Seeing through Pictures and Poetry:A History of Lenses (1681)
With the words, "appended below are the specifications for all of these types of lenses" (82), the early Qing author Li Yu (1611–80) rather awkwardly interrupts the second chapter of his vernacular short story (huaben) "A Tower for the Summer Heat" (Xiayi lou) with a long descriptive list of optical devices.1 After developing the story for a full chapter, Li Yu reveals to the reader and the female protagonist that her suitor has been using a telescope to spy into her courtyard. This list of lenses that start fires, magnify insects, burn incense, and provide women with a portable mirror, are described as "of a type" with that telescope, the optical device on which the plot hinges. The list concludes with a clue to why the meticulous (and even obsessive) Li Yu assumes that this list will enhance the story: he encourages his readers to visit the shop [End Page 47] of the Hangzhou-based painter and lens crafter, Zhu Sheng (Riru, style Xi'an, 1617–90), to buy what Li claims are locally made optical devices that rival Western imports. By interrupting a fictional narrative with this new technology, available for purchase in the reader's world, this story raises an important question: What was the status of optical devices in the early Qing, that they would be singled out, described, and advertised in this way in a fictional text? Were these optical devices so novel that even an advertisement for them needed to include extensive descriptive detail? Is the reference to a real acquaintance of the author an example of early modern advertising?
The list of optical devices and their lengthy descriptions originate neither in fiction, nor with Hangzhou-based Zhu Sheng, but with a one-time student of his, the Suzhou-based lens maker Sun Yunqiu (ca. 1650–after 1681), and his short illustrated catalogue A History of Lenses (Jingshi, 1681), the first Chinese-authored treatise on optical devices. Since Joseph Needham's provocative early attempt to determine whether Chinese lens making developed independently or was introduced by Jesuit missionaries, scholars in multiple fields have pored over scant records in gazetteers, export lists, and literary sources seeking even the most basic information about lens crafting technology and the market for optical devices during this period.2 These scholars have consistently demonstrated that in cities across Jiangnan, new optical technologies were being produced and sold at a remove from both their Jesuit conveyers and the imperial court, whose mutual interest in the technology was driven by different concerns: respectively, Christian conversion and urgent calendric demand.
Yet these studies have needed to speculate based on very scant evidence of just how widespread the use of lenses was during this period, and what sorts of responses they elicited from contemporary users. Presumed lost since the mid-Qing, A History of Lenses promised to reveal how exactly lenses were used and how people evaluated them during this crucial early period. The catalogue, which presents an array of optical devices, was known only through scattered passages and synopses republished [End Page 48] in other sources, such as Sun's gazetteer biography, and most famously in Li Yu's fictional story.3 In 2007, historian of science Sun Chengsheng discovered a single extant copy of A History of Lenses in the Shanghai Library and reproduced much of its written text in an award-winning article: four prefaces, a table of contents, eleven primary text passages, and two postfaces (about 1,300 characters in all).4 Following entries for three types of spectacles — for "dim eyes" or presbyopia (hunyan jing) and nearsightedness (jinshi jing), as well as "light of youth" lenses (tongguang jing) — the remaining eight devices include the telescope (yuan jing), burning lens (huo jing), hand mirror (duanrong jing), camera obscura (sheguang jing), incense-burning lens (fenxiang jing), sunset glasses (xiyang jing), magnifying lens or single-lens microscope (xianwei jing), and a "myriad flowers lens" (wanhua jing). However, apart from a brief comment that an illustration accompanies each device, and a single small, grainy image, Sun's discussion of these lenses neglects fully half of the text, which is devoted to complex illustrations, many of which include poems and other inscriptions.5
The illustrations are complex because they do not depict the optical devices described, but rather contain a variety of images and text that relate to them only obliquely. Earlier treatises on optical devices coauthored or co-translated by Jesuits had included pictures of telescopes and complex diagrams depicting the refraction of light, most notably in On the Telescope (Yuanjing shuo, 1626) by Johann Adam Schall von Bell, [End Page 49] S.J. (1592–1666, Ch. Tang Daowei or Tang Ruowang) and his colleague Li Zubai (d. 1665). Sun Yunqiu drew heavily upon On the Telescope for some of his descriptions, but kept the optical devices in A History of Lenses at arm's length: the illustrations are not pictures of the featured devices or diagrams depicting their function, but rather include a variety of antiques, works of art, and material objects familiar from contemporary print culture. The accompanying poems and inscriptions in a variety of scripts likewise seek to absorb the new optical devices into older, more familiar textual practices.
The non-technical illustrations and inscriptions in this text are of crucial significance to literary scholars, art historians, cultural historians, and historians of science alike, as they suggest how a literate man could negotiate an identity of what we call a "scholar-artisan": an educated artisan who markets decidedly non-literary products crafted by his own hands to discerning, educated, elite prospective buyers. Conceiving of Sun as a scholar-artisan places him within a category of late Ming and early Qing individuals who have only recently begun to be identified and studied, yet who are of critical significance to understanding changing literati attitudes toward science and technology, and toward working with one's hands.6 Dorothy Ko has argued that "the denigration of craftsmen is so pervasive and taken for granted that even when an occasional scholar set upon the idea of investigating craft skills, he had to subsume the latter into his theoretical framework when he committed his findings to writing before it became legible."7 Sun Yunqiu does precisely this in text and image, using his own scholar-artisan identity to convince elite prospective buyers who might be skeptical of new optical technology that they might engage with it without compromising either their values or their identities. When considered as an illustrated whole, A History of Lenses not only offers a trove of material crucial to determining what types of optical devices were being produced and used in late seventeenth-century China, but more importantly, what strategies were used to meaningfully incorporate them into elite culture.
Most post-2007 studies that investigate A History of Lenses seek to integrate its developments into a global history of scientific or technological development, passing over the illustrations in search of [End Page 50] information about the technological production of lenses that can be gleaned from the written text (of which, it turns out, there is precious little).8 Rather than asking what A History of Lenses can contribute to the history of Chinese science, this study instead engages in literary and visual analysis of the catalogue, to learn how Sun Yunqiu represented optical devices in order to make them legible and desirable to elite consumers in the early Qing. This shift in focus contributes a robust interdisciplinary perspective on the status of optical devices in seventeenth-century China, and offers a new perspective on the responses to them. Taken as an integral whole, A History of Lenses reveals a range of techniques Sun used to convince cultivated gentlemen that they should purchase not only spectacles, but also an array of other devices suitable to their station and values.
We situate A History of Lenses within the rich print culture of seventeenth-century China, which included fiction, drama, and essays; painting and connoisseurship manuals; decorated letter papers and playing cards; commercial sale catalogues and gazetteers; as well as a spectrum of individually printed images ranging from luxury collectible sets to crude single sheets. However, unlike illustrated fiction or drama, the catalogue neither describes nor depicts a human narrative.9 In contrast to seventeenth-century printed painting manuals, A History of Lenses does not seek to teach either a literati art or a marketable skill.10 As a catalogue of objects for sale, it shares more with catalogues of ink-cakes and decorated letter papers that illustrated the products advertised.11 Yet unlike ink-cakes and stationery, the devices advertised in A History of Lenses do not enjoy an established claim to association with that most esteemed of literati arts — writing — and, likely for that reason, they are illustrated less directly. Consequently, this text celebrates elite literati culture with familiar visual references, and purges almost all novelty and foreignness from the illustrations. [End Page 51]
Reintegrating the illustrations and poetic inscriptions with the descriptive text of A History of Lenses reveals a relationship that is neither simple nor intuitive. Readers must commit time and attention to untangle the complex web of cultural references geared toward consumers invested in being or imagining themselves as members of the literati elite. The following analysis uncovers the constellation of dreams, desires, and values surrounding new optical devices that are revealed in the most comprehensive treatment of lenses from this period.
