Illustrations and Explanations of Wonderful Machines


Qi qi tu shuo (Illustrations and explanations of wonderful machines) is the first Chinese translation of a work that introduced Western mechanics and machine engineering to China. It was dictated by Deng Yuhan and recorded and translated by Wang Zheng (1571–1644). Deng Yuhan was the Chinese name of Johann Terrenz (1576-1630), a Jesuit missionary who was born in Konstanz, Germany and came to China in the late Ming era. A talented man with wide-ranging knowledge, Terrenz mastered many languages and was also a renowned physician, botanist, and astronomer. Early on, he worked in the area of Zhejiang Province.  He was then summoned to Beijing to assist Xu Guangqi in the revision of the calendar, but he died on May 13, 1630, before the work was finished. Wang Zheng, a native of Jingyang, Shaanxi Province, converted to Catholicism at the age of 52 and took the name Philippe. Interested in applied technology, Wang saw the 7000-volume collection of Western books brought to China by Jin Nige (Nicolaus Trigault, 1577–1628), among which were books on science and technology with finely printed illustrations, from which he could envision how to construct pieces of equipment. He asked for help from Terrenz, who made use of works by Vitruvius, Simon de Bruges, Georgius Agricola, Agostino Ramelli, and others. While Terrenz went through the books, giving explanations, Wang made notes. Terrenz used more than 50 illustrations, depicting machines for lifting, moving, and shifting heavy weights; machines for diverting water, turning millstones, and cutting wood, stone, and rocks; and such devices as a sundial and a fire engine. The translated texts were issued in three volumes. All the illustrations were annotated, with those relating to irrigation for agriculture being especially detailed. The earliest edition of the book was printed in the first year of the Chongzhen reign (1628) of the last Ming emperor, by Wu Weizhong, an assistant instructor at the Confucian school in Yangzhou. The work’s original title was Yuan Xi qi qi tu shuo lu zui (The best illustrations and descriptions of extraordinary devices of the Far West) and it was printed together with Wang Zheng’s Zhu qi tu shuo (Illustrations of various devices). The title was later shortened to its present form. Errors can be found in the book, for example, to save time the engravers changed the shape of a gear into a simple circle. This is a handwritten copy of the original work in the Wen yuan ge collection. During the time of the Boxer Rebellion, the work was damaged. Only juan 3 remains, with the first page of the first leaf missing.

Last updated: August 6, 2014