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


The Transmission of Western Four-Elements Theory in Late Ming China

Vol. 27 No. 3   12/1997  


The Transmission of Western Four-Elements Theory in Late Ming China


Kuang-tai Hsu









Key words

Late Ming, four-elements theory, five-phases theory, Jesuit worldview, Zhu Xi’s vorldview


      While five-phases theorymetal, wood, water, fire and earth was still a dominant theory for Chinese understanding of natural phenomena in late Ming, Jesuits transmitted western learning, including Aristotelian four-elements theoryfire, air,water and earth, for the propagation of Christian faith. In fact, the encounter of these two theory of matter reflected the confrontation between Jesuit and Neo- Confucianesp. Zhu Xi’sworldviews. In this paper the author will take the position of Jesuits to see how did they transmit western four-elements theory in this background. At that time Jesuits and Neo-Confucians had different views on the origin of the universe, theory of matter, and the nature of human soul. In the Tienzhu shiyi天主實義, in which Jesuit and Zhu Xi’s worldviews are encountered, Matteo Ricci mentions four-elements theory and five-phases theory in the context of his proofs of the existence of the Creator and the immortality of hum an soul. In the qian kun ti yi乾坤體義, in order to establish hand, however, he barrows some Chinese terms to make four-elements theory more accommodated to Chinese l iterati on the other hand. Later, in the Aristotelian traditions of Meteorology and on the Heavens, de Ursis, Vagnoni and Furtado respectively extends four-elements theory in Taixi shuifa泰西水法, Kongji gezhi空際格致 and Huan you quan寰有詮without forgetting to propagate Christian faith.



Author: Kuang-tai Hsu
Genre: Article
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