Framing A History of Lenses
The publication of A History of Lenses in 1681 roughly coincides with domestically produced spectacles and other optical devices becoming widely available in Jiangnan for the first time. Although the concept of lenses was recorded in China as early as 300 BCE,12 they were not frequently encountered until the start of sustained European contact beginning in the mid-sixteenth century.13 Imported spectacles had occasionally appeared earlier under names such as aidai, but since at least the early sixteenth century, they have been known by their current term yanjing.14 Joseph McDermott examined price shifts and export numbers to offer a rough estimate of the scale and impact of their proliferation during this period.15 Ye Mengzhu's account of the rapid shifts of this period gives his impression that in the late Ming and early Qing, imported spectacles (made with glass lenses and ivory frames) cost four or five taels of silver, but by the 1660s, the price of domestically produced spectacles with rock crystal lenses had dropped to about half a tael. "In recent years," he wrote in the 1670s or 80s, "[spectacles] are being produced in great numbers in Suzhou and Hangzhou. They are sold everywhere, and everyone can obtain them: the most expensive varieties sell for seven or eight hundredths of a tael, the next for four or five hundredths, and there are even those that sell for as little as two or three hundredths of [End Page 52] a tael. All of them improve eyesight [mingmu] and are good for general use."16 The increasing affordability of domestically produced lenses likely contributed to their export to Japan: during the 1650s and 1660s alone, at least 2,500 pairs of spectacles were sent to the archipelago.17 This evidence demonstrates that locally produced spectacles were relatively widely available in Jiangnan during this period, and that increased availability contributed to precipitously decreasing prices. Although spectacles were by far the most frequently mentioned and widely available optical device during this early period, many other devices were newly available as well. The Jesuit François de Rougemont (1624–76) recorded that he purchased a number of optical devices in and around Suzhou between 1674 and 1676, including several burning lenses, a telescope, spectacles, a prism, and a microscope.18 In Hangzhou before 1683, Huang Lüzhuang (1656–?) was selling telescopes, burning lenses, and microscopes, along with pictures to be viewed in peepboxes.19
It is in this context of the sudden availability of a variety of new optically oriented products that Sun Yunqiu wrote A History of Lenses. Prior to the publication of this text, the usual way for an artisan — like many a late imperial storyteller, garden designer, or actor — to be remembered was through a biography in a local gazetteer or, if he could win the support of a well-known man of letters, in the collected works of a local supporter. What differentiates Sun from other artisan lensmakers like Huang is the fact that he produced an account of his craft on his own terms in a way that emphasized his literati origins. This distinction is frequently reiterated in the sixteen folded leaves of paratextual material that outnumber the twelve folded leaves of the main text and illustrations, which commit significant attention and effort to presenting both lenses and their makers as having a legitimate place in elite culture.
The title and paratexts frame the illustrated catalogue with a complex rationale for its existence. In the seventeenth century, the term given to lenses as a category was jing: the same character used over millennia [End Page 53] for bronze mirrors. Although the transparency of a lens contrasts dramatically with the opaque reflectivity of the bronze mirror, both offered views of the world unavailable to the naked eye. Nevertheless, since bronze mirrors were the only kind of jing with a rich established history, it would not be difficult to misread the title of A History of Lenses as A History of Mirrors. The term "history" (shi) in the title is likewise not a clear indication of what a reader would encounter: the text does not offer an account of lenses' development, but rather their functionality and availability. As such, A History of Lenses may be productively compared with connoisseurship manuals like Lu You's (fl. fourteenth century) A History of Inksticks (Moshi) and Yuan Hongdao's (1568–1610) A History of Vases (Pingshi), both of which recount the origins and prior connoisseurship practices of their topics (though neither pairs text with illustrations or diagrams).20 Judith Zeitlin notes that by the late Ming, the term shi had begun to stray from the idea of history to include non-narrative works such as "compilations on a specialized subject,"21 as characterizes A History of Lenses. However, this recent development certainly did not negate the sense of duration offered by the term "history." Rather, it allowed Sun Yunqiu to market his products to serious-minded consumers interested in the past, and to those aware of the social capital associated with that interest, by presenting new optical devices within a much older value system. Furthermore, the title is notable for what it omits: words like "marvelous" or "strange" (qi1), "instrument" (qi2), "Western" (xiyang), or "far-West" (yuan xi), which were commonly used to characterize foreign technologies, often with dismissive overtones. That the title of A History of Lenses employs a coyly classicizing strategy and avoids connoting foreignness, novelty, or technology foreshadows Sun's elegant, playful, and, above all, familiar approach toward the devices.
The six authors of the prefatory material all contribute their elite identities to justify and promote Sun Yunqiu's work.22 The first preface, printed in clear standard font, was written by Zhang Ruoxi (jinshi 1643), a friend of Sun's father, Sun Zhiru (jinshi 1643), and who, as former Prefectural Judge (sili) in Fujian (among other posts), is the most [End Page 54] prestigious of the contributors. Printed in a distinctly archaizing clerical-style script, the second preface was written by Dong Deqi, the younger brother of Sun's educated mother, Dong Rulan. The third preface, printed in a cursive script, is by Zhu Sheng, the figure mentioned by Li Yu, who is best known today for the influential Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Jieziyuan huazhuan, 1679), but who, according to Zhang Ruoxi, was the most famous lens maker of the period. Following the prose prefaces is a laudatory dedicatory poem, printed in a handwritten-style font, by one Wu Qisheng of Chunjiang, who summarizes Sun's biography and praises his work by equating him with various lofty individuals from the past. At the end of the text are two prose postfaces, the first in a clear handwritten-style font by a second maternal uncle, Dong Dehua, who praises Sun's mastery of Western learning (xixue). The final epilogue, in clear printed font, is by one Wen Kangyi, who recounts the thrilling view through one of Sun's telescopes, and insists on the primacy of geometry to Sun's craft.
The prefaces provide considerable detail regarding the transmission of knowledge and skills related to lens production. Zhang's opening preface lists Matteo Ricci, S.J. (Li Madou, 1552–1611), Johann Adam Schall von Bell, and another unidentified Westerner named Qian Fugu23 as influences, while Zhu explicitly mentions that Sun had read both Schall von Bell's On the Telescope and Euclid's Elements (Jihe yuanben).24 Zhang's preface also names four Chinese lens makers from whom Sun learned his techniques.25 These references to Western learning and translated texts emphasize that Sun learned his craft first from books rather than artisans, granting him more credibility as member of the educated elite. Sun's lensmaking practice is thus significant not for its autochthony, but rather because it presents an instance of adaptation in a new post-Ming world. Sun's practice and his account of his practice in A History of Lenses interwove recent Jesuit texts with longstanding literati beliefs regarding artisans and the nature of craft to advocate for the new category of the scholar-artisan in the early Qing. [End Page 55]
The paratexts reveal a careful negotiation of elite cultural values in order to justify the marketing of optical devices that occurs in the main text, going to great lengths to explain the classically-educated Sun's turn toward artisanship. Filial piety is the primary justification for Sun's decision to take up lens crafting, which he pursued in order to support his widowed mother shortly after the Ming-Qing transition and the early death of his father. By emphasizing filial piety, these paratexts offer a positive evaluation of Sun as a scholar-artisan forced to adapt to new circumstances, which differs from the uncomplimentary language often used in the biographies of typical artisans. For example, in the gazetteer biography of Bo Zijue (also known as Bo Yu), a late Ming figure also associated with lens crafting and considered Sun's predecessor,26 the author emphasizes the distinctly manual, non-literary quality of Bo's talent: he "speaks instead of writing, and he uses his hands instead of speaking."27 By contrast, the paratexts in A History of Lenses praise Sun's manual skill in lens making, even as they insist on his more elite claim to literati identity and filial motivations, thereby assuaging elite concerns about working with one's hands. Sun attempts to convince potential consumers that making a living as an artisan in the early Qing does not erase one's education and scholarly identity.
