Inspecting the southern sky: Kangxi at the Nanjing observatory

Catherine Jami

in The Emperor's New Mathematics

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199601400
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191729218 | DOI:
Inspecting the southern sky: Kangxi at the Nanjing observatory

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The year 1689 was a turning point in the story of the mathematical sciences during the Kangxi reign, when all the actors who were to contribute to the shaping of these sciences gathered in Beijing. Mei Wending arrived there, and began to work on a draft of the astronomical chapters of the Ming History. Meanwhile, the emperor decided to take up the study of Western science on his own account, with Jesuits of both the French and Portuguese missions as tutors. Their continued favor with him was not uncontroversial: astronomy and the related sciences seemed to be the one field of learning where he did not take Chinese sources and the scholars that tutored him as sole authorities. This gave rise to tensions between him and some of his high officials. This chapter presents an example of this tension: it focuses on an imperial visit to the Nanjing Observatory that took place on the 27th day of the 2nd month of the 28th year of the Kangxi reign, that is, on 18 March 1689. Different eye witnesses recorded how the emperor interacted with his officials on matters of astronomy. Other materials shed further light on the stakes of the confrontation that took place.

Keywords: Kangxi; mathematical sciences; imperial visit; Nanjing Observatory; astronomy

Chapter.  7643 words. 

Subjects: History of Mathematics

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