T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu - Work on Science and Technology in Ancient China
T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu (Exploiting the Works of Nature), by Sung Ying-hsing (1587-1663), a scientist in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties, is an unprecedented comprehensive work on science and technology in ancient China.
The book is divided into 18 chapters: (1) the growing of grains, (2) clothing materials, (3) dyes, (4) the preparation of grains, (5) salt, (6) sugars, (7) ceramics, (8) casting, (9) boats and carts, (10) hammer-forging, (11) calcinations of stone, (12) vegetable oils and fats,(13) paper, (14) the metals, (15) weapons, (16) vermilion and ink, (17) yeasts, and (18) pearls and gems. These chapters are so arranged in order to emphasize the importance of agriculture, technology and production processes. The book is all-embracing and vivid with many interesting illustrations assisting in the understanding of the production processes. The descriptions are concise, practical and exact. The book is an immortal masterpiece on technology of ancient China and also the first comprehensive work on agriculture and handicraft industry in the world. It is regarded by European scholars as an Encyclopedia of technology. And its author Song Yingxing was dubbed by the British historian of science Joseph Needham as "the Diderot of China."
T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu preserves a great number of technological data in ancient China and mirrors the productivity condition during the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when capitalism emerged in China. The book also takes in many advanced handicrafts and scientific inventions which were of first-class level in the world during the seventeenth century. Therefore, T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu occupies a significant place in the scientific history worldwide.
Besides the recordation of previous achievements T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu also boasts lots of innovations. It put forward new methods and criteria of crop taxonomy, which are very close to modern ones. In addition, the book also made prominent contribution to rice planting, wheat planting and management, silkworm rearing as well as metal smelting, casting and processing.
After its publication in 1637, T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu was spread worldwide and weighs heavily for the production, social and scientific research in Japan and European. According to incomplete statistics, by the year of 1989, 16 versions and 3.8million copies of T'ien-Kung K'ai-Wu had been issued worldwide.