The emphasis on Sun's classical education also allows the paratexts to make an unequivocal case for the value of Western learning. Imperial and literati study of science and mathematics was rather unusual, but curiosity about the sciences increased among both groups especially with Jesuit presence from the late sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.28 Zhang Ruoxi's preface suggests that it is Sun's knowledge of geometry that distinguishes him from other lensmakers, and expresses admiration that this knowledge allows him to improve upon human sense perception.29 Sun may work with his hands, but he is able to excel at that practice because he first used his mind to understand the principles of geometry. Throughout the paratexts there are several references to Sun's understanding of geometry derived from Euclid's Elements, but Dong [End Page 56] Dehua's epilogue goes a step further to promote Western learning more generally: "Everything [Westerners] have made, such as their calendar system and their artillery system, is absolutely marvelous and offers great benefit to the present age; we should not consider these merely minor skills [xiaoji]."30 Dong further observes that in the West everyone studies geometry (jihe), and suggests that it be considered "the most divine method, and the ultimate art (fa mo shen yan, qiao mo ji yan)."31 This high praise may be explained in part by the family connection, since, as Sun's uncle, Dong would be invested in his social status and this praise of the quantitative method may be his attempt to justify Sun's choice of profession.
Nevertheless, Sun's use of Western technical knowledge in the late seventeenth century still needed to be tempered by appeals to classical elite culture, especially given the artisanal and commercial requirements in creating, marketing, and selling these devices. Consequently, the paratexts also include the familiar advertising technique of the personal testimonial: Zhu Sheng exclaims how impressed he was after trying Sun's spectacles, and Dong Deqi claims to have benefited from their use during a civil service examination.32 Scholarly approval remained paramount. Taken together, therefore, the paratextual materials argue that educated, elite readers can benefit from these lenses produced by a filial son who was both classically trained and excelled in Western geometry. By merging the utilitarian benefits of well-made lenses with moral claims of filial piety and the pursuit of marvelous knowledge, the paratexts of A History of Lenses place optical devices squarely within scholar-elite and aspirational practices of consumption in the early Qing.
Old Pictures of New Things
The core of A History of Lenses is a mere twelve folded leaves of text describing three types of spectacles plus eight other optical devices, each paired with a high-quality illustration. Some of the text is adapted from On the Telescope, but with much of the technical description excised, indicating that Sun was more concerned with demonstrating what the devices could do for users than conveying principles that would allow [End Page 57] them to understand how they worked. The illustrations are even less concerned with presenting the technical aspects of optical devices: some feature images only, which function as pictorial supplements to the main text, while others combine images with poems or inscriptions for more extensive commentary. That these types of illustrations are used interchangeably is unusual, since in many contemporary texts, a full-page illustration would be paired with a framed couplet; examples of both are included here, but none of them are paired. Sun Yunqiu likely chose these images to accompany his text, and it has been suggested that he wrote the poems as well.33 With the exception of the last poem, signed by Sun himself, all the others are signed with obvious pseudonyms that refer to the poems' content, but Sun's education makes his authorship of the poems quite plausible.
The written description on the recto corresponds to the image on the verso of the same leaf: after reading the text, one must turn the page to find the corresponding illustration. The positioning of the two elements of related content that are never visible simultaneously means that the folded page becomes what Anne Burkus-Chasson has termed a "semiotic unit," and the meaning created by juxtaposing image and text "emerge[s] in the act of turning from one side to the other."34 Placing the illustrations after the page turn cooperates with their tangential and allusive relationship to the objects described to slow the reader's progress through the pages. The interspersion of clear and simple descriptions with complex images, scripts, and allusions creates a pleasurable puzzle in the rich late Ming tradition, allowing the elite reader to draw connections for himself, even as it offers a visual experience that would also appeal to non-elite users of books.35 The result is a dialogue between text and image to incorporate new knowledge into a rich preexisting cultural context. But as important as the description-illustration unit is for each individual device, the order in which they are presented is not arbitrary, but crucial to understanding how the text creates internal relationships among the various types of lenses and comments on their effects on vision. To offer the most complete sense of the original text, we have retained the original ordering, which sequences the devices and illustrations into several meaningful groups. [End Page 58]
Restoring the Light of the Spirit: Spectacles
Listed first in the table of contents, spectacles are advertised as available in three different types that are customizable across twenty-four powers. By 1681, their familiar ability to restore vision to a natural (or ideal) state ensures that the text does not open with a frivolous curiosity or novelty, but responds, instead, to an age-old literati complaint about waning vision.36 In fact, the very first entry deals with an issue that would have likely have plagued many in Sun's target audience, namely, aging literate men with "dim eyes" in need of reading glasses (hunyan jing):
When people grow old and their eyes weaken, they look at images but cannot assemble them [into a whole]. It is just as if clouds and mist obscure them, blurred and unclear. Some people can see what is large but struggle to see what is tiny; for others, it is easy to observe what is distant, but they cannot see what is near. If you use this lens, then although the forms of things are small and subtle, when you look at them they naturally become large and evident. In this way, the spirit [shen] need not labor, but is illuminated on its own [ziming]. Calculate a person's age, determine the [relative] cloudiness or brightness of his vision, make the lenses according to his eyes, and each receives what is appropriate to him.37
The first part of this passage offers a straightforward description of what these spectacles do: As eyesight fades with old age, spectacles allow a return to the clarity of earlier vision. The last line, however, suggests that these lenses go even beyond that. The claim that "the spirit need not labor, but is illuminated on its own" recalls the sort of sagely perception praised in classical texts that transcends mere looking. The claim here is that seeing through lenses allows one to do more than just see: it allows one to perceive effortlessly with one's spirit.38 [End Page 59]
On turning the page, a reader finds these spectacles paired with an illustrated page titled "wish-granting jewel (cintāma. ni)" (ruyi zhu, Figure 1), the Buddhist magical jewel that grants all wishes, which promises that the spectacles will grant this wish of youthful vision in old age. Next to the cintāma. ni is a poem in clerical script that recounts the sorrow of losing vision because of old age and argues for the superior efficaciousness of Sun's lenses relative to common pharmaceutical and surgical remedies:
As black hair turns white, eyes struggle to make clear distinctions.
Who can challenge Heaven's handiwork?
Vision grows dim, such a gloomy state startles the soul [hun]. [End Page 60]
Ginseng and skullcap are not effective, the "golden needle" has a false reputation.
Only this magical method restores my eyes.
