An Introduction to Qi Qi Tu Shuo


Yuanxi Qiqi Tushuo Luzui (Collected Diagrams and Explanations of the Wonderful Machines of the Far West, for short QQTS), which was translated and compiled by Johann Terrenz (Schreck) (1576-1630) and Wang Zheng (1571-1644) in 1627, is the first Chinese translation of Western mechanical knowledge and machines. Terrenz interpreted western texts in spoken Chinese. Wang illustrated Terrenz’ interpretations and formulated them in written Chinese.

Wang Zheng, also known as Philippe, was born in the Shanxi province of China on 12 May 1571, and died on 10 April 1644. His father, an accomplished Confucian theorist and mathematician, aroused his early interest in books. His literary talent unfolded when he was 15 years old. He passed an imperial examination at the provincial level in 1594. Influenced by Confucianism, Wang developed a sense of responsibility for the progress of society. When he was young, he often reflected on ancient China’s ingenious machines, which interfered with his studies of Confucian works. During the winter of 1615 or the spring of 1616, he became acquainted with a missionary, de Pantoja, and joined the Jesuits soon afterwards. He became a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations of 1622. He read Aleni’s Zhi Fang Wai Ji (ZFWJ, Record of the Places outside the Jurisdiction of the Office of Geography, 1623), which led to his interest in remarkable people and wonderful things, such as Toledo’s water-lifting devices and Archimedes’ inventions. A Jesuit he met in the Shanxi province, Nicolas Trigault (1577-1628), taught him a little Latin in 1625.

Around December 1626 or January 1627, Wang Zheng came to Beijing and affiliated with Niccolo Longobardi (1559-1654), Terrenz, and Adam Schall von Bell (1592-1666). Wang consulted them in order to improve his understanding of the machines depicted in ZFWJ. They recommended many European books on machines to him. Although Wang couldn’t read these, the drawings of machines amused him very much. Consequently he asked Terrenz to help him translate some of them. According to Wang’s record, Terrenz indicated a connection between machines and theoretical knowledge such as mathematics. With Terrenz’ help, Wang roughly mastered the necessary surveying and mathematics, after studying them for only a few days. They selected many kinds of books on mechanical knowledge and translated some of them. Wang preferred to translate knowledge about “the most important, simplest, and most ingenious” machines to serve the Chinese people. In February or March 1627, they finally compiled a book called Yuanxi Qiqi Tushuo Luzui. QQTS and Zhu Qi Tu Shuo (Diagrams and Explanations of A Few Machines) were first printed in Yangzhou in the summer of 1627, the latter was written by Wang in 1626. As an official, he impartially handled affairs in Yangzhou and Shandong. He thought that learning, whether recondite or shallow, Chinese or Western, should benefit society and not violate God. Wang made use of Western mechanical knowledge and combined it with traditional Chinese technology to construct some machines.

QQTS was the first monograph on Western mechanical knowledge in Chinese, most of which was new for Chinese people in the 17th century. In the guide to its use (Fanli), the authors stated that before studying the machine, one must study such disciplines as zhongxue (study of weight), gewu qiongli zhi xue (a study to investigate things to attain knowledge, especially natural philosophy), surveying, mathematics, and perspective. They also wrote an introduction to zhongxue, namely li yi zhi xue (study of the craft of force), including Biao Xing Yan and Biao De Yan. Biao Xing Yan discussed the nature of mechanics, while Biao De Yan explained the use of mechanics.

Following the introduction, there are three chapters that selectively expounded Western mechanical knowledge and machines from Archimedean time to the early 17th century. The first chapter, which consists of 61 sections, was named Zhong Jie (explanations of weight). It discussed weight, center of gravity, geometrical center, specific gravity, buoyancy, and other topics. The second chapter including 92 sections was named Qi Jie (explanations of implements), which discussed the principles and calculations concerning simple machines such as the balance, steelyard, lever, pulley, wheel, screw, and others. The third chapter consists of diagrams and explanations of 54 kinds of Western machines, including devices to hoist and move heavy objects, water-lifting devices, wind-mills, water-mills, wood-sawing machines, and so on. His chapter also describes such mechanisms as the crank, winch, chain wheel, star-wheel, worm wheel, and ratchet wheel. All operators in the diagrams were changed from European figures to Chinese. Generally speaking, diagrams and explanations were logically compiled, however, some errors and confusions still remain.

Most of the books upon which QQTS was based were collected in the Beitang Library. The authors of some of the books gave them to Terrenz as presents. The first and second chapters of QQTS are probably derived mainly from Simon Steven’s Hypomnemata Mathematica... Mauritius, Princeps Auraicus, Comes Nassoviac..., (1608). Much of the second chapter of QQTS is quite similar to Galileo’s Le Mecaniche (1600), and the discourses on floating bodies are similar to Galileo’s Discuso...intorno alle cose che stanno in su l’acqua (1612). In view of the relationship between them, it is possible that Terrenz consulted Galileo’s works. The third chapter of QQTS is obviously derived from Agostino Ramelli’s Le Diverse e Artificiose Machine del Capitano and other European books.

QQTS has been reprinted many times since the 17th century. It was included in Gujin Tushu Jicheng (GJTSJC, Collection of Ancient Chinese Books ) which was first printed in 1726. The first and second chapters of QQTS were deleted by the compilers of GJTSJC. QQTS was also included in Si Ku Quan Shu (SKQS, Complete Collection in Four Treasuries), which was compiled during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795A.D.). The author of the abstract of QQTS in SKQS said:

“Both Biao Xing Yan and Biao De Yan exaggerated the magnificence of those methods. [In fact,] most of them are absurd and unrestrained and were not worth cross-examining. But then the machine building in the book is actually the most ingenious in history.”

QQTS was reprinted a few times in 19th century. The Shou-sha-ge series of books included QQTS and changed all Latin letters in its diagrams to Chinese characters. An edition of QQTS, printed in 1877, changed its name to Ji Qi Tu Shuo (Diagrams and Explanations of Machines). The images displayed on this web site represent the edition from 1830.

QQTS aroused the interest of the Chinese in Western machines. However, it is noteworthy that the book had little influence on traditional Chinese mechanical knowledge and technology during the 17-19th centuries.