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Chourenzhuan 疇人傳

Aug 6, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

Chourenzhuan 疇人傳 "Biographies of astronomers" is the oldest Chinese collection of biographies of scientists. The term chouren denotes astronomers, experts in calendric calculation, and mathematicians. It is derived from Chun Ru's 淳如 (3rd cent.) commentary on the treatise on calendar and astronomy in the universal history Shiji 史記 (4 Li shu 曆書), according to which professional knowledge of astronomers was handed down from generation to generation. Wei Zhao 韋昭 (204-273) explains that chou meant "specialization" (lei 類).

The collection was compiled by the famous Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764-1849). In 46 juan, the book describes the lives, writings, and scholarly merits of more than 300 persons, 37 of which coming from foreign countries (the last 4 juan), mainly Jesuit missionaries like Michel Benoist (Jiang Youren 蔣友仁), other clergymen like Pierre de Fermat (Fuluma 富路瑪) or John Wallis (Hualisi 華里司), but also lay scientists like François Viète (Weiyeda 未葉大), John Napier (Ruode Nebai'er 若德訥白爾) and Isaac Newton (Naiduan 奈端), even ancient Greek astronomers and mathematicians like Ptolemy (Duoluomou 多祿某), Euclid (Oujilide 歐幾里得), Archimedes (Yaqimode 亞奇默德) or Meton (Modong 默冬).

The book begins in the age of the Yellow Emperor 黃帝 and his astronomer Xi He 羲和 and reached down to contemporary persons like Jiang Yong 江永 (1681-1762) and Dai Zhen 戴震 (1723-1777). The most important persons are Shang Gao 商高, Rong Fang 榮方, Sunzi 孫子, Zhang Cang 張蒼, Geng Shouchang 耿壽昌, Liu Hui 劉徽, Zhang Qiujian 張丘建, Zu Chongzhi 祖沖之, Zu Heng 祖暅, Zhen Luan 甄鸞, Wang Xiaotong 王孝通, Li Chunfeng 李淳風, Qin Jiushao 秦九韶, Yang Hui 楊輝, Li Ye 李冶, Zhu Shijie 朱世杰, Cheng Dawei 程大位, Mei Wending 梅文鼎, Ming Antu 明安圖, Li Huang 李潢, Li Rui 李銳, Wang Lai 汪萊, Xiao Xun 焦循, Zhang Dunren 張敦仁, Shen Qinpei 沈欽裴, Xiang Mingda 項名達, Luo Shilin 羅士琳, Xu Youren 徐有壬, Dai Xu 戴煦, Xia Xiangluan 夏翔鸞, Shi Yuechun 時曰醇 and Li Shanlan 李善蘭.

There are some supplements to this book, like Luo Shilin's 羅士琳 (1789-1853) Chourenzhuan xubian 疇人傳續編 (or Xu chourenzhuan 續疇人傳) from 1840 (6 juan, 34 persons), Chu Kebao's 褚可寶 (1845-1903) Chourenzhuan sanbian 疇人傳三編 from 1886 (first published in the series Nanzhuyuan congshu 南著書院叢書, 7 juan, 96 persons) or Huang Zhongjun's 黃鐘駿 Chourenzhuan sibian 疇人傳四編from 1898 (first published in the mathematical collection Liuyouyuzhai suanxue sizhong 留有餘齋算學四種, 12 juan, 436 persons).

All collections together encompass the whole history of astronomy in China, with more than 600 biographies. The texts give insight into calendric calculations and their improvement over time, internal discussions about the calendar, the production and use of astronomical instruments, and the production of maps of the starry sky. Ruan Yuan's book can be called the first Chinese book on natural science. It gives insight into original discussions on astronomical tables, theories on stellar movements, astronomical tools, and calculation methods.

Together with the later supplements, the Chourenzhuan was published in the series Guoxue jiben congshu 國學基本叢書 and Wanyou wenku 萬有文庫.

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