The light of my spirit (shenguang) is recovered, and for the rest of my life is constant and correct. (signed) "A Wise Man(Zhifei zi)"39
The fundamentally conservative function of this lens is evident in its focus on restoration and recovery rather than enhancement. The second line poses a challenge to see who or what can contend with the natural aging process ("Heaven's handiwork"). Traditional medicine and surgical intervention alike have proved ineffective. The terms used in the closing lines to describe its efficacy are "return" (huan) and "re-enlighten" (fuqi), both of which emphasize the ability of the spectacles to return one's vision to an earlier — but still natural — state. Although weakened vision is a natural function of aging, the poem highlights the helplessness and resignation it entails. The poem works to demedicalize the resolution of optical issues through the metonymy of ginseng and skullcap for prescriptions taken internally, and the "golden needle" (jinpi), an instrument often used to remove cataracts in particular, and for invasive eye surgery in general.40 The latter image is particularly undesirable given the invasive nature of the practice of "scraping away nebulae," a reference echoed in Wu Qisheng's prefatory poem that refers to the procedure specifically in the context of "dim eyes." By contrast, the use of the term "light of my spirit" (shenguang) to refer to vision in the final line underscores the inseparability of sight and soul described in the third line, and demonstrates how such spectacles affected both mind and body. Shenguang was not a common term for vision, usually meaning either a "mystical light" that would be emitted by such things as mountains, pearls, or eyes, or else one's spirit or vitality. In this context, however, the "light" (guang) resonates with that of a more common term for vision, "light of the eyes" (muguang), expanding its sense into a loftier arena. [End Page 61]
Occupying the remainder of the page is an image of a ribbon-wrapped ruyi "as you wish" scepter incised with eight characters in seal script and topped with a flaming pearl, the wish-granting jewel. Ornamental ruyi scepters, shaped after auspicious clouds and lingzhi fungus, symbolized good fortune and the fruition of the bearer's wishes. The inscription on the ruyi scepter reads: "Heaven has mortised the fine jade, and dropped onto it an as-you-wish pearl."41 The potential power of this example perhaps carved from fine jade, as suggested in the scepter's own inscription, is distinguished by the addition of the "wish-granting jewel." The illustration therefore clearly visualizes the magical effect of the mundane object described in the text without resorting to depicting it, emphasizing the ability of the lenses to grant what otherwise seemed like a futile wish from those suffering from presbyopia for restored vision. Ostensibly granting the wish of permanently returning clarity to one's vision, the pairing of the scepter with the poem obliquely illustrates the desire motivating the inscription, but the connection is made explicit in Wen Kangyi's postface, where he notes that, "the degree to which Mr. [Sun] has aided me in reading is equivalent to bestowing on me a wish-granting jewel (ruyi zhu)."42
The image also contains a clue regarding the production of the text: in small regular script at the bottom left corner, the phrase "carved by [juan] Lü Xiangyu and Meng Kuanfu of Jingyi," identifies the two otherwise unknown illustration carvers as hailing from Jingde county in the Huizhou region of southern Anhui. The presence of their names on the first illustration suggests that they were responsible for carving and designing all the illustrations, with the exception of two signed by other named artists. The inclusion of these Huizhou names accompanying illustrations in printed books denotes a deluxe imprint, as Huizhou was believed to produce the best woodblock printing, both in terms of pictorial design and block carving, since the Song Dynasty.43 Sun Yunqiu commissioned skilled, professional designers and carvers from the Hui school for his catalogue to integrate his craft with a longer tradition of [End Page 62] literati consumption of fine illustrations, and in order to present himself as a scholar-artisan.
The second type of spectacles in Sun's text corrects nearsightedness (jinshi jing), and is deemed suitable both for the naturally nearsighted and for those whose vision has been damaged by excessive reading. Here again, Sun highlights the restorative function of the lenses, which he claims are able to restore weakened vision to an ideal state:
Any person whose eyes do not part from books and histories, and who does not look beyond his small desk and chair, and who, furthermore, works under candlelight, such that the light of his spirit [shenguang] is wrested away by the shining of the flame, will, as a result, be able to see what is near but not what is distant. There are also those for whom [this malady] stems not from habits, but from an innate insufficiency of blood and qi such that they cannot see forms [xiang] in their entirety. Using a lens miraculously treats [deficiencies] due both to habit and to nature, such that when you look at what is distant, [it becomes] clear on its own. Calculate the strength and range of a person's vision [muli guangyi], and match the lens so there is not the least discrepancy.
That these spectacles for nearsightedness can supplement weak blood and qi on the one hand, and treat eyes weakened by excessive reading and poor lighting on the other, demonstrates that they possess medical powers that function on both the gross and subtle body. The dualistic relationship of blood and qi in causing eye diseases was well established in ophthalmological texts, which focused on eye diseases rather than weakened vision.44 However, the ability of these lenses to correct both the deleterious effects of practice and insufficient innate capacity conveys a more physical effect than even returning to a former state.
Vision itself is described differently in this entry as well. The notion that the earthly light of the flame (huoguang) would damage the light of one's spirit (shenguang) posits an influence among different light sources, in which the flame would wrest away some of the light of the spirit. The reference to "images" (xiang) that people cannot see likewise shifts the locus of the deficiency from one of light received from the sun, to one of the material stuff of the body, showing the body interacting with forms [End Page 63] outside itself. Furthermore, the last sentence of this passage uses the term muli, or "eye strength," for vision, rather than shenguang. Muli here indicates a kind of vision that can be measured.45 Often paired with the terms "measure" (liang) and "range" or "width" (guangyi, lit. broad and narrow), muli is a sort of vision that can be measured using the tools of Western learning, namely geometry, although Sun does not make this explicit in the main text. In the Mencius, the term muli is used to talk about the capacity or power of the unaided eye, although there, too, it seems to indicate a quantifiable phenomenon that could be enhanced by tools and other measures: "The sage, having taxed his eyes [muli] to their utmost capacity, went on to invent the compasses and the square, the level and the plumb-line, which can be used endlessly for the production of squares and circles, planes and straight lines."46 The argument for spectacles, which are designed based on careful measurements of the strength of the eye (muli), rather than on the light of the spirit (shenguang), which cannot be measured, draws on this tradition.
The value attributed to human craft over Heavenly handiwork in the description is echoed in the illustration and poem, titled "Stone for mending the sky" (butian shi, Figure 2):
Pupils exist in humans without exceptionBut the light of the spirit, like faces, is hard to make uniform.High and low, far and near are exceedingly dim,Half-obscuring everything that Heaven has bestowed.When flowers release their fragrance, you fix your eyes [on them];When guests come to talk, you look at their faces.With glass framing the eye, all is open and clear.To access all the treasures [of the world], one should value the utility of the acquired.Seals: "bright and distant" and "studio of boundlessness"
This poem contrasts the shared and obvious presence of eyes on humans with the subtle and invisible differences in vision. The use of the [End Page 64]
term "light of the spirit" (shenguang) for vision here emphasizes this intangibility and suggests that measuring such fine distinctions would be difficult, if not impossible. The poem's overall emphasis tends toward facilitating one's interactions with the world through practical purchases, rather than improving one's state of mind. By concluding with a specific reference to glass lenses and the "acquired" (houtian), in contrast to what is "innate" (xiantian), the poem confirms the value of the acquired manmade object in restoring vision to the near-sighted.
Written clearly in regular script, the legibility of the poem offers a marked contrast to the illustration depicting a flaming rock incised in archaic seal script (xiaozhuan) with a twelve-character couplet: "Spring gauze isolates the pupils, Light thoroughly penetrates and restores [End Page 65] them."47 Referring specifically to the pupils as did the poem, the couplet compares the blurry vision of nearsightedness to looking through gauze, and suggests that lenses can restore (bu) their clarity. The flaming rock on which this text is incised depicts the mythological "stone to mend the sky" (butian shi) that Nüwa used to save humanity by repairing the holes that Gong Gong, the god of water, made in the sky when he knocked over the mountain supporting the sky after losing a conflict with Zhuanxu, the god of fire.48 The illustration therefore directly correlates the reparative properties of the flaming stone and the spectacles, amplifying the effects of the lenses by comparing them to the civilization-saving stone. The stone for mending the sky is mythical and not for sale, but one can approximate its effect by purchasing the spectacles, and the illustration of the stone serves as a metaphor for acquiring access to something previously thought salvageable only through divine intervention.
