The Elements of Geometry


In 1690, Emperor Kangxi summoned two French missionaries, Zhang Cheng (Jean Francois Gerbillon, 1654–1707) and Bai Jin (Joachim Bouvet, 1656–1730), to Beijing to teach him mathematics. The missionaries initially considered using for this purpose the early 17th-century partial translation by Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) and Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) of Euclid’s great work on geometry, Elements, but they found it too complicated. So they decided to translate instead Elements de geometrie by French Jesuit Ignace Gaston Pardies (1636–73), which drew on Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius. They gave their work, in seven juan, the same Chinese title, Ji he yuan ben (The elements of geometry), as Ricci and Xu had given their translation of Euclid. This very rare copy is handwritten. There are corrections in ink and numerous paper slips of corrections pasted on pages, and some editorial notes by the translators, one of which reads: “Zhang Cheng wishes to correct.” The work was presented to Emperor Kangxi, who added comments of his own in the upper margins. The National Central Library of Taiwan owns another edition of this work, the preface of which notes that the Ricci work was grammatically unclear and difficult to understand, which explains why this translation was made. The text of this other edition is the same as the one translated by Zhang Cheng and Bai Jin, except that it incorporates earlier corrections. Both copies were previously owned by the book collectors Mo Tang (1865–1929) and Wang Yinjia (1892–1949).

Last updated: December 13, 2011