chapter  24
8 Pages

Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–1688)

The Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest (Chinese name, Nan Huairen 南懷仁), an accomplished mathematician, left Europe for China in 1656. After landing in Macau in 1658, he proceeded to Xi’an on his missionary duties. On the recommendation of the German Jesuit priest Johann Adam Schall von Bell 湯若望 (1591-1666), who was the Supervisor of the Directorate of Astronomy, he arrived at Beijing in 1660 and became a senior assistant to Schall. In 1664 Verbiest was implicated in charges against Schall and imprisoned with him in Beijing.170 After the Kangxi 康熙 Emperor began his official rule,171 Verbiest was released and, in 1669, appointed Administrator of the Calendar. He gradually won the trust of the emperor and, in 1675, became the emperor’s tutor in astronomy and European mathematics.172 The previous year, the emperor had also instructed Verbiest to supervise the casting of cannons, to be used by the government troops sent to suppress the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories.173 In addition, Verbiest acted as interpreter for the Qing court when foreign emissaries came to China. From 1675 to 1677, Verbiest, taking advantage of the presence at the Qing court of the Russian emissary Nikolai Govrilovich Milescu Spathary (1636-1708), sought to gain land access through Russia for the Jesuits. Exploiting his status as imperial interpreter, he passed restricted political, economic and military information about China to the Russians. He died in Beijing in 1688.