(East-West Question) Zhu Chengru: Why was Western learning able to spread in the Qing court during the "prosperous age of Kang and Qian"?

  China News Agency, Beijing, March 14th: Why was Western learning spread in the Qing Dynasty during the "Prosperous Age of Kang and Qian"?

  Author Zhu Chengru Deputy Director of the National Qing History Compilation Committee of China

  The Forbidden City, which has gone through a history of more than 600 years, is a precious traditional cultural heritage of the Chinese nation and a famous world cultural heritage.

It has witnessed the development of China as a unified multi-ethnic country, carrying rich historical information and cultural imprints.

  But what is not known to most people is that the Forbidden City has also carried out rich and diverse cultural exchanges between China and the West in history.

This history of Sino-foreign interaction is of great significance in the history of human civilization.

  During the "Prosperous Age of Kangxi and Qianlong", Western learning was able to spread in the Qing Palace, where Chinese and Western science and technology cultures converged.

From the original hand-cranked computer, which was a product of the exchange of science and technology between the East and the West in the early Qing Dynasty, to the documentary works drawn by Western court painters, including "The Great Reading of the Emperor Qianlong", these historical materials have become the evidence for people to understand the history of China in the 18th century, and also become the Witness of the exchange of human civilizations.

Photo courtesy of the author of the hand-cranked copper-plated disc type computer

The strong national strength of "Kang Qiangshengshi" is the foundation of cultural exchanges and mutual learning between China and the West

  The Kangxi Dynasty laid the foundation for national reunification, and the Yongzheng Dynasty underwent drastic reforms and reached its peak in the Qianlong Dynasty.

After three dynasties, China has strengthened the stable and effective governance of the frontier ethnic areas, and has also communicated the relationship between the frontier ethnic groups and the Han people in the Central Plains, laying the foundation for the territory.

The stable political situation of the Great Unification during the Kang, Yong and Qian Dynasties was conducive to the stable development of society.

  During this period, China experienced a new situation of economic development and population growth.

The area of ​​arable land in the country exceeded 1 billion mu for the first time; during the Qianlong period, the silver stored in the Ministry of Household’s silver treasury remained at 60 to 70 million taels all year round. In the fifty-fifth year of Qianlong's reign (1790), the country's population exceeded 300 million. In less than 50 years, the population doubled, and the total population reached an unprecedented peak.

From a certain perspective, the Kang, Yong, and Qian dynasties established China's population base today and its position in the world's population pattern.

  At the time, China was still the world's largest export manufacturing country.

According to the research of Qing history expert Mr. Dai Yi, in the 18th century, there were 10 large cities in the world with a population of more than 500,000, of which China accounted for 6.

The development of the city promoted the development of the manufacturing industry, and large quantities of Chinese porcelain, silk, and tea were exported to Europe and Southeast Asia.

In the 18th century, China's share of the world's total manufacturing output exceeded that of Europe.

In the process of world economic globalization, China's manufacturing industry made a lot of contributions at that time.

  The opening of maritime traffic has brought about cultural exchanges between the eastern and western countries that originally ran along different tracks.

From the early Qing Dynasty to the Qianlong period, France, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, Russia and other countries sent a large number of missionaries and embassies to China.

"Sails on the Silk Road" - the exhibition of fine cultural relics of the Maritime Silk Road attracts the public to watch the exhibition.

The Maritime Silk Road was formed in the Qin and Han Dynasties, developed from the Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty, prospered in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and changed in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

China News Agency reporter Liu Xinshe

  The strong national strength makes China both attractive and resilient, which is also the foundation of cultural exchanges and mutual learning between China and the West.

Compared with Paris, London, Moscow, and Rome at that time, Beijing had obvious advantages in terms of city size, population, economic prosperity and cultural prosperity.

It should be said that in the 18th century, Beijing, the capital of the Qing Dynasty, the Forbidden City, and Europe were relatively open.

The Spread of Western Learning in the Qing Palace is the Witness of the History of Human Civilization

  Western embassies and missionaries originally came to China as the advance team of early Western colonial expansion, but they also brought Western religion, culture, and scientific and technological concepts to make up for the shortcomings of Chinese intellectuals in terms of geography, astronomy, and mathematics. .

Churches with Western-style architecture, such as the famous Catholic East, West, South and North Churches appear in Beijing, allowing people to see another world.

Jesuit missionaries began to translate and publish Western books on astronomy, mathematics, and geography.

  Emperor Kangxi himself was familiar with ancient Chinese classics, covering astronomical phenomena, geography, history, music, economy, horseback riding, medicine, Mongolian, Western Regions, and Latin characters.

What is even more commendable is that he attached great importance to Western science, and introduced the Jesuit missionaries who knew Western science (that is, "people who knew skills") into the inner court, and taught Western learning in shifts every day.

  When Emperor Kangxi was on his tour, there were even some Western scholars accompanying him to conduct astronomical observations and geographical surveys.

China has been able to draw maps for a long time, but there are no latitude and longitude lines, and the recorded mileage is often wrong.

Emperor Kangxi personally assigned Chinese people to work with Western scholars to survey and map by province. It took 30 years of work to draw up the "Purpose of the Imperial Palace", which was far more precise than the previous generation.

