Xu Guangqi

Xu Guangxi

Our hotel in Shanghai is very close to the tomb of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), Chinese Renaissance man: mathematician, first Chinese translator of Euclid, astronomer, calendar reformer, military strategist, agronomist, and more.

Just across the road from our hotel is the site of his observatory, and outside is a fine statue of him (pictured above). Along at the next corner is a tiny park which contains more statues, his tomb (with a sacred road to it from the entrance gate), more statues (including other facets of his life: one with a telescope, one with a European cannon, one planting sweet potatoes), and a small museum about him (which contains his Euclid translation, apparently, though it was closed when we visited the park). The trees are full of singing birds, quite extraordinary in this busy built-up part of the huge city, and the pond contains turtles and huge goldfish. In the park, people play cards (very many of these), do tai chi exercises, or stroll around photographing the memorials on their phones.

Xu was converted, both to a belief in the superiority of Western science, and to Christianity, by the Jesuit scholar Matteo Ricci, and gave the land on which the Catholic cathedral is built, also across the street from our hotel. Around here there were many monasteries. Indeed, we dined in a very good restaurant called “Ye Olde Station Restaurant” which, despite its name, was previously a nunnery, and also contains many old artefacts such as sewing machines and cameras.

You can read the St Andrews MacTutor account of Xu’s life and work here.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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