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about the same time once more. Now Yang-kwang-sien was rather generous in throwing these extra months into the middle of years that did not require them. The mandarins, who were informed of this and other gross errors in the calendar, went at once to report to the Emperor, who was so astonished that he ordered the European Missioners to be called to the palace next day. They were introduced in the presence of all the mandarins of the Board of Astronomy. Khang-hi placed Father Verbiest in front of him and, assuming a gracious air, asked, 'Is it true that you can show us clearly that the calendar is not in accord with the heavens ?' Father Verbiest answered that the demonstration would not be difficult ; that one of the purposes of the instruments of the Observatory was to spare persons engaged in affairs of estat from the trouble of long and embarrassing methods.
If Your Majesty [he continued] desire to see an experiment, all that is required is to place an upright style on a table or chair in one of the open courts of the palace, and from its height I shall calculate the length of its shadow, at noon, for any day you like to propose. From this it will be easy to determine the height of the sun, and from that its place in the zodiac. You will then be able to see, without trouble, if its true place is marked for that day in the calendar.
This proposal frightened the Astronomical mandarins, but pleased Khang-hi. He noticed their embarrassment with amusement, and asked them if they understood this method of calculation, and if they could make forecasts from the length of a single shadow.
Yang-kwang-sien boldly asserted that he was thoroughly conversant with the method, which was a sure means of ascertaining the truth. He added that, this being so, it was not becoming to the greatness of the Empire that the Son of Heaven should make use of the science of the men of Europe, that barbarous region where the principles of civilization were unknown. Seeing that he was listened to with patience, he tried to cloak his ignorance by making a diversion in appealing to the prejudices of his hearers in a furious tirade which he launched against the Christian religion. His violence displeased the Emperor, who interrupted him and said drily :
I have already declared that the past should be forgotten and that we should now devote our attention to questions of astronomy alone. Why have you had the temerity to hold such language in my presence ? Have you not, yourself, solicited me in different petitions to order that search should be made throughout the Empire for the most competent astronomers? That search has been going on in vain during the last four years. Nan-hoai-jen, who perfectly understands mathematics, has been here all the time and you have never spoken to me of his knowledge. I see that you seek only your own advantage and that you are not a man of good faith. Then, assuming a smiling air, he put several questions to Father Verbiest, and ordered the prime minister to make arrangements for the proposed experiment. The courtiers perceived at once that he liked the Europeans. He wished to have men of merit near him and he was struck by the faces of these foreigners, which he found full of intelligence, openness and uprightness, things that he did not always discern on Chinese countenances.
When the experiment was about to take place Yangkwang-sien said he did not understand the method of these Europeans. On hearing this the Emperor was filled with indignation, but he thought it well to bide his time until the charlatan was convinced of his ignorance in the presence of his partisans and protectors. The first experiment was made at the Observatory, in the midst of an immense concourse of mandarins. The end of the shadow of the style fell, at the time appointed, exactly on the spot previously marked by Father Verbiest. All the mandarins appeared to be extremely surprised. The Emperor, hearing of the result with a lively interest, ordered that it should be repeated next day. Не, himself, fixed that the style should be two feet two inches in length, and that the length of the shadow should be determined for noon. Verbiest prepared a long board to rest on the level, with feet and inches marked upon it, and to the end of this he attached an upright of the required length to serve as a style. The next morning he carried this to the palace, and drew a transversal line on the horizontal board to indicate where the end of the shadow would fall at twelve o'clock. He pointed the long horizontal board north and south on a table in one of the open courts. The sun shone brilliantly, but, as it was a winter's morning and the sun low down, the style cast a shadow of enormous length, with its end far away from the table. When the mandarins saw this they began to smile and chuckle maliciously at what they thought would be the sure discomfiture of the Missioner. Not long before mid-day the shadow suddenly contracted itself on to the table, then to the western side of the board, and at twelve o'clock it stood exactly on the line marked by Father Verbiest. The mandarins expressed their surprise and admiration, and the prime minister exclaimed, 'We have a great man here.'
Khang-hi was informed of the success of the observation, and he received the instrument most graciously. But as he considered that an affair of such importance could not be examined with too great care he wished that the experiment should be made for the third time on the platform on the top of the tower of the Observatory. Father Verbiest made it with such success that his enemies, who were obliged to be present, could not help admitting that he was right, and praising the European method.
