The Astronomical Images in the First Chinese Treatise on the Telescope by Johann Adam Schall von Bell Revisited

Neubetrachtung der astronomischen Abbildungen in der ersten chinesischen Abhandlung über das Teleskop von Johann Adam Schall von Bell


A reanalysis of the eight astronomical images that Johann Adam Schall von Bell incorporated in the first Chinese treatise on the telescope to illustrate the telescopic discoveries made by Galileo Galilei shows that they were borrowed from the works on telescopic astronomy by Galileo Galilei and Johann Georg Locher, a student of Christopher Scheiner. Except minor changes to both Galileo’s illustrations of the telescopic view of the moon and nebulae and Locher’s illustration of sunspots, Locher’s images about the phases of Venus and Jovian satellites were redrawn presumably to convey a clearer commitment to Tycho Brahe’s system of the world and most of the contents in Locher’s image of Saturn was replaced by Schall’s own observation. These changes seem to be the result of two important factors that confined the transcultural transmission of astronomical knowledge from Europe to China through the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, namely the official standpoint of the Catholic Church on the ongoing cosmological issues and the cultural tradition of Chinese astronomy.


Eine neue Betrachtung der acht astronomischen Abbildungen, die Johann Adam Schall von Bell zur Illustration der teleskopischen Entdeckungen von Galileo Galilei in die erste chinesische Abhandlung über das Teleskop aufgenommen hatte, zeigt dass sie den Arbeiten Galileo Galileis und Johann Georg Lochers, einem Studenten von Christoph Scheiner, über teleskopische Astronomie entlehnt worden sind. Während nur kleinere Veränderungen an zwei von Galileis Illustrationen der teleskopischen Ansichten des Mondes und von Nebeln sowie Lochers Darstellungen von Sonnenflecken vorgenommen worden sind, sind Lochers Abbildungen der Venusphasen und Jupitersatelliten neu gezeichnet worden, vermutlich um ein klareres Bekenntnis zu Tycho Brahes Weltsystem auszudrücken. Lochers Saturnabbildung ist mit Inhalten aus Schalls eigenen Beobachtungen ersetzt worden. Diese Veränderungen dürften das Ergebnis zweier Faktoren gewesen sein, die die transkulturelle Überlieferung astronomischem Wissens von Europa nach China durch die Jesuiten im 17. Jahrhundert beschränkt haben: der offizielle Standpunkt der Katholischen Kirche zu offenen kosmologischen Fragen und die kulturelle Tradition der chinesischen Astronomie.

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  1. 1.

    Schall’s first work in Chinese is a treatise on the eclipses completed in 1624 (See Tang Ruwang 湯若望 et al. 1624. A Brief on the Prediction of the Eclipses (測食略 Ceshi lue). In: Treatises onCalendrical Astronomy according to the New Method from the West (西洋新書 Xiyang xinfa lishu), Vol.23, preserved in the Kyujanggak Archives, Shelf Number 3418.32.23).

  2. 2.

    The earliest known version of the YJS is preserved in the Kyujanggak Archives in Korea as a part of the Treatises on Calendrical Astronomy according to the New Method from the West (西洋新法曆書 Xiyang xinfa lishu) . The bylines at the very beginning of the body text of this version are “Tang Ruwang from the West Ocean dictates (西洋湯如望述 Xiyang Tang Ruwang shu)”, and “The Disciple Li Zubai redacts (後學李祖白述 Houxue Li Zubai ding)” (Tang Ruwang 湯若望 and Li Zhubai 李祖白 1626). There is also a version printed with the same set of printing blocks after Li Zubai’s execution in 1665 during the lawsuit against Schall wherein Li Zhubai’s line is deleted and Schall’s line is changed into “Tang Ruowang from the West Ocean Composes (西洋湯著 Xiyang Tang Ruowang zhu)”.

  3. 3.

    This is the only published English translation of the Latin text, which reflects the basic idea of the text. It contains various mistakes and deviations from the Latin text, which are, however, irrelevant for the analysis of the images.


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Shi, Y. The Astronomical Images in the First Chinese Treatise on the Telescope by Johann Adam Schall von Bell Revisited. N.T.M. (2020).

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  • Astronomical image
  • Jesuit astronomy
  • Johann Adam Schall von Bell
  • Telescopic discoveries
  • Transculturalism


  • Astronomische Abbildung
  • Jesuitische Astronomie
  • Johann Adam Schall von Bell
  • Teleskopische Entdeckungen
  • Transkulturalismus