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Wang Zhenyi

Page history last edited by ebenezer sanford 9 years, 12 months ago

Wang Zhenyi

by: Ebenezer Sanford


        Wang Zhenyi was born in the year 1768 in China. She studied mathematics and astronomy, though she never had a formal education. She showed how the lunar eclipse occurs with her experiment. Wang Zhenyi explained how people could walk on spherical earth and would not fall, she was the voice of women in China and advocated that men and women should be given equal opportunities to study and a good writer as well. The International Astronomical Union named one of the Craters on Venus after her. Wang Zhenyi died in 1797.



      One woman who signifies the need for women in the world is Wang Zhenyi. In the eighteenth century in China, Wang Zhenyi, who is considered a historical great woman was born in the year 1768. Although she lived for a very short time, she lived her life to the fullest and did incredible things in the world. It is amazing that she lived only twenty-nine years and had so much impact doing things considered mind boggling. She died in the year 1797. She had a very long name “zi Deqing, hao Jiling nushi.” She was a prominent Qing writer on astronomy, mathematics and poet. She came from a scholarly family, native to Tianching County, Sizhou Prefecture, Anhui Province. She later moved to settle in Jiangning Prefecture (present day Nanjing) in Jiangsu Province. Wang Zhenyi’s grandfather, Wang Zhefu, was her first teacher in astronomy and mathematics. Her grandmother, Nee Dong, taught her poetry. Her father was Wang Xichen, who made a few unsuccessful attempts at the imperial examination, but was a scholar with a good knowledge of medicine, geography and mathematics. At age twenty- five, Wang Zhenyi married Zhan Mei of Xuancheng County, Ninguo Prefecture in Anhui, who also came from a scholarly Family. Thus, Wang Zhenyi spent her whole life surrounded by learners, which influenced her to acquire more knowledge” (Lee, Stefanowska 230).

      Wang Zhenyi made acquaintances with talented women during her adolescence age. Specifically, she travelled to the northeastern province of Jilin with her grandparents, learned horse riding and archery and made friendship with talented women there. “After she turned eighteen, she became friends with female scholars in Jianing through her poetry. At the same time she undertook studies of astronomy and mathematics. After she married and moved to Xuancheng, she became even better known for her poetry and particularly, for her knowledge in astronomy and mathematics. She once taught some male students.  Apart from her grandfather who taught her before she was fourteen, most of her knowledge of astronomy and mathematics was self-taught” (Lee Stefonowska 231).

      Wang Zhenyi’s posthumous work, Defeng ting chuji (first collection of her Defeng kiosk), testifies to the vast number of books she read on astronomy and mathematics. Such books included the traditional astronomy annals; arithmetic books such us Jiuzhang suanshu and Zhoubi suanjing; and works by the great Qing mathematician Mei Wending (1633-1721). She was largely influenced by Mei Wending. She also consulted Western books including Euclid’s Elements translated into Chinese as Jihe yaofa.  She authored six books on astronomy and mathematics but none of them survived, according to the 1880 Gazetteer of Jianing Prefecture (Xuzuan Jiangning Fuzhi). However, the prefaces she wrote for her works, Xiangshu Kuiyu (Random insight into astronomy and mathematics), Chousuan yizhu (Arithmetic made easy), and Lisuan jiancun (Simple Calendar Calculations), were included in her collected works Defeng ting chuji. These and other ten papers of the same collections are the extant works written by Wang Zhenyi on astronomy and mathematics. A large part of her posthumous work Defeng ting chuji consisted of pieces of shi (poetry), ci (lyrics) and fu (rhapsodies), together with hundred verses scattered in other collections, amounted to over three hundred. Her poetic works were known for their lack of feminine traits.