The promise that lenses will return one's vision to a more complete earlier state is most explicit in the description of the third type of spectacles, the "light of youth lenses" (tongguang jing), which do not have a modern counterpart:
When people age and [their] eyes weaken, it is all because of overtaxing their vision (muli) in the past and exhausting their inner light, so that with time [the eyes] become dim. Consider all the literati and artisans such as draftsmen and carvers, [who] specialize in meticulous looking: [if] practiced at length, [their eyesight] tends to dim. For shepherds and peddlers, and those who do not tax their eyes, as they age their eyesight does not dim; that difference should be proof enough. This lens is beneficial for younger people, so that their vision (muguang) is not damaged over time: Westerners call this a "lens for preserving the eyes" (cunmu jing). If children use [these lenses] and discard them after ten-odd years, [then] their eyes will never weaken, and when old [their eyes] will still be as they were when young. When Yan Yuan scrutinized a white horse, Confucius predicted his early death. In this way, the eye is the place where the essence of the whole body gathers, if [End Page 66] preserving and nourishing the essence in your pupil can prolong your life, how can we not make this minor correction?
The connection between literati and artisans is significant not just for the unusual nature of the comparison, but also for its repetition of the scholar-artisan affinity articulated in the prefaces. It is also reminiscent of the late Ming tendency to valorize the non-literary professions as having direct access to novelty.49 The passage takes a rather dramatic turn with the reference to the white horse, which alludes to an episode — one not in the Analects — in which Confucius's favored young disciple Yan Yuan died after straining his vision while on a visit to Mt. Tai.50 The sort of conservation of vision that has been promoted in descriptions of all three types of spectacles is reminiscent of techniques for achieving longevity, but this passage links vision to life itself, and suggests that Sun's spectacles can save both.
Although it not mentioned in the description, declining vision is again attributed to the dispersal of qi over time in the poem with the accompanying illustration titled "complete bi disc" (quanbi, Figure 3):
In youth, qi and blood are strong, spirit and radiance (shencai) brim up in the eyes.
Expending every effort to understand the tiniest things, why hold back and not store them up?
But — oh! — natural endowments have their limits, growing indolent at whim.
The spirit disperses, eyes go next; qi and blood compete to follow. From the distant West comes something strange, the eyes depend on it to become whole again.
The eyes are preserved and life also extended, [the lens] is used to protect you for your whole life. [signed] "Eternal Spring Son" [seal] "eternal spring" [End Page 67]
The poem praises the protective quality of the spectacles, and describes them as facilitating exploration of the world. The statements of qi preservation, which are linked with "spirit and radiance" (shencai), "blood," and "eyes" (mu), offer a window onto the very material terms with which Sun conceptualized aging. The implications of immortality contained in the repetition of "eternal spring" across both the signature and the auspicious double-gourd form of the seal echo and reiterate the desire for longevity conveyed in the description.
The illustration includes two overlapping bi discs, one only partially revealing its zig-zag patterned border and suggesting the point of a gui tablet on its left. By the late seventeenth century, the bi discs that originated in the Neolithic period had acquired many layers of symbolism: the value of the jade from which they were carved, [End Page 68] connections with the completeness of Heaven through their circular shape, and especially as antiques from the ancient world treasured by antiquarians and emperors alike. The more elaborate bi shown in front has a rim of repeating scrolls that culminate in a mythical creature amid scudding auspicious clouds at the top. Eight unintelligible characters are spaced around the disc, presented in a curvilinear script that resembles the Daoist "cloud seal script" (yunzhuan) inspired by and often used for Daoist talismans, especially mirrors.51 Daoist talismanic mirrors preferred inscriptions over images for a range of uses including visualization, transmission rites, and especially, revealing truths that could not be seen with the naked eye and subjugating demons in order to protect the user.52 Through the shared term jing, therefore, the protections afforded to the user of a talismanic mirror — or here, in its luxurious reconsideration in the form of a jade bi disc — become an elegant visual play on the protections available to the lens user described in the final line of the poem, with the added benefit of suggesting Daoist implications for this device's ability to extend life. The complete bi disc offers a metaphor of a body fully intact: the promise of spirit, radiance, blood, qi, and vision restored at once. Comparing something to a bi disc employs a lofty visual simile for the vision that would remain intact if "light of youth lenses" were employed to preserve the original power of the eyes.
These first three illustrations establish Sun's meticulous approach to illustrating optical devices, whether familiar or not. Including illustrations with poems and archaizing inscriptions to substitute for these most familiar devices offers new ways to conceptualize them and to differentiate the three types of spectacles without resorting to the technical minutiae of lens curvatures. It is also significant that these are the only illustrations in A History of Lenses to incorporate seal script. The stylistic diversity of seal script, especially the multiple variant forms of any given character, made it difficult to decipher. Since the mid-Ming, a growing interest in early forms of writing reflected both aesthetic and intellectual appreciation of unusual archaic script styles, resulting in the growth of seal carving, publication of books of ancient seal impressions, the practice of seal script calligraphy, and reference works written for the spectrum of needs from casual to scholarly.53 During this period, [End Page 69] seal-script characters began to be used much more broadly in printed material, where they connoted archaism and erudition as well as a playful desire to confound, even as they were intended to convey a "physical recreation of antiquity."54 Just how widespread seal script literacy was at this time is difficult to determine, but the frequent use of a few characters in that style as a frontispiece to printed books meant that the form and its implied archaism was at least familiar to a general readership, even when it was not intelligible. However, the ability to actually recognize and understand such bizarre character variants effectively functioned as "an entrance examination to the social milieu of the knowledgeable elite. It excluded the ignorant at the same time excited their envy and admiration."55 Deciphering such characters was a game that numerous seal script dictionaries made possible for less educated readers to play, even if at a much lower skill level than the literati who had studied the forms.
With seal script only presented as incised on classical objects, these three sets of illustration and text establish a classical approach for the main text by pairing the most ancient erudite references, archaic script styles, and familiar antique objects with the most common (and also arguably the most useful) optical devices. By encouraging the reader to spend time puzzling over the characters on the objects, the initial descriptive text and the commentary text-plus-illustration work together to elevate each type of spectacles above everyday commonplace objects into devices with somewhat magical qualities that might even save one from the fate of Confucius's favorite disciple. The text does not make such lofty claims about any other devices, nor are any of the illustrations so complex. Sun Yunqiu's decision to begin with the three types of spectacles and to pair them with these images would have defamiliarized the devices for the reader, who was prompted to reconsider just what it might mean to wear them.
Seeing All the Way to Europe: The Telescope
Following the spectacles, Sun turns his attention to the telescope, singled out both in the paratextual material and in Li Yu's story. In this ordering, he follows the historical introduction of these devices to China, when, likewise, after spectacles, the telescope was the next recorded European [End Page 70] optical device to arrive in China.56 Traffic in telescope technology moved at an astonishing rate given that several individuals developed functional telescopes around 1608 in the Netherlands, with Galileo following suit in 1609, and by 1615, the first Chinese description appeared in the Jesuit Manuel Diaz's Explicatio Sphaerae Coelestis (Tianwen lüe).57 Jesuit missionaries to China Johann Schreck (1576-1630) and Johann Adam Schall von Bell were personally acquainted with Galileo when he was making his telescope-aided discoveries in 1611, and when the two arrived in Macau in 1619, it is very possible that Schreck was carrying with him the first telescope to enter China, given to him by the Cardinal Frederick Borromeo (1564–1631).58 In 1626, Schall von Bell and Li Zubai published On the Telescope, which provided a detailed account of the construction, optics, functions, additional uses for, and even a cleaning regimen of the telescope, with illustrations and diagrams on more than half the pages. The preface to On the Telescope59 begins with a discussion of the senses and the organs of vision and hearing, clearly demonstrating familiarity with early Chinese approaches that typically paired the senses of sight and hearing as the two most important of the five senses corresponding with "five phases" (wuxing) theory.60 The remainder of the text, however, is technical and descriptive, paired with instructive diagrams rather than oblique illustrations in a distinctly early modern European scientific treatise.