After this he received an imperial order to examine the calendar of Yang-kwang-sien. He made a collection of the most flagrant errors with regard to the position of the moon and the planets for each lunar month, and presented a memorial on the subject. Khang-hi, as if the safety of the Empire depended upon it, convoked a meeting of all the princes, the principal officers of state, the superior mandarins and the presidents of the supreme courts of Peking. He sent a copy of Father Verbiest's memorial beforehand to each in order to enable them to form a correct opinion on the matter. He did not love the late regents and disapproved of their system of administration, especially their treatment of the Europeans, and he wished to profit by this question of the calendar to annul all their acts. It was for this reason that he gave all the solemnity possible to this assembly. Father Verbiest's paper was publicly read and long discussions followed. The principal members declared that, as the correction of the calendar was a matter of the first importance and astronomy a difficult subject, it was necessary to examine publicly by means of the instruments of the Observatory into the faults alleged by the European. This decree having been approved by the Emperor, Verbiest and Yang-kwang-sien received an order to prepare without delay to make observations as to the position of the sun, moon, and planets, and to explain in writing the method they followed.
The Missionary obeyed with pleasure and presented his explanation to the Board of Rites. As a test the Emperor directed him to make three forecasts which were to be publicly verified at the Observatory at the appointed time. The first was to foretell what would be the altitude of the sun at noon on a given day. Eighteen days in advance Verbiest marked the position on the great meridian circle and scaled it with his seal, and also
indicated the minute of the ecliptic which the sun would occupy. At the appointed time the sun stood exactly over the spot marked by him, and a large sextant, of six feet radius, set to the equator of the heavens, showed the sun's distance from the equator, and consequently its position on the ecliptic, which exactly coincided with that foretold by him. The second test was to forecast an eclipse of the
It took place, as he had said, fifteen days later. This observation was of the utmost importance to Father Verbiest. The position of the moon amongst the stars in the zodiac, when the eclipse took place, was carefully noted by the mandarins, and as they all knew that the sun was then on the opposite side of the celestial sphere, it was patent to all, on looking at the zodiacal circle in the Observatory, that the sun was entering the constellation of Pisces. From this it was obvious that there was no room for a thirteenth moon that year, and that the calendar was evidently wrong. The third test was to forecast the angular distances of the planets on a given night and hour, as indicated by the Emperor. Verbiest calculated these distances and marked them on a planisphere several days in advance, in the presence of many mandarins. His forecasts were verified in every case by actual observation, and proved how erroneous the calendar was.
When Khang-hi was informed of the results he wished that the affair should be solemnly and definitely examined by his Council, but the Chinese astronomers, whose work was censured, obtained, contrary to custom, permission to be present, and by their artifices they found means to divide the votes of the assembly. The mandarins who presided could not bear that the Chinese astronomy should be set aside to give place to that of Europe. They maintained that the dignity of the Empire did not permit innovations of that kind, and that it was better to keep to the ancient methods, with all their faults, than to introduce new ones, especially when it was necessary to receive them from strangers. They spoke in honourable terms of the Chinese astronomers, for the zeal which they testified for the glory of their country, and proclaimed them to be defenders of their ancestors and of venerable antiquity. The Manchu mandarins took the other side and attached themselves to the opinion of the Emperor, who was favourable to Father Verbiest. The discussion became long and heated. At last Yang-kwangsien, who had gained the ministers of state on his side, and
counted on their protection, had the boldness to address the Manchus in this way: 'If you give the advantage to Nanhoai-jen, in receiving the astronomy which he has brought from Europe, rest assured that the Manchus will not be long in China. At these words, which they took as a veiled threat, the Manchu mandarins arose in indignation, and the Emperor ordered that Yang-kwang-sien should be loaded with chains and taken to the public prison. On his trial all the tribunals found him guilty and his friends turned bitterly against him. He was condemned to death, but the Emperor, out of pity for his great age, commuted his sentence to perpetual exile in the steppes of Tartary.
This event accentuated the striking triumph of Father Verbiest, and it had the most favourable consequences for the Missions in China. He wrote (Astronomia Perpetua, p. 20):
One can form only with difficulty an idea of the influence that this affair exercised over this vain and proud nation. In spite of itself it could not help saying, 'If the astronomy of these Europeans, which they study only to relax their minds and which, according to themselves, they put only in the second place, is so well in harmony with the laws of heaven, how can it be otherwise than that the religion which they profess with such zeal, and which they have come to preach from the other end of the world, is in conformity with reason ?
Father Verbiest was at once appointed president of the Board of Astronomy, and charged to reform the calendar and the method of astronomy used in China. As a commencement he presented a memorial to the Emperor, showing the necessity of erasing the intercalated month from the calendar of the current year. Khang-hi, who was favourable to the proposal, had it examined by his Council. But all the members opposed it on account of the changes which it would involve in the public acts in all the provinces. The national honour, they maintained, would be gravely compromised. How could they acknowledge such a gross error in face of the Celestial Empire ? How could they dare to say to the tributary peoples that the Son of Heaven had sent them a calendar completely out of harmony with the stars ? They presented, without avail, several requests against the proposal of Father Verbiest. As a last resource they assembled one hundred and sixty members of the Board of Astronomy in the hope of bending him. They conjured him to devise some combination, so as to hide the error and safeguard in the eyes of the people and foreign courts the prestige