The Exploitation of the Works of Nature (Tiangong Kaiwu)


Tiangong kaiwu (Exploitation of the works of nature), an integrated work on agriculture and handicrafts, is one of the most important works on science and technology in the history of China. A European scholar has called it a 17th-century version of the Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie published in France in the 18th century. The author was the noted Ming dynasty scientist Song Yingxing. While working as an instructor in Fenyi County in Jiangxi province, he researched agricultural and artisanal technology, which he then organized into a book. This work was published with funding from his friend Tu Shaokui, in the tenth year of the Chongzhen reign (1637). The Tiangong kaiwu records all aspects of technology up to the mid-Ming period. Divided into three parts and including 121 illustrations, it describes the terms, configurations, and production stages for over 130 types of productive technology and tools. The book constitutes a complete system of science and technology, and provides a systematic summation of ancient Chinese technology, the experience accumulated by China in agriculture, and China's achievements in artisanal technology. Many of the production techniques described in the book are still in use today. The book was translated into Japanese, French, English, German, Italian, and Russian, and was widely circulated in Europe and Japan.

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29.4 × 17.7 centimeters; wood blocks

Last updated: July 8, 2014