Sun Yunqiu's description of the telescope ("distance lens," yuanjing) has been conclusively shown to derive significantly from On the Telescope.61 In fact, four of the devices it mentions are presented to some extent in A History of Lenses — the spectacles for dim eyes and for nearsightedness, the telescope, and the camera obscura (discussed below). At nearly three pages, Sun's text on the telescope is more than triple the length of any other, and offers the most detail regarding the history, [End Page 71] use, and care of the device, which distinguishes the telescope from all the other devices that Sun presents, placing it in a category of its own, but notably, unlike Schall von Bell's text, after the much more useful spectacles:
This lens is suitable for using at towers and high places. In the distance you can see the landscape and the seas, trees and villages, and all is as if right before your eyes. If, [at a distance] less than ten-odd li and greater than a thousand or so paces, you use [it] to observe people and inspect things, you will perceive them even more clearly than you would in a face-to-face encounter. It has many uses, and these are all recorded in Johann Adam Schall von Bell's On the Telescope, and are not superfluously listed here.
The tubes are sheathed one inside the other, and when held, you can extend or retract them. When the form of a thing (wuxing) appears closer, the tube must be extended; when the form of a thing appears farther away, the tube must be retracted; extend and retract it bit by bit, and the image will appear and stabilize. If [you want to receive an image from] one or two li away, [the position] is about the same as [for] twenty or thirty li; only at less than one li does [the tube] need to be considerably extended.
The telescope must be placed on a stand, squarely and not rocking. If you want to expand your range of vision, then when you move the lens frame side to side or up and down, you should do so slowly rather than hurriedly. Do not face the sun with the lens: sunlight dazzles the eyes, but through the lens, this light causes damage. If you must look at an image facing the sun, then set up the stand in a dark place. When looking through a telescope, only use one eye, so that your vision is concentrated.
Although all human eyes are the same, their vision is extremely uneven: if person A sets the telescope at a certain adjustment, person B might look through it and find that it is not focused. You must use the tube to make [the image] advance and retreat in order to capture the infinitesimally small. As Bo Zijue said, "ordinarily, one must practice for several days, going from the evident to the subtle, from what is near to what is distant, shifting between advancing and retreating. After a long time, you will become experienced, and then you will be able to raise your eyes and see whenever you wish. If it is even slightly out of focus, your vision will certainly be diminished; how can the lens be blamed?" [End Page 72]
For people with weak eyes, the rear [objective] lens will be rather more extended, and for those who are shortsighted, then the rear [objective] lens will be more retracted. Because people's vision is extremely different, you must adjust it for yourself until you obtain the image. Do not touch the lens surface with moist hands. If it becomes covered with dust and dirt, use a clean cloth to lightly wipe it off, and then you will recover the clarity. Don't use woven silks to wipe it off. [Care for] all lenses like this.
Sun Chengsheng has demonstrated that many of these passages, including the description of the function, the explanation of the tubes, and the cleaning regimen, are adapted from On the Telescope.62 On the Telescope's detailed diagrams depict the geometric workings of different types of lenses and of vision: eyeballs, lenses, planets, and constellations are meticulously diagramed in technical illustrations accompanied by brief captions. However, these technical illustrations, as well as the presence of geometry both there and in the text of On the Telescope, are conspicuously absent from A History of Lenses. Despite the insistence by multiple paratext authors that what set Sun apart was his understanding of geometric principles and their application in lens making, Sun omits most references to the text-based Western learning that was at the heart of his lens making practice, and none of the illustrations are technical diagrams — quite the opposite. Sun Chengsheng, in his analysis of the relationship between these two texts, suggests that the absence of reference to geometry in History of Lenses demonstrates that Sun was more practical in his approach to lens making and was not concerned with the details of optics or of how vision actually worked.63 In the late Ming, the eye, as a "thing" (wu), was considered part of both the body and the world: "Contact between the mind and the thing rendered the thing visible to the eye" because the mind was merely one of the myriad things (wanwu) that composed the universe.64 More specifically, Schall von Bell uses text and three diagrams to present vision as the result of intromission, saying that people "look in a triangular pattern, rather than looking in a straight line, and as a result the images of things (wuxiang) [End Page 73] enter their eyes (rumu) at an angle through the lens."65 Given that several of the prefaces make clear that a deep and intuitive understanding of geometry and optics are precisely what distinguished Sun's lenses, it is more likely that Sun left this topic out in order to continue to cater to the sort of reader who was more interested in using these lenses than in reading about angles and refracting light.
This dynamic is also evident in the way Sun distances his catalogue from many of the strategies of Schall von Bell's On The Telescope, even as he borrows from it. In addition to omitting the more technical aspects of lenses, Sun Yunqiu also adds to the descriptions found in On the Telescope, the most obvious example of which is his use of shenguang, or "light of the spirit" (four times) — a term that does not appear in On the Telescope. As discussed above, muli (five times) is the term for vision in A History of Lenses that seems to lend itself to measurement and quantification, and, accordingly, both texts make frequent reference to it. Muguang, or "light of the eyes," seems to be positioned between these: not fully quantified, and yet also not necessarily ethereal. Relative to On the Telescope, A History of Lenses is essential for understanding the terms in which vision could be articulated in a non-technical, or at least a non-scientific sense.66 These terms appear only in the prefatory materials and in the descriptions of the first four devices; only "strength of the eye" (muli) appears in all of the devices. In A History of Lenses, muli can be both measured and exhausted as a finite physical quantity, as seen in the Mencius reference above. "Light of the spirit" is a more abstract treatment that incorporates the spirit (shen) and hearkens back to classical forms of sagely knowledge, but that is nonetheless inseparable from actual sight, as seen most clearly in the emotional strain caused by the deterioration of eyesight in old age: a fully material and incorporated sense of self.
Sun's terms for "looking" also depend on context: by far the most common term is "look" or "see" (shi, appearing twenty-seven times as well as in the name for "spectacles for nearsightedness"), with seven instances of "observe" or "contemplate" (guan), four for "to see" (jian, including one instance in which that term is translated as "visible" in the microscope poem), and the most specific term, "to look at in the distance" [End Page 74] (wangyuan), only used once. Contrary to expectation, the wang of the last term is historically not used with regard to the telescope, but to connote medical diagnosis or divination,67 which is perhaps why On the Telescope prefers "to see into the distance" (yuan jian and yuan shi). Of all these terms, guan is the most abstract, used primarily in Buddhist and Daoist visualization practices, but also used in the late Ming to describe deep contemplation of a painting.68
This variety of terms for vision and looking that Sun uses in A History of Lenses only begins to scratch the surface of the extent to which optical devices affected conceptions of vision. However, A History of Lenses clearly demonstrates how these devices challenged received knowledge about vision from On the Telescope, particularly the cultural inflections of vision that extend far beyond mere biology, embodied in the "light of the spirit" (shenguang). A text like Li Yu's "A Tower for the Summer Heat" made frequent reference to yanli (the colloquial equivalent of muli), but in general was more playful in its nomenclatures. Readers of Li Yu's stories would find that a telescope was called "thousand-mile eyes" (qianli yan), encounter characters protesting that they lacked "supernatural eyes" (shenyan) or "keen vision" (huiyan), and find out what it really meant to see everything with one's "thievish eyes" (zeiyan). Although beyond the scope of this article, closer examination of visual and literary sources is necessary to reveal the contours of the practice of incorporating viewing technologies into seventeenth-century culture by looking for creative incorporations or interpretations of visual technology, rather than a fundamental reordering of vision in the European style.
