A Rare & Early Jesuit Imprint in Beijing; The First Printed Statement in China that the Earth is Round

URSIS, Sabatino de.  Biao du shuo [trans.: Explanation of the Gnomon].  Numerous woodcuts (some full-page & some half-page) in the text.  6, 3, 40 folding leaves.  8vo, old, possibly orig. wrappers (with several repairs, one of which touches but does not obscure the text), orig. block-printed label on upper cover, new stitching.  [Peking: 2nd Preface dated 1614].

First edition, and very rare, of this work on the gnomon, one of the first astronomical measuring instruments, and its uses in astronomy and surveying.  This work is important in the history of astronomy as it states here for the first time in China the doctrine that the earth is spherical.  Ursis is also the first to state in China, in the present work, that the earth is divided into spaces separated by meridians and parallels.  He uses geometrical analysis of planetary motions and the Euclidean geometry necessary for applying it to gnomonics, stereographic projections of the astrolabe, and in surveying.

Sabatino de Ursis (1575-1620), a member of a prominent family in Naples, arrived in Peking in 1607 in order to help Matteo Ricci in his scientific work.  He also worked together with Xú Guangqi and Ricci on the translation of Euclid’s Elements into Chinese.  Following the death of Ricci in 1610, Ursis became the principal Jesuit astronomer in China.  Ursis was involved in the reform of the Chinese calendar (based on his prediction of a solar eclipse on 15 December 1610 which the Chinese had not anticipated), translated the hydraulics portions of Ramelli’s book into Chinese (1612), and wrote a work on the armillary sphere (1611).  These were later gathered and published in Peking in 1629 in a multi-volume encyclopedia ofwestern astronomical science.

Fine copy and extremely rare.