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Emperor Kangxi (1654 - 1722, reigned 1661 - 1722) was an avid learner.  He learned mathematics and astronomy from the Jesuit missionaries who visited Peking (Beijing). The following excerpt is from a diary of Emperor Kangxi called the Tingxun Geyan (《庭训格言》, Familial Admonitions).

Kangxi.jpg


【原文】

《庭训格言》

尔等惟知朕[1]算术之精,却不知我学算之故。朕幼时,钦天监[2]汉官与西洋人不睦,互相参劾,几至大辟。杨光先、汤若望*于午门外九卿[4]前当面赌测日影,奈九卿中无一知其法者。朕思己不知,焉能断人之是非,因自愤而学焉。

【今译】

你们只知道我数学很好,但不知道我学数学的原因。我小时候,钦天监的汉族官员和西洋人不和,互相指责得很厉害,几乎闹出人命!后来,杨光先和汤若望*在午门外当着九卿的面前预测太阳的影子,而他们九卿没有一个人懂计算的方法。我想如果自己都不知道,又怎么能判断谁对谁错呢?因此,我开始发奋学习西方数学了。


【英译】


Tingxun Geyan

You all only know that I am good at mathematics but you do not know why I study mathematics. When I was young, the Han officials at the Imperial Bureau of Astronomy did not get along with the Westerners. They accused each other to the point that someone could have been executed! Later, Yang Guangxian and Tang Ruowang (Johann Adam Schall von Bell)* predicted the sun's shadow in front of the Nine Ministers outside the Meridian Gate, and not one of them understood the calculation methods. I then thought, if I don't know, how can I judge who is right and who is wrong? This is why I put great effort in learning mathematics.

*应该是南怀仁。Should be Ferdinand Verbiest (Nan Huairen).

【注释】

[1] 朕 zhèn:皇帝的人称代词。Personal pronoun of the Chinese emperor.

[2] 钦天监 qīn tiān jiàn:明清两朝观察天文、天象、历法的机构。Imperial Bureau of Astronomy.

[3] 午门 wǔ mén:紫禁城的正门。Meridian Gate (main gate of the Forbidden City).

[4] 九卿 jiǔ qīng:中国古代朝廷的九个高级官职。Nine high-ranking officials of Imperial China.

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