English

2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Reading the Words of His Majesty:
On the Dialogue between Mei Wending’s Supplements to the Questions about Calendrical Learning and Kangxi’s On Trigonometry

Pingyi Chu

Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

I argue, against most current studies of the theory of Chinese origins of Western learning, that Mei Wending and Kangxi, while agreeing on the fundamental premise of Chinese origins, had different ideas about its exact significance. Kangxi wrote On Trigonometry to criticize those who cast doubt on the Shixian calendar created by the Western missionaries. Though he agreed that astronomy and mathematics had originated in China, he disputed the superiority of the Chinese calendrical tradition. Mei Wending’s Supplements to the Questions about Calendrical Learning, also agreed with the theory of the Chinese origins of Western learning, and then took a stronger stand. Mei argued for the usefulness of the Chinese establishment of a leap month, which, he argued, would not only correspond to the natural order but also generate good social order. In this work, the last book written by Mei, he suggested that Kangxi revive the Chinese tradition of the orthodox calendar (zhengsuo) while taking full advantage of the Western calendrical techniques. Kangxi, though he may not have seen Mei’s last remonstrance, exploited Mei’s version of the Chinese origins of Western learning to incorporate the talents of the Han Chinese astronomers so as to balance the power of the Western missionaries. It is therefore insufficient to note simply that both Mei Wending and Kangxi subscribed to the theory of the Chinese origins of Western learning. We need to situate the theory in its intellectual and political contexts to understand how historical agents exploited it for their own ends.

 

Keywords: Chinese origins of the Western learning, Mei Wending, Kangxi