  With the support of Emperor Kangxi, missionary Nan Huairen designed and manufactured ecliptic theodolite, equatorial theodolite and celestial apparatus for the Beijing Observatory, and missionary Ji Li'an made a European-style theodolite for the observatory.

These astronomical knowledge and technologies have promoted the development of Chinese astronomy.

Tourists visit the Clock and Watch Museum of the Palace Museum in Beijing.

In the eighteenth century, the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty made extensive use of mechanical clocks.

Most of these timepieces are British products, but also those from other Western countries such as France and Switzerland, as well as those made in China.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Du Yang

  Emperor Kangxi also learned Western mathematics from French Jesuit missionaries Zhang Cheng and Bai Jin who came to Beijing. The Essence of Mathematics and Literacy he presided over compared Western mathematics with traditional Chinese mathematics. It not only analyzed ancient Chinese mathematics, but also absorbed The Western mathematical knowledge that has been passed to China has become a work that represents the highest level of mathematics in China at that time.

  The Qianlong period began to pay attention to the introduction and imitation of mechanical clocks and watches, and applied the advanced mechanical manufacturing technology at that time to "robots".

This reflects the influence of European machinery manufacturing on China.

  In the exchange between China and the West, in addition to the prominence of Western scientific and technological knowledge, Western art, especially painting art, also had far-reaching influence in the three generations of Kang, Yong and Qian.

  The Italian Lang Shining came to China in the last years of Kangxi and was hired as a court painter. He has been engaged in painting in China for more than 50 years during the three dynasties of Kang, Yong and Qian.

He is good at painting figures of emperors and queens, rare birds and beasts, and exotic flowers. He can combine Western painting methods with traditional Chinese brush and ink, and his painting style has far-reaching influence.

He left behind masterpieces such as "The Great Review of Emperor Qianlong" and "Hundred Horses". He is the famous court painter with the most works handed down in the Qing Dynasty.

The painters who entered the court with Lang Shining before and after the French Wang Zhicheng, Italian An Deyi, and Bohemian Ai Qimeng were good at painting oil paintings of figures, portraits, animals, flowers and birds. There are many documentary paintings reflecting the important historical events of the court and portraits of emperors and queens.

The audience uses a magnifying glass to view the Suzhou embroidery works based on Lang Shining's "Hundred Horses".

Photo by China News Agency reporter Zhang Hao

  From Tang Ruowang's Sundial in New French Land to the Armillary Sphere in Nan Huairen, from the publication of a large number of Western scientific knowledge works translated by Western missionaries, to a large number of historical paintings by foreign painters in the court, from Westerners learning mathematical sciences for Emperor Kangxi in From the hand-cranked computer made by the Qing court to the original row-based computer... These scientific instruments that have remained in and out of the court to this day show that the dissemination of Western science and technology in the Qing court during the Kang, Yong and Qian Dynasties had important value and significance.

The exchange and mutual learning of Chinese and Western science, technology and culture is a testimony to the history of human civilization.

Exchanges and mutual learning between China and the West are inevitable in the historical process of human civilization

  In the face of advanced Western technology and culture, the emperor of the Qing Dynasty was a wise move to accept and learn, but he only learned the skin and did not fundamentally change the concept of "Western learning is the source", and advanced Western manufacturing technology did not take root in China.

In front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the main hall of the Forbidden City, is still a sundial instead of an advanced mechanical clock.

The documentary paintings of Lang Shining and others are still at a disadvantage in the face of Chinese freehand ink painting.

The accumulation of history and inertia dictate.

  At the same time, Western embassies and missionaries also brought Chinese culture to the West. China's history and culture, astronomy, geography, mountains and rivers, and the customs of urban and rural life have attracted widespread attention in Western academic circles.

Exquisite ceramics and silk textiles have become luxury goods for Western aristocrats, triggering the "Chinese style" and "Chinese tide" in Europe in the 18th century.

Citizens visit the exhibition "Garden on Porcelain - The Influence of Chinese Gardens on Europe from the Perspective of Export Porcelain".

Photo by China News Agency reporter Zhao Jun

  In the cultural exchange between China and the West, the fine products in the excellent traditional Chinese culture, especially the traditional crafts, are the accumulation of thousands of years of cultural heritage of the Chinese nation and have rich technical content.

European missionaries and Russian business groups learned Chinese ceramic production technology and returned to China to imitate them.

Silk, dyeing and lacquer craftsmanship also spread to Europe.

  Looking back at history, the history of cultural exchanges and mutual learning between China and the West is inevitable in the historical process of human civilization.

Due to the limitations of the times and history, the collisions and obstacles in communication are only temporary, and it is not necessary to exact the ancients by the standards of the moderns.

In the context of globalization, it is even more necessary to further promote international scientific and technological and cultural exchanges.


About the Author:

  Zhu Chengru: Deputy Director of the National Qing History Compilation Committee, Editor-in-Chief of the Qing Dynasty Volume of "General History of China" (new edition), professor and doctoral supervisor.

He used to be the president of Liaoning Normal University, the vice president of the Palace Museum (in charge of academic affairs), the director of the academic committee, the professor and doctoral tutor of the History Department of Peking University, and the president of the Chinese Forbidden City Society.

He is the leader of the evaluation team for major projects of the National Social Science Fund, and the editor-in-chief of the multi-volume "General History of the Qing Dynasty" and "The History of the Qing Dynasty".