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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Starry Anomaly and Meteorological Phenomenon:The Impact of the Aristotelian View of Comets on Xu Guangqi and Xiong Mingyu in the Ming Wanli Period

Vol. 39 No. 4   12/2009    


Starry Anomaly and Meteorological Phenomenon:The Impact of the Aristotelian View of Comets on Xu Guangqi and Xiong Mingyu in the Ming Wanli Period  


Hsu, Kuang-tai  









Key words

comet of 1577, natural philosophy, Jesuits, Xu Guangqi, Xiong Mingyu, Scientific Revolution


  Before the 17th century, Chinese and Western scholars had different views about comets. A Chinese exemplar in the Tian quan shu 天官書of the Shi ji 史記explains that comets arise from bad qi moving from the ground to interfere with the planets. The comet of 1577 was considered an anomaly with astrological implications of bad politics for Zhang Juzheng 張居正. In the ancient Greek period, Aristotle (384-322 BC) regarded comets as meteorological phenomena arising from oily exhalations moving into the upper atmosphere and igniting. This view held currency until Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) challenged it in 1577. He found that the distance between the comet of 1577 and the Earth was much greater than the distance between the moon and the Earth. Thus, the comet of 1577 was in the ether rather than the terrestrial area. In brief, the comet of 1577 was an anomaly of the Scientific Revolution.

   During the Wanli 萬曆 Period, Jesuits followed Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) in transmitting Western knowledge about nature, effecting the encounter of Chinese and Aristotelian views on the comet. At first, Xu Guangqi 徐光 (1562-1633) and Xiong Mingyu 熊明遇(1579-1649) continued to believe the Chinese view. Under the impact of Western learning, however, they became the first two Chinese literati to convert to the Aristotelian understanding. In other words, this conversion was the result of their studying Western works rather than a revolution in science.



Author: Hsu, Kuang-tai
Genre: Article
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