The illustrations in On the Telescope depict a telescope itself as well as what one can (and should) see through the telescope — such as the moon — and how lenses work to transform vision. By contrast, the illustration accompanying Sun's discussion of the telescope depicts only a little village in a print titled "Western Distance Painting" (Xiyang yuanhua, Figure 4). This picture of a picture depicts a distinctly European riverside village with multi-story stone buildings topped with crow-stepped gables or tall towers suggesting Dutch architecture, represented with three-dimensional modeling in hatching and cross-hatching as if copied from a copperplate engraving. Copperplate engravings, especially [End Page 75]
from Northern Europe, were known to have been circulating among the elite in seventeenth-century Jiangnan and are speculated to have had some effect on landscape painting.69 However, this illustration may well be unprecedented in its unquestionable reproduction of a vernacular European print and its distinctive representational mode, in addition to providing key evidence of their early circulation outside the court. The technology of copperplate engraving would not be used in China until the first quarter of the eighteenth century, yet the hatching and cross-hatching used to represent its subjects has here clearly been replicated in a simplified form to accommodate the material qualities of the woodblock. This mode has created forms with enhanced three-dimensionality, [End Page 76] particularly the trees in the foreground framing the entire image, with long unprinted stripes facing the viewer that suggest highlights and therefore roundness. Some have translated the title of this illustration as "Perspectival Picture of the West" rather than "Western Distance Painting,"70 but linear perspective is neither the driving force in the illustration nor descriptive of the way Sun's readership would have understood it. There are neither geometric orthogonals nor even recession to a single central vanishing point that point to its conclusive presence. Furthermore, specific Chinese terms for linear perspective would not be coined for another fifty years, and even then were used only rarely and in very limited court circles.71
It is significant that the image is explicitly identified as being "Western" in its title, and linked with the device that was itself connected most explicitly to Europe through Schall von Bell and his 1626 treatise. Although the representational mode is not how one would see the world through a telescope, nor does it purport to depict a view through a telescope, its title of "Western Distance Painting" implies that the image at least superficially conforms to what one would see through a telescope: a view that extends deeply into the distance. However, using optical devices to look deep into the distance may also reflect a period trend of how these images were used that complicates their potential effects on landscape painting. Immediately following Huang Lüzhuang's list of optical devices in his Index of Strange Machines is a list of "various pictures" (zhuhua) seemingly linked to use with those devices, including anamorphic images, peepbox pictures,72 and a "deep-looking picture" (yuan shi hua) as well as a type that when "placed flat allows one to look deep into the distance" (pingmian er jian wei shenyuan).73 Given that all the other illustrations in A History of Lenses are of familiar images, rather than treating the "Western Distance Painting" as just a piece of unfamiliar exotica, here it becomes a familiar foreign image in the context of optical devices. [End Page 77]
Beyond Looking: Burning Lens, Hand Mirror, Incense-Burning Lens, Camera Obscura
Sun groups the remaining seven optical devices in sequence into lenses that suit everyday purposes other than enhancing vision, discussed here, and lenses that distort vision, discussed next. Turning first to a native Chinese device, Sun presents an ancient burning lens (huo jing) that he immediately connects to classical learning and ancient China. Similar to the inclusion of Chinese objects in the spectacles entries, this discussion tempers the valorization of lens-making expertise with a demonstration of Sun's knowledge of the classics:
In the Rites of Zhou, [Autumn] offices, the "Directors of Sun Fire" took "brilliant fire from the sun," and the "Directors of Fire Ceremonies"74 changed the fire according to the four seasons, in order to cure seasonal afflictions. It was not without reason that in ancient times the former kings were dedicated to the role of fire in governance. Mr. Li Shizhen said, "In stones there is fire that is harmful to the head and eyes:" Now for a long time, we have become accustomed to not seeking out [this fire]. This lens takes fire from the sun and spontaneously ignites without coal. You can use it to substitute for a flint. Moreover, it is merely the size of a coin, so it is convenient to carry along [with one]. It is particularly indispensable when traveling by boat or cart.
Sun uses the ancient Rites of Zhou to refer to a famous precedent for the use of portable burning lenses and extols their usefulness. In doing so, he claims that he is correcting a misconception stemming from the more recent medical theory of the late Ming. This disagreement is not entirely convincing, given that Li Shizhen (1518–93), author of the late sixteenth-century Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu), also noted a number of different substances that would ignite by borrowing fire from the sun.75 Nevertheless, in citing ancient texts to correct more recent ones, Sun is clearly participating in the time-honored literati tradition of analysis of classical texts. [End Page 78]
Reiterating the presence of such devices in China from ancient times, the accompanying illustration is identified as "ancient bamboo slips" (gujian, Figure 5), secured within a four-fold album, and inscribed with a short poem in regular script. Using the same references as the description, the poem further links the burning lens to ancient Chinese practices:
Investigating our profound beginnings, drilling into wood produced fire.
Great is the extent to which our people depended completely on it to be settled.
We strike stones and tap gold, still in accordance with ancient practice. There is no reason not to supplement the sun's resources. [signed] Ancient Director of Sun Fire [seal] Zhou official [End Page 79]
Suggesting through its content, signature, seal, and bamboo-slip format that the object shown is a prized antique of an age with the Rites of Zhou, this illustration reiterates the native ritual and political importance of the burning lens alongside acceptance of its more recent utilitarian function. This suggests that although burning mirrors had a very long history in China, they were in fact rather rare by the early Qing, and were transformed by Sun's application of geometric principles, new lens technology, and transparent materials to an outdated thing made of bronze. The choice of the term "to supplement" (bu) for the action of using the lens further resonates with the use of the term in "stone to mend the sky" that accompanied the spectacles for nearsightedness, and recalls ancient precedents to justify a return to using the device. Similar to the illustrations accompanying spectacles, the addition of text to an antique object reiterates the antiquity and indigenous nature of the burning lens, in contrast to the pointed foreignness of the telescope and its European-style illustration. But an illustration of Zhou-period bamboo slips is also highly suitable for an owner capable of parsing the classical references for their contemporary significance and of appreciating the slips as precious physical traces of the past that were newly relevant again nearly two millennia later.
Building on the themes of practicality and portability, the ensuing "hand mirror" (literally, "mirror for correcting the appearance," duanrongjing) is presented as especially useful for women:
This lens is as small as a coin, and is used to reflect the appearance, from beard to brow. Because the hand mirror lacks the exhausting weight of a bronze mirror, you can avoid being ridiculed for dress that is unornamented. Furthermore, it is suitable for beautiful women to hang from a fan head or tie to the corner of a handkerchief, and they will be able to comb their hair at any time, apply makeup anywhere – creating beauty by looking at their reflection. It is an unusual treasure for a lady's bedchamber.
This is the only lens suggested for both men's and women's use, as well as for the erotic connotations of the latter. A portable mirror allowing a woman to "apply makeup anywhere" brings this secret and intimate feminine ritual out of the inner chambers for male visual enjoyment, and the gentleman buyer is encouraged to purchase one for a lady who shares [End Page 80] his bed. The portable mirror is therefore doubly useful for the elite male reader.
Titled "small image of the boudoir" (jin'gui xiaozhao, Figure 6), in this illustration, a woman is shown holding a hand mirror by a vertical handle.76 This is the closest any illustration in A History of Lenses comes to picturing the device described, but this mirror is far more traditional than Sun's advertised tiny, lightweight mirror. Since he does not specify a material, it is impossible to know whether the mirror was made of bronze, silvered glass, or silvered rock crystal, but as described, we can assume that its novelty lay in its portability and its utility for women. The illustration emphasizes the promise of the mirror by depicting a delicate-featured woman wearing flowing robes patterned with women's symbols of flowers and phoenixes among clouds, shown in three-quarter profile holding a handled mirror such that something seems to be reflected in it, as if she were checking her toilette, but unaware of the fact that she is being watched while doing so. The image is not uncommon for seventeenth-century print culture, but it is nevertheless distinguished by the legend "sketched by (mo) [Bao] Chengxun's son Bao Tianxi." Bao Chengxun (hao Chengxun; ming Shouye, ca. 1625–ca. 1695), originally from Jingde county, Anhui, and therefore another Hui school carver, was a famous woodblock illustration carver active in Suzhou and known for his figures.77 His son Bao Tianxi (act. late seventeenth-early eighteenth century) followed his father into the profession in Suzhou, sometimes working alongside his father on projects and often identifying himself as Bao Chengxun's son as here, likely to capitalize on his father's name recognition.78 The inclusion of a famous local illustration carver from a lineage of work in illustrated printed books here situates the image of the woman holding the mirror firmly within Suzhou's own visual culture, [End Page 81]
and foregrounds Sun Yunqiu's ability to commission such a well-known local artist to illustrate his catalogue's only figure.