Contribution to STEM

      Wang Zhenyi’s works totaled twelve, according to Hu Wenkai’s Lidai Funu Zhuzuokao and the 1880 Gazetteer of Jiangning Prefecture. One of her writings, Defeng ting chuji, is still extant (Lee, Stefanowska 233). “She studied mathematics, especially trigonometry, and became interested in lunar eclipse. She modelled them by placing a round table in a garden pavilion (using it as a globe). From the ceiling, she hung a lump (using it as the sun) and one side of the table she had a big round mirror (as the moon). Moving them around according to astronomical principles, she could see how the lunar eclipse occurred, and her articles on the explanation of the eclipse were highly accurate. In “Of the Ball-Shaped Earth,” she attempted to describe why people would not fall off a spherical Earth and also attempted to describe the cosmos and the relationship of the Earth within it. She advocated that both women and men “are all people, who have the same reason for studying” (She is an Astronomer). According to Women in Astronomy “In 1994, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named a Crater on Venus after her. She took meteorological measurements in an effort to predict droughts and floods. She was endowed with a lot of intelligence that made her speak with boldness and courage. In clarity from Peterson, Zhang “Her poems “Woman breeder of Silkworm” and “Clothes Washing” depicted the hard life of laboring women. In other poems, she denounced the polarization between rich and poor, and officials extortion through taxes and levies. In “A Poem of Eight Lines,” composed out of despair after seeing the drought en route out to Fuchun, she wrote:


                     “Village is empty of cooking smoke,


                     Rich families let grains stored decay,


                     In wormwood strewed pitiful starved bodies,


                     Greedy officials yet push farm levying.”                    

Interesting Facts

     The Western Calendar spread to China in the Qing Dynasty, but many Chinese scholars refused to accept it. Wang Zhenyi urged its adoption, saying “what counts is the usefulness, no matter whether it is Chinese or Western.” She understood sun-centered thesis and admired the Western Calendar’s precision, saying “all the mar rowed should be absorbed from new ideas and calculations.”

When she knew she was dying, she asked that her manuscripts be handed over to her best friend, Madam Kuai (Qian Yiling 1763 -1827 A.D) for preservation (343-345).   


Importance on 21st Centary Culture and Society 
     Wang Zhenyi’s greatest contribution to the world as a woman is in the areas of natural science and astronomy. Describing her views of celestial phenomena in her article “Dispute of the Possession of the Equinoxes, " she gave ample proof and a simple, clear explanation of the movement of Equinoxes and methods through which their movements might be calculated. In other articles such as “Dispute of the Longitude and Stars” and Explanation of the Lunar Eclipse,” she expounded on the number of stars, the revolving of the sun, the moon, and the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Saturn. Few women knew mathematics as well as Wang Zhenyi as she had mastered trigonometry, and understood Pythagorean Theorem. In “The Explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem and Trigonometry,” she explained the relationship between the shorter leg of a right triangle, the long leg, and triangles hypotenuse in detail and the correct understanding. She thought very highly of Mei Wending (1633-1721 A.D), a famous mathematician of the early Qing Dynasty mastering his book “Principles of Calculation.” Mei Wending’s book was erudite, and Wang Zhenyi rewrote the text in simpler language, making it readily available to other scholars and titling it “The Musts of Calculations.” She used simpler multiplication and division systems in Calculations, which made everything easier for beginners. She applied herself rigorously to the fields of mathematics beyond the study of mathematics. She commented, “There were times that I had to put down my pen and sighed, but I love the subject, I don’t give up.” Great concentration and perseverance resulted in her book “The Simple Principles of Calculation,” published when she was twenty-four. 





Works Cited     




Lee, Lily Xiao Hong, Stefanowska, A.D, Ho, Clara Wing- Chung, eds. Biographical Dictionary

      of Chinese Women: The Qing Period, 1644-1911. New York: M.E Sharpe, 1998. Print.


Peterson, Barbara Bennett, Zhang Guangyu eds. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to

     The Early Twentieth Century. New York: M.E Sharpe, 2000. Print.


“She is an Astronomer.” Sheisanastronomer.org. Joomla, Web. 2014.

“Women in Astronomy.” Sciops.esa.int. ESAC-Madrid, Web. 4 June 2009.



















































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