Explanation of the Telescope


The author of the work was Tang Ruowang (Chinese name of Johann Adam Schall von Bell, 1592–1666), the German Jesuit missionary, who, together with Jin Nige (Nicolas Trigault, 1577–1628), arrived in China in 1622. After studying Chinese in Beijing, Schall was sent on mission to Xi’an. He returned to Bejing in 1630 to continue the work of Deng Yuhan (Johannes Terentius, 1576–1630), the Swiss Jesuit missionary, on revising the calendar and devising various astronomical instruments. For his work, he received a plaque with the inscription “Imperial Praise of Astronomy” from Emperor Chongzhen, the last Ming-dynasty emperor. In 1645, the second year of the first Qing emperor, Shunzhi, Schall was named director of the Imperial Bureau of Astronomy. In 1651 he was bestowed the prestigious title given to civil officials of Tong yi da fu (grand master of counsel), and in 1653 of tong xuan jiao shi (teacher of celestial understanding). In 1664 Yang Guangxian (1597–1669), a Chinese astronomer and head of the Bureau of Astronomy in 1665–69, wrote a number of memorials attacking the Jesuits. In one of the articles, accepted by the Board of Rites, he claimed that in 1660 Schall had caused the death of Consort Donggo by choosing an inauspicious day for the burial of her son. In April 1665, Schall, along with several other missionaries, including Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–88), Ludovico Buglio (1606–82), Gabriel de Magalhães (1609–77), and seven of his Chinese assistants, was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Eventually all the missionaries, thanks to the intervention of the Empress Dowager, were released and exiled to Macau, except for four who remained in Beijing. Schall von Bell was known for his superior knowledge of astronomy and calendrical science. His 36 works include the major titles Hun tian yi shuo (Explanation of the armillary sphere), Xing tu (Star maps), Gu jin jiao shi kao (Survey of the eclipses of old and present times), and Jiao shi li zhi (Astronomical treatises on eclipses). This abundantly illustrated work was first printed in 1626 and reprinted in Beijing in 1630 for distribution. The National Central Library copy presented here is from the series Yi hai zhu cen (Pearl dust of artistic sea), compiled by Wu Shenglan (1738–1810), a Qing bibliophile. The work includes an inscription in the front, which reads: “compiled by Tang Ruowang.” Also included is a preface by the author, dated 1626. The text covers the utilization and production of telescopes. The longest part is on utilization. Schall introduces the latest findings from observation of the sky with the telescope, informs readers about the new discoveries by Galileo, and explains observations of the sun, moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and other stars in the Milky Way. In the reason section, he discusses the optics of the telescope, the refraction of light, and oblique transmission (refraction and reflection). His diagrams depict the refraction of light from various angles by water held in a container. Schall explains that the telescope is a combination of two glass lenses that have the effect of producing a bright and large image and shows how the rear and front lenses depend on each other. The work includes a large number of illustrations.

Last updated: March 13, 2014