Continuing with useful lenses for daily life, a second small burning lens is presented next, this one specifically for burning incense:
If you place the incense under a lens that follows the sun from east to West, and use a stand to hold them opposite each other, then it will burn on its own without fire. Also, the incense fragrance will be excellent, completely lacking the smell of smoke. One cake of ambergris can last the entire day. A south-facing window provides a clear supply [of light], and is invaluable.
Titled "Pure incense" (jing xiang, Figure 7), which seems to be a type of natural scent such as sandalwood, the illustration accompanying this description depicts a poem in cursive script inscribed on a leaf: [End Page 82]
In the courtyard, a gentle wind; the bright sun is charming. Small stand with jade plate in front of a New Year's picture. No need to offer coal to burn the Golden Elixir, The fragrant glow is long-lasting, and the fire transmits itself. [signed] Pure incense [two seals] "Apparent" and "Spring"
The idyllic scene conjured here with words, of a sunny courtyard with a jade incense stand set in front of a New Year's picture (nianhua, almost certainly a printed image of some auspicious subject), creates a clear mental image of the benefits this type of burning lens offers in a domestic setting. The poeticized description also emphasizes the convenience of this device, burning incense without further effort on the part of the user and leaving him to enjoy the fragrance wafting through the courtyard on the gentle breeze. [End Page 83]
Rather than depicting this scene, the illustration of the calligraphy on the leaf instead leaves the precise setting to the reader's imagination. The practice of inscribing calligraphy on a tree leaf was not unknown, although considerably rarer a practice than using paper or silk, and the use of tree leaves has meant that few examples have survived. However, the printed conceit of doing so can be found in a variety of sources, such as in the 1621 pair of gazetteers for West and East Tianmu Mountain (Xi Tianmushan zhi and Dong Tianmushan zhi), located West of Hangzhou. These gazetteers include nearly identical illustrations for calligraphy written on this particular leaf shape along with others, such as banana tree leaves. As such, the form of the leaf accompanying the "incense-burning lens" does not have a particular relationship either to incense or to the scene described in the poem. Instead, it is a familiar image from print culture and elite life that provides a lofty frame for a new form of incense burner whose improvement of daily life inspires poetry in a man at leisure.
The final device in this section is the camera obscura ("lens that absorbs light," sheguang jing), the description of which indicates its use and effects, but little of its purpose:
This lens is placed in a very dark small room; it is what the Westerners call a "moon-viewing lens." A plain screen is positioned facing the lens, then what is outside the room both far and near, above and below, the movement and stillness of all things great and small, all enters onto the screen. With the subtle details of form and color, all will appear as if real.
Both the principle and the technology of pinhole projections in darkened rooms and the subsequent inversion of the image were known in China at least as early as ca. 300 BCE.79 The most complete description prior to the seventeenth century was Shen Kuo's (1031–95) discussion in the Dream Pool Essays (Mengxi bitan), which included a reference from the Tang Dynasty.80 Observations made using pinhole projection without lenses continued over the ensuing centuries — even one at Tiger Hill in fourteenth-century Suzhou — well before European influence, [End Page 84] making Sun's discussion of the camera obscura part of a much longer native trajectory that predated its use in the development of Chinese photography.81 Schall von Bell does not give the camera obscura a proper name in On the Telescope, but simply describes it as a painting aid, used by an unnamed European painter that uses the general lens "to borrow the reflection to make a picture (jiezhao zuohua)."82 The suggestion in the description that the images projected onto a screen essentially brings a screen painting to life with color and movement drawn from outside the room, but importantly, does not refer to the camera obscura as a tool for painting. That would have run counter to the literati ethos about painting, which held that only artisan professional painters used tools to create their works, in contrast to the literati-amateur painter idealized by the scholar-elites.
Earlier Chinese descriptions of the camera obscura are consistently technical, but Sun adopts a metaphorical approach to the illustration titled "plain screen" (su ping, Figure 8). However, rather than a projected image, a gāthā is inscribed there:
Gāthā of Reflected LightAn aperture in the roomReturns the light [huiguang] and traces the picture.The master is positioned inside, And a multitude of mysteries comes in great profusion.In this way, he can sit in meditation;In this way, he can attain the Way. [signed] "Quiet Amusement" [seal] Quiet observation brings things about of their own accord
Specifically titled as a gāthā (Buddhist verse) about reflected light (huiguang) rather than the absorbed light (sheguang) of the name given to the camera obscura, the poem opens with the effects of pinhole [End Page 85]
projection but moves directly into religious practice. The second line, "returns the light and traces the picture" (huiguang fanzhao), makes intriguing use of a Chan Buddhist phrase that can also be translated as "'follow back the light and trace back the radiance,' [referring to] the quality of introspection that is operative during all types of meditation" and specifically "mov[ing] the mind away from its attachment to sensory objects and back toward its fundamental source."83 Presenting the screen as reflecting (hui) or returning (fan) the light that strikes it through the aperture in the room, rather than simply "absorbing" (she) it as in the name of the camera obscura, the poet also manipulates the terms to better suit the Buddhist connotations of reflecting radiance back to its [End Page 86] source as a means of achieving enlightenment. The scene described of a Buddhist master meditating (zuochan) in a small, dark room (as required for successful pinhole projection), and thereby minimizing sensory distractions for a more successful practice, occupies the remainder of the poem. By taking advantage of the multiple meanings of zhao as both "picture" and "radiance," the Buddhist connotations of the entire four-character phrase, the poet uses the ability of the camera obscura to reflect images onto a screen, as a metaphor for mental focus to achieve a more profound encounter with the divine.
The burning lens, hand mirror, incense lens, and camera obscura all function otherwise than to mediate the user's vision. Clustering these four devices and their distinctly Chinese situations together after the telescope also has the added benefit of returning the reader to recognizable quotidian territory. It is further evidence of contemporary interest, too, that Li Yu's story included both of these burnings lenses and the hand mirror in its abbreviated list of Sun's optical devices. The images and poems included in this section present new ways of understanding established Chinese items thanks to Sun's reinvigoration of them with transparent lens technology and within scholar-elite culture to situate them firmly in both past and present.
Distorted World: Dark Glasses, Microscope, Faceted Lenses
With the final set of devices, the catalogue returns to lenses that alter one's view of the world. However, whereas the use of spectacles was justified by restoring the user's vision to an earlier state, the last three devices distort perception of the world in a way that can no longer be argued to be natural. Therefore, the presentation of these lenses must address the issue of the risk that these lenses will compromise clear perception of the world.
Separated from the other spectacles for correcting vision, the "sunset lens" (xiyang jing) offers a soothing remedy for the discomforts of conjunctival inflammation:
People who suffer from "red fire eyes" (chihuo yan), are unable to see things when they are in a brightly lit place. If they use this lens then cool qi seeps over the skin, and eye pain immediately ceases. Even though the sun might be scorching and sweltering, it is just as if the [End Page 87] sun is setting over a mountain, as if in the intense heat and irritation of summer one takