Posts Tagged ‘Xu Guangqi’

Linnean food fest and China’s supreme polymath

November 3, 2007

A couple of interesting stories relating to the history of science in the latest issue of Science.

Johan Bohannon attends the 300th birthday party of Linnaeus:

There seemed to be no academic realm the Swede left untouched. So it was not surprising that while I was in Sweden, there were no fewer than three Linnaeus-celebratory conferences under way.

Bruce wanted his party to stand out. As a nutrition scientist at the Swedish National Food Administration, he knew just how to do it. “Linnaeus was passionate about food and diet,” he says, and not just as an epicurean or a “foodie.” Based on the man’s published works, says Bruce, food–its origins, how best to prepare and serve it, and its effects on health–lay at the intersection of all of Linnaeus’s interests.

So for the past 3 years, Bruce has led a team of Swedish researchers to prepare the ultimate Linnean foodfest. Scholars from around the world were invited to explore the culture and science of food in the time of Linnaeus, as well as the progress that food science has made 300 years hence. And to get everyone in the proper frame of mind, master chefs collaborated.

The output was 3 days of food-related lectures by diverse experts–biochemists, historians, agricultural scientists, and psychologists–punctuated by recreations of 18th century meals.

Not only does the party sound like fun, the description of  the party, the food, the conference, the 18th century European eating habits, and the manner in which the calories of these food were burnt (by dancing) by Bohannon makes it a must-read piece.

In another piece, Richard Stone reports on the International Xu Guangqi Conference honouring the early 17th century China’s Renaissance man Xu Guangqi, and also describe his life and works and his continuing relevance:

In the early 17th century, this humanist and experimentalist helped avert starvation in China by disseminating hardier crops and devised dams and canals for irrigation and flood control. He launched a decade-long effort to improve the accuracy of the Chinese calendar by incorporating a more precise knowledge of celestial geometry. His monumental contribution was to team up with a Jesuit scholar to translate part of Euclid’s Elements, introducing late Ming Dynasty intellectuals to new mathematical concepts–and Western thought. For his achievements, he has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci and Francis Bacon.

Who was China’s Renaissance man? Go to the head of the class if you guessed Xu Guangqi.

Last month, scientists from a variety of disciplines met here at the Partner Institute for Computational Biology (PICB) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first six volumes of Elements in Chinese and to explore Xu’s remarkable legacy. “He started China’s enlightenment,” says cell biologist Pei Gang, president of Tongji University in Shanghai. “Xu promoted the idea of learning from the West.” Over the past century, Chinese leaders have taken Xu’s advice to heart, including a reference by President Hu Jintao at last month’s Communist Party’s 17th National Congress to the importance of taking a “scientific view of development.”

The Wiki page on Xu Guangqi has some nice information too (and, some wonderful photographs and pictures).

Take a look!