chapter  10
9 Pages

Li Zhizao (1565/1571–1630)

A native of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, Li Zhizao 李之藻, also known as Li Zhenzhi 李振之, obtained a Jinshi degree in 1598, after passing the imperial examination, and, in time, rose to the rank of Vice-Minister of the Court of the Royal Stables. All through his administrative career, Li devoted time to learning Western science and technology even though he already had a thorough grasp of astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, algebra and other sciences in the Chinese tradition, and was frequently commended for his erudition by Western missionaries. With his store of knowledge, Li was quick to realize the advances made in the West in these fields as soon as he was exposed to Western science, and he was keen to introduce Western science to China through translation, believing that this body of new knowledge would contribute to the progress of the country and help improve the livelihood of the people. He personally participated in the translation of books on astronomy and mathematics such as Diagrams and Explanations concerning the Sphere and the Astrolabe 渾蓋通憲圖說 (Hungai tongxian tushuo), Treatise on Isoperimetric Figures 圓容較義 (Yuanrong jiaoyi) and Guide to Calculation in the Same Script 同文算指 (Tongwen suanzhi), and books on philosophy including On Heaven and Earth 寰有銓 (Huan you quan) and Inquiries into Names and Principles 名理探 (Mingli tan). In 1630, he joined Xu Guangqi 徐光啟 in the compilation and editing of Books on the Calendar and Astronomy from the Chongzhen Reign 崇禎曆書 (Chongzhen lishu), and took part in translating the treatises devoted to the motion of the sun, the moon and the five planets (grouped together as a set entitled Li zhi 曆指, “Calendrical Treatises”), as well as Complete Theory of Surveying 測量全義 (Celiang quanyi). He was a strong advocate of the translation of Western works into Chinese, as seen in the prefaces he wrote to the translations published. In addition, he submitted a petition to the emperor, “A Memorial for Imperial Approval to Translate Western Works on Calendar Computation and Other Such Writings” 請譯西洋曆法等書疏 (“Qingyi xiyang lifa deng shu shu”). Before his death, he also engraved and printed a monumental collection, in thirty-two volumes, of the translations of Western scientific and technological works as well as of the writings on ethics and on Christian principles produced by the Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci, by Xu Guangqi, and himself. Entitled First Collection of Learning from Heaven 天學初函 (Tianxue chuhan), this first compendium of modern Western science gained a large readership in the late Ming and early Qing period (generally agreed to be the period from the 1580s to the 1780s).46