On "refuting" the notion of the Chinese flat Earth

Nov 2013
725
Texas
It is a matter of record that the Chinese believed in a flat Earth until the 17th century,when the Jesuits proved to the Chinese that the world was spherical.

The Japanese (and, perhaps, the Koreans)also believed in a flat Earth for a while; perhaps due to influence from Chinese astronomy.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to refute the notion that the Chinese believed in a flat Earth.


A: China not only had a record of building armillary spheres and celestial spheres, they may even have built terrestial spheres.

At the very least; the armillary sphere seems to have had a long and elaborate history in China.

B: A Persian scholar (I believe Jamal-Al Din), during the Yuan dynasty, introduced a wooden terrestial sphere to the Chinese.

And this was recored by the Chinese; so it's not as if the Chinese simply forgot everything that happened during the Yuan dynasty.

C: China had the treasury fleet. While it could be argued that the Treasury fleet did not go anywhere new; it may still have required good cartography (and thus knowledge of a spherical Earth) to do as well as it did.

D: While it could be argued that the Chinese forgot a lot of the astronomy they learned during the Yuan dynasty, it's not as if the Chinese forgot everything that happened during that period.

E: Joseph Needham did not refute the notion of the Chinese flat Earth; and perhaps resorted to Conjecture. However, I do not believe *all* his conjecture on this matter has been debunked or refuted.

F: There are too many other points to be made. The Chinese just weren't isolated enough (or even bad enough at math and science) to accept a flat earth. Of course I could be wrong, hence the analysis of this blog.

G: Chinese astrolabes; according to wikipedia there was a Chinese astrolabe in Nanjing by 1385.

H: In 1368 (Ming dynasty), the Hongwu Emperor ordered a tranlsation of the Islamic astronomical tables (works known as Zij) according to wikipedia. (perhaps from Hui Muslims in China however)

After all, Joseph Needham wrote his "Science and Civilization" in China in part to absolve Chinese math and science; and to draw cross-comparison with Chinese, Greek, and Muslim-world scholars.

To me, the key to refuting the Chinese is not so much to look at astronomy, but to look at other fields where the Chinese may needed a concept of a Spherical Earth in order to do well (such as cartography, geodesy, eclipses, history, geography, oceanography, )

Indeed, Joseph Needham covered these topics in his science and civilization in China, in the volume 3:
Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth

https://books.google.com/books?id=jfQ9E0u4pLAC


And I suspect China did well enough in at least one of these fields. Hence, the need of this blog post.

As for any Chinese astronomers or polymaths who may possibly have known the world was spherical, Guo Shoujing (referred to by Johann Schall as "the Tyco Brahe of China") seems to have known Jamal-Al Din, so perhaps he did.

Thoughts?