medicine to Late Ming China: Convergences and Divergences in the Light…

Basic data

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)
01/08/2021 to 31/07/2022
Abstract / short description:
This project has been prompted by the recent sensational rediscovery of the Chinese version of Georgius Agricola’s (1494-1555) De re metallica (1556). The Chinese rendering of this famous mining classic, initiated by the Ming official Li Tianjing (1579-1659) and carried out by the famous German Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell (1592-1666), was lost for more than 350 years. One of our aims is to translate this Chinese version, entitled Kunyu gezhi (Investigations of the Earth’s Interior; 1640), into English, with the inclusion of all relevant historical records. This will elucidate the Jesuits’ highly selective and complex approach to the translation, both with regard to passages in the Western reference texts as well as to new mineralogical ideas and concepts, and thus will provide unique insights into the scope and limitations of the transmission of European useful and reliable knowledge 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 unexpected rediscovery. Furthermore, for comparative reasons we will investigate another important and largely neglected text, the Taixi shuifa (Hydromethods of the Great West; preface 1612), by addressing similar research questions to it. This technological manual, mainly composed by the Italian Jesuit missionary Sabatino de Ursis (1575-1620), contains a systematic discourse on both the theoretical and practical aspects of water and water management, including discussions about the medical benefits of hot spring treatments and distillation methods. Our comprehensive study of these two unique treatises dealing with two different technical and economic fields, but with overlapping especially in water management and natural philosophy, will take fully into account recent research on the history of knowledge transfers from West to East during the period of early globalization. It will also compare these early seventeenth-century events with those of later periods, especially the Protestant missionaries’ efforts of the late nineteenth century. Our case studies will also pay due attention to historical contextualisation, i.e. the background of political, social, economic and cultural conditions and developments, and hence highlight convergences and divergences between China and Europe. The ultimate aim of the project will be to make a contribution to the debate about the origin of the "Great Divergence" between Europe and China during the Early Modern Period, and this by combining our micro-historical case studies with the approaches of a macro-historical comparative sociology. This endeavour, carried out under the auspices of the UNESCO Subcommittee on Research and Education, Memory of the World Programme, is of extraordinary importance not only for the history of West-East interactions and exchanges, but also for German cultural history.
Georgius Agricola
Johann Adam Schall von Bell
Jesuit China mission
mining history
Taixi shuifa
Kunyu gezhi
De re metallica
Sabatino de Ursis
useful and reliable knowledge
Ming dynasty
hydrology history
history of early globalisation
Great Divergence
Li Zhizao
Li Tianjing
Xu Guangqi

Involved staff


Chinese Studies Section
Department of Asian and Oriental Studies, Faculty of Humanities

Other staff

Department of Asian and Oriental Studies
Faculty of Humanities
Department of Asian and Oriental Studies
Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Chinese Studies Section
Department of Asian and Oriental Studies
Faculty of Humanities


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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