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Sino-Franco Encounters in Arts and Culture - Emulation

Through the introduction by French Jesuits and other Westerners, be it direct or indirect, the two monarchs, alone with their subjects, became interested in each other's culture and arts, which triggered mutual curiosity and in turn inspired continued study, emulation, and production.

Emperor Kangxi had a profound interest in Western learning developed through first-hand experiences. While busy with state affairs, he would somehow find spare time to study Western astronomy and calendar, geometry, physics, medicine, and anatomy. To fulfill Kangxi's study needs, the missionaries brought, on their own initiative or under instruction, all kinds of tools, instruments and monographs. They would translate Western science books into Manchu as instructional materials as well, to assist in the process of teaching and learning, or at the request of the emperor. On the other hand, Kangxi would at times command that such books be translated into Chinese and block-printed, to promote the study of Western science. In addition to the implements brought to China by missionaries or presented as gifts by Louis XIV, the craftsmen of the imperial workshops would replicate highly intricate instruments required in the study of Western learning.

Emperor Kangxi was not only enthralled by these scientific instruments and mathematical tools, but also by Western glass wares of the time. The exhibition features a translucent glass-made shuicheng (a water container for inkstone), and its base is inscribed "Kangxi yuzhi (made by imperial command of the Kangxi emperor)." The shape of the vessel suggests that it is one of the earlier glass wares produced at the Kangxi court, made in imitation of European ink bottles.

Westerners of that period had through the Arabs encountered Chinese ceramics, and it was the blue and white porcelain in particular that they attempted hard to copy. Although potters of Louis XIV's time failed at first to grasp the formula for firing Chinese hard-paste porcelains, they still strived to apply the decorative styles of Chinese blue and white wares to majolica and soft-paste works, hoping to reproduce blue and white pieces as refined as those from China.

Decimal abacus based manual calculator (New window)

Decimal abacus based manual calculator
Gilt bronze
Qing dynasty, 1644-1911
Palace Museum, Beijing

Semi-circular flat based sundial (New window)

Semi-circular flat based sundial
Gilt bronze
1701 C.E.
Palace Museum, Beijing

Translucent glass calligraphy water pot (New window)

Translucent glass calligraphy water pot
Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign, 1662-1722
Palace Museum, Beijing

Pair of bottles (New window)

Pair of bottles
France, Nevers
Height: 48.5 cm; Width: 21.7 cm; Height: 48.5 cm; Width: 21.3 cm
MNC22284; MNC22285
Sèvres, Cité de la céramique