Illustrated Account of the World (Small Edition)


This work is by Nan Huairen, the Chinese name of Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–88), the Belgian Jesuit who joined the order in 1641 and was sent as a missionary to China in 1655. Verbiest arrived in Macau in 1658, together with Wei Kuangguo (Chinese name of Martin Martini, 1614–61), and later transferred to Xiaxi. In 1660, while in Shaanxi, he was summoned to Beijing to assist the German Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell in making a calendar. The first great test for Verbiest came during the so-called calendar case of 1664–65 when the Chinese Confucian scholar Yang Guangxian (1597–1669), worried about preserving the integrity of Chinese culture and fearful of a European invasion, made several accusations against Schall. Schall, who was mortally ill, was incarcerated, together with missionaries Ludovico Buglio (1606–82), Gabriel de Magalhães (1609–77), and Verbiest. Most of the missionaries were expelled from Beijing and kept under house arrest. Verbiest was released on May 2, 1665. He defended Schall in court and succeeded in securing his posthumous rehabilitation. In addition to being a missionary, Verbiest was a scientist, engineer, and diplomat. In 1670 and in 1676 he served as an interpreter for the Chinese emperor during the negotiations with Portuguese and Russian legates. In 1669 Verbiest was put in charge of the design and manufacture of an ecliptic armillary sphere, an equatorial armillary sphere, an azimuthal instrument, a quadrant, and a stellar globe, all instruments of Western design that eventually superseded the Chinese instruments used in the Beijing Observatory. Verbiest was given the mandarin rank of second class and in 1681 was honored by Pope Innocent XI. He was appointed director of the Imperial Observatory in 1669 and died in 1688. His works cover a wide range of subjects, including religion, astronomy, geography, and weaponry. His Ling tai yi xiang zhi (Theory, construction and use of astronomical and mechanical instruments), published in 1674, explains the design, manufacture, installation, and usage of his instruments. His other works include Yi xiang tu (Illustrations of astronomical and mechanical instruments), Kangxi yong nian li fa biao (Perpetual Kangxi calendar for 2,000 years), Kun yu quan tu (The world map, small edition), Kun yu tu shuo (Illustrated account of the world), Chi dao nan bei xing tu (Stellar map of the north and south of the equator), Ce yan ji lue (Astronomical observations), and Xi fang yao ji (Description of the most important kingdoms of the West). The work presented here, a manuscript edition made in the late-Kangxi period (1662–1722), contains more than 30 entries focusing on fantastic and strange items, such as giant birds, mythical animals, and stone men. But the work also provided certain astronomical and other knowledge, such as the Western concept of the four elements and information about small alarm clocks, the shortness of daylight in winter, snakes without eyes, and ostriches. With two exceptions, the entries are very brief, ranging from ten to 100–200 words. This copy in the National Central Library is part of a series entitled Shuo ling, together with three works on Taiwan and Annam by Chinese authors Lin Qianguang, Ji Linguang, and Lu Ciyun.

Last updated: March 13, 2014