Xu Guangqi (1562–1633)
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From “Ke jihe yuanben xu” 刻幾何原本序 (Preface to the Woodblock Edition of Elements of Mathematics),37 collected in Ming Qing jian Yesu huishi yizhu tiyao 明清間 耶穌會士譯著提要 (Summary of the Publications by the Jesuits during the Ming and the Qing), Volume 6
From the Tang 唐 and Yu 虞 periods in high antiquity, when the sage rulers Yao 堯 [reigned, according to tradition, 2357-2255 BCE] and Shun 舜 [reigned, according to tradition, 2255-2205 BCE] commanded the brothers Xi 羲 and He 和 to study the celestial phenomena for calendar computation and appointed other sages to the posts of General Regulator, Minister of Works, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Music, the five administrative officers of the son of Heaven all had to have knowledge of mathematics [dùshù 度數, “measure” and “number”] for the execution of their duties. Mathematics [shù 數, “number”] was one of the six arts listed in the Offices of Zhou 周官 [Zhouguan]39 and the other five arts [rites, music, archery, charioteering, reading and writing] could not be practised without a proper application of the knowledge of mathematics [dùshù 度數]. The musical accomplishments of the legendary Shi Xiang 師襄 [6th century BCE] and Shi Kuang 師曠 [active 558-532 BCE], and the engineering feats of Gongshu Ban 公輸班 [5th century BCE] and Mo Di
墨翟 [470?–391? BCE]40 – have these come about from sorcery or magic? No, their attainments were made possible by their skilful deployment of mathematical knowledge. I have always maintained that, during the period of the Three Dynasties and still further back in high antiquity,41 those who possessed this kind of skill had learned it from their master teachers and hence their knowledge was sound and thorough. But all that was destroyed by Emperor Shi of the Qin Dynasty [Qin Shi Huangdi 秦始皇帝, First Emperor of China, reigned 221-210 BCE], who gave the order for books to be burned and scholars to be buried alive. From the Han Dynasty [206 BCE-220 CE] onward, people attempted to recover that knowledge through guesswork, but like blind people shooting in vain at a mark, it was a waste of arrows and effort. Others tried to learn what they could and picked up fragments here and there, like trying to see an elephant by the light of a firefly, now a glimpse of the head and now a glimpse of the tail. It is unavoidable, therefore, that few are in command of this art today.