Western astrology in China: Tianbu zhenyuan

Compiled in 1653 by the Polish Jesuit missionary Nikolaus Smogulecki (1611–1656), or Mu Nige穆尼閣, in cooperation with his Chinese disciple Xue Fengzuo薛鳳祚 (1600–1680), the Tianbu zhenyuan 天步眞原 (True Principles of the Pacing of the Heavens) is one of the most important works on “Western Learning” from the Early Qing period. Despite of this, there are a lot of uncertainties concerning its publicaiton history on account of the big differences between the existing copies of the book. Besides, the following two features of the book seem to be very incomprehensible: on the one hand, the book includes a full-scale version of Western astrology, not only medical and meteorological one permitted by the Catholic Church, but even natal astrology forbiden by the chruch as well; on the other hand, at the high time when the Tychonic system of calendrical astronomy constructed by Johann Terrenz Schreck (1576-1630), Johann Adam Schall von Bell (1591–1666) and Giacomo Rho (1593-1638) had been contributed by Schall himself to the newly founded Qing dynasty which had officially adopted it immediately, Smogulecki was preaching in the book a system based on Philippe van Lansberge’s (1516 – 1632) heliocentric astronomy, and openly claimed that Schall’s Tychonic system still committed a number of deficiencies and was outdated, and therefore should be replaced with the Lanbergian system.

Through a survey of more than ten copies of the book now existant, I found that the book was first carved on printing-blcoks in 1653, but was reedited in 1664 as both an independent book and the section Xin xifa xuanyao 新西法選要 (A Digest of the New Western Method) of Xue Fengzuo’s tripartite conllectonea Tianxue huitong天学会通(An Integration of Heavenly Studies), or Lixue huitong曆學会通(An Integration of Calendrical Studies) as it was later titled. The Tianxue huitong underwent a number of reeditions later, but most of the printing blocks of the Tianbu zhenyuan in these reedtions came actually from the first edtion in 1653, except a few reworked ones from the 1664 edition.

The reason why Smogulecki decided to introduce Western astrololgy could have been twofolds. In the first place, both Xue Fengzuo and Fang Zhongtong方中通 (1635-1698), the two most imprtant disciples of Smogulecki, were fascinated by astrology even before they met Smogulecki and might have therefore asked him to teach the Western counterpart of the art. Secondly, in the wake of the extrodinary importance of astrology in the official Chinese establishment in charge of the heavenly affairs, the Jesuit missionaries, who saw most of traditional Chinese astrology as superstitions, had been trying to reform it with Western system since the beginning of the calendar reform led by Xu Guanqi徐光啓 (1562-1633). Smogulecki’s translation of Western astrology might have something to do with this move in general.

The motives for his introduction of an astronomical system different from that of Schall could also be two-faceted. Firstly, under the influence of the dispute between Lansberge’s Copernican school and the Tyconic school in Europe, he apparently became a sympathizer of Lansberge’s system. Secondly, being quite aware of the serious errors of Tychinic astronomy in some calculatoins, like a number of other Jesuit Fathers doing, Smogulecki was pobably trying to replace it with Lansberge’s system, which he believed to be more exact.

Unfortunately, due to the over-emphasis on technical issues and the apparent negligence of theoretical disscusions, plus the abrupt and scientifically nonlogical deletions and alterations of some keywords in Lansberge’s original texts which may reveal the true face of the heliocentric theory, nobody in the whole Qing dynasty was able to really understand the astronomical contents of the book. As a result, the book exerted very little impact on both official and un-official astronomy of the Qing dynasty, though it did not completely vanish from the scholarly landscape. On the other hand, however, the book already made Smogulecki a “dissident” both within and without the Jesuit circles in China, given the sensitive role of calendrical astronomy in both the Chinese society and the Jesuit mission to China. The fate of this “dissident” and his book within the Jesuit circles affords quite for thought.

Nicolaus Smogulencki and Xue Fengzuo’s Tianbu zhenyuan:

Its Production, Publication and Reception

SHI Yunli,University of Science and Technology of China

(作者原稿)

穆尼阁和薛凤祚的《天步真原》

(中国科学技术大学 石云里)

《天步真原》是波兰耶稣会士穆尼阁(Nikolaus Smogulecki,字如德,1611–1656)与中国学者薛凤祚(1600–1680)在1653年合作编译的一套著作,是清初出版的最重要的西学著作之一。然而,该书的存本彼此差异颇大,使这部著作的版本情况充满疑问。另外,该书的两大特点也令人不解:首先,其中包含有完整版本的西方星占学知识,不仅包括天主教会允许的医学和气象星占,而且还包含受教会禁止的生辰星占;其次,在汤若望(Johann Adam Schall von Bell,字道未,1591–1666)等人介绍到中国来的弟谷天文学系统已经被清朝政府正式采纳,传教士的信誉已经微妙地与这种天文学系统紧密地联系在一起的情况下,穆尼阁居然在书中介绍了以哥白尼“日心地动”说为基础的斯伯格(Philippe van Lansberge, 1516 – 1632)天文学,而且还公然宣称,汤若望引进的系统存在许多不足之处,已经过时,应该用兰斯伯格的天文学加以取代。

通过对该书现存的十几个版本的普调,我们发现,该书最早在1653年已经刻板,到1664年由又出现了一个略经修改的独立版本,该版本同时又以“新西法选要”为题被收入薛凤祚的《天学会通》之中。此后,该书又随《天学会通》(后改名《历学会通》)再版过几次。不过,从该书印本的特点可以发现,除1664年经过改编的部分印板外,现存版本中的大部分刻板实际上来自都来自1653年的原板。

至于穆尼阁为什么会在书中翻译西方星占学,则可能有两方面的原因:首先,穆尼阁在中国最主要的两名学生薛凤祚和方中通在结识他之前都已经热衷于星占学研究,因此很可能会进一步提出学习要求;其次,自明末徐光启领导的立法改革以来,受星占学在中国官方天文机构中重要地位的影响,耶稣会士也一直有计划在中国引入西方星占学,以改造被他们认为是迷信的中国传统星占学内容,穆尼阁的星占学翻译很可能是与这一计划有关。

至于他为什么要介绍一种不同于弟谷体系的天文学系统,原因也有两个方面:首先,他明显受到当是欧洲哥白尼和弟谷两大天文学派之间的论战的影响,并且对哥白尼学派的主张持同情态度;其次,于许多入华耶稣会士一样,穆尼阁很明白,弟谷体系在天文计算中仍然存在很大误差,所以想用他认为更加精密的兰斯伯格的天文学系统来对它加以取代。

可惜的是,由于该书只强调计算技术,而轻视理论上的讨论,再加上为了回避“日心地动说”的正面介绍,书中不顾科学上的逻辑,对兰斯伯格原著的文字进行了生硬的省略和改动,致使在有清一代几乎无人能够真正理解其中的天文学内容。结果,该书虽然一直没有绝版,但是对清代明间和官方天文学的影响都很小。不过,尽管如此,由于天文学在中国社会以及耶稣会传教工作的地敏感地位,穆尼阁对汤若望引进的天文学系统的批判实际上已经使他成为耶稣会中的“异议分子”,而这位“异议分子”和他著作在耶稣会中的命运也颇为耐人寻味。