Euclid’s “Elements:” Six Juan


Ji he yuan ben (Euclid’s Elements) is a version of the work by Greek mathematician Euclid (circa 323‒circa 285 BC). Presented here is the earliest Chinese translation, done by Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552‒1610) together with Xu Guangqi. Xu Guangqi (1562‒1633), name Zixian, style name Xuanhu, was born in Shanghai. He received his jin shi degree in the 32nd year (1604) of the Wanli reign of Ming and was a vice minister of the Ministry of Rites and a grand secretary of the Wenyuange Imperial Library. He learned astronomy from Ricci, studied agriculture, recommended the reform of the calendar, and wrote Nong zheng quan shu (Complete book on agricultural administration). In 1606 Xu Guangqi recorded Ji he yuan ben, as dictated by Ricci. They used as the basis for their work the 15-volume Latin-language edition of Euclid’s Elements, revised and supplemented by Christopher Clavius (1538‒1612), of which they succeeded in translating the first six volumes. The Ricci- Xu Guangqi translation brought into China for the first time Euclid’s geometry, with its strict logical system and methodology of reasoning. From this translation, the Chinese words for geometry and geometrical terms such as point, line, parallel line, triangle, and square were adopted and are still used today. These terms have also spread to usage in Japan, Korea, and other countries. This is an important work for Chinese scholars studying learning from the West during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Last updated: August 31, 2017