Thursday, February 02, 2006

Connecting with China

..great Kircher, the most miraculous mystagogue of Nature, the great magician..
JS Kestler












The Jesuit training received by the German arch-polymath, Athanasius Kircher, not only provided the background education from which he was to write some 44 books, it also gave him a strong connection to those missionaries allowed by the church to travel to the exotic lands that so interested Kircher in his studies.

Reports and documents on Tibet, India, China and Japan from other members of the order provided the widely popular renaissance figure with some factual or eye witness material, which Kircher incorporated into his 1667 encyclopedic tome, China Monumentis.

The book was hugely successful, translated and republished many times over and became the fundamental text on Eastern (and particularly Chinese) culture for 2 centuries. It was the first western publication to document the chinese vocabulary and sanskrit alphabet and grammar. It also included accounts of oriental geography, zoology, religion, botany and history. Europeans first heard about the Indian caste system, the Great Wall of China, asbestos, pineapples and other exotic curiosities through Kircher's book.

It was somewhat flawed from the outset however. Kircher had overriding theories that tried to connect back the roots of the Chinese culture to Egypt and Europe wherever possible. His recording of intriguing facts is interspersed with flights of fancy and conjecture based at least in part on mystical beliefs. Still, it stands as an exhaustive treatise that helped promote a better understanding of the Eastern world at the very minimum.

1 comment :

pk said...

The Doshisha University Academic Repository have what seems to be the Dutch version of China Monumentis from 1688 (illustrations are not the best quality - might be age/paper differences).
(and I might be completely wrong - this could be a Dutch review of China travel works - but Kircher is mentioned on the titlepage and I saw a few illustrations that were identical)

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