Investigation into the Phenomena in the Atmosphere


This scientific work is by Gao Yizhi (the Chinese name of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alfonso Vagnoni (1566–1640)). Vagnoni left Europe for China in 1603, arrived in Macao in 1605, and later was transferred to Nanjing, where he built a new church in 1611. The building of the church caused jealousy and displeasure among the Chinese officials and Buddhist and Taoist monks. In 1616 Shen Que, vice minister of the Nanjing Board of Rites, submitted two memorials to the imperial court, asking for the expulsion of the missionaries on the grounds that they were undermining the traditional ways of China. The Board of Rites in Beijing endorsed the memorials. Along with another Jesuit living in Nanjing, Vagnoni was arrested, flogged, and expelled to Macao, where he stayed for two years. By 1616, only 14 missionaries were left in China. At this time Vagnoni used the Chinese name Wang Fengsu. In 1624 he returned to China from Macao and changed his name to Gao Yizhi. He was first dispatched to Jiangzhou, Shanxi Province, where he stayed for 15 years. During his years in Jiangzhou he built churches and baptized many Chinese Christians. In the severe Shanxi famine of 1634, he tirelessly helped the poor and needy. This work explains in detail the Western theory of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. In the second juan, Gao explains various natural phenomena said to be related to the four elements, such as meteors, meteorites, thunder and lightning, comets, the Milky Way, colors of the sky, rainbows, wind, rain, clouds, fog, snow, hail, ice, dew, frost, tides, rivers, earthquakes, and ground fire. There is no preface and no table of contents. This manuscript copy, with blue-lined pages, is not dated but presumably was issued after 1624. At the front of the work is an inscription that reads: “written by Gao Yizhi, the Jesuit priest from the West, and put in book form by Han Yun in the old city of Jiangzhou.” Han Yun and his brother Han Lin both were scholars and officials who were great supporters of Vagnoni.

Last updated: March 13, 2014