Eastern Magnificence and European Ingenuity: Clocks of Late Imperial China

Eastern Magnificence and European Ingenuity: Clocks of Late Imperial China

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0472112082

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The period from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries was one of complex change for the Chinese. Europe was eagerly looking to the East with an interest in developing a China market, not just in commercial and diplomatic enterprises but in evangelical ventures as well. The resulting contacts produced significant cultural exchanges and appropriations, as well as misconceptions and stereotypes. Profoundly affected by these interactions were the areas of technology and the decorative arts. Europe became enamored of Chinese style, and a fashion known as chinoiserie permeated the decorative arts. In China, one result of Sino-European contact was the introduction of a new and important technology: the Western mechanical clock.
Called in Chinese zimingzhong, or "self-ringing bells," these elaborate clocks were used as status symbols, decorative items, and personal adornments, and only occasionally as timepieces. Most importantly, they were signifiers of cultural power: Europeans, whether missionaries or ambassadors, controlled the introduction of both object and technology, and they used this control to advantage in gaining access to the highest reaches of Chinese society.
Through her focus on technology and the decorative arts, Catherine Pagani contributes to an overall understanding of the nature and extent of European influence in late Imperial China and of the complex interaction between these two cultures. This study's interdisciplinary approach will make it of interest to those in the fields of art history, the history of clockwork and of science and technology, Jesuit history, Qing-dynasty history, and Asian studies, as well as to the educated general reader.
Catherine Pagani is Associate Professor, Asian Art History, University of Alabama.


















have previ- ously been unexplored. This study therefore not only contributes toward an understanding of the phenomenon of intercultural contact and its influence on the decorative arts, but aims to create a fuller picture of the social and cul- tural history of the period. It builds on an existing body of literature, and uses both text and artifact to interpret cross-cultural influences in the late Ming and Qing dynasties. ORGANIZATION OF THIS BOOK In this work, clocks are used as one

century with the publication in 1623 of Xingxue cushu (A brief outline of the study of human nature) by Giulio Aleni (1582-1649), and the Confucius Sinarumn Philosophus, a 30 "EASTERN MAGNIFICENCE AND EUROPEAN INGENUITY" Jesuit translation of the three of the Four Books of Confucianism, of 1687. This method of making and holding converts would later become the main issue of debate between the Jesuits and other missionaries and would lead to fervent anti-Jesuit criticism. Ricci's

own accord. No weights are used to produce this, but everything is done by interior wheels. This clock in gilded copper is magnificent in appearance. It stands up elegantly in the shape of a hexagonal tower and has many other qualities, which I shall omit, so as not to spoil them for those who will one day see this entirely novel work.23 Unfortunately, this piece has not survived. We shall never know of its "many other qualities" to which Trigault alluded. However, a similar piece by Hans

assisted in the translation into Chinese of Euro- pean works on geometry, trigonometry, mathematics, astronomy, hydraulics, and even Euclid's Elements by the scholar Xu Guangqi (1562-1633).37 Xu also coauthored with the Jesuit mechanician Sabatino de Ursis (1575-1620) Taixi shuifa (Hydraulic machinery of the West), published in 1612, for which Xu also wrote the preface. Following this came Guilio Aleni's (1582-1649) Xixue fan (A sketch of European science and learning) in 1623. A

vari- ety of other reasons. Furthermore, their primary concern was with their Euro- pean clientele who wished to see an imaginative, stereotyped Chinese style; they had no real interest in understanding Chinese aesthetics or learning about the complex symbolism. Such attitudes are representative of an overall European cultural superi- ority with regard to the Chinese. Europeans in the eighteenth century pre- ferred to think of China as an idealized, fictionalized, and stereotyped exotic

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