Article ID: CBB017218563

Christmas 1668 and After: How Jesuit Astronomy Was Restored to Power in Beijing (2020)


This article offers new insights into a series of dramatic events that took place at the imperial Chinese court in December 1668, in which astronomy, politics, and religion all played major roles. Jesuit missionaries had served the Manchu rulers of the Qing 清dynasty as official astronomers since the dynasty seized Beijing in 1644. But in autumn 1664, the Jesuits at court were imprisoned as a result of a prosecution launched by a Chinese scholar, Yang Guangxian 楊光先. After initial sentences of death or banishment on those Jesuits principally concerned had been commuted to house arrest in May 1665, they spent the next few years confined to their residence, while their missionary colleagues elsewhere in China were removed to Canton. As a result of what took place during the months from December 1668 to summer 1669, the Jesuits were restored to imperial favour, and the responsibility for astronomy was once more placed in their hands. In this article, which arises from our research for a book-length study in preparation, we use a number of previously unexploited contemporary accounts in languages including Portuguese, French, Latin, Chinese, and Manchu to reveal a new picture of the close interplay of political and astronomical events that took place during the period of the Jesuits’ rehabilitation by the Qing court.

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Authors & Contributors
Romano, Antonella
Almeida, André Ferrand de
Fleck, Eliane Cristina Deckmann
Hsia, Florence C.
Livingstone, David N.
Barreca, Francesco
Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences
Physics in Perspective
Imago Mundi: A Review of Early Cartography
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
The Catholic Historical Review
University of Chicago Press
Vanderbilt University Press
Oxford University Press
Faber & Faber
Institutum Historicum S.I.
Missionaries and missions
Science and religion
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Transmission of ideas
Ricci, Matteo
Schall von Bell, Johann Adam
Kepler, Johannes
Kangxi, Emperor of China
Verbiest, Ferdinand
Amazon River Region (South America)
17th century
18th century
16th century
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
19th century
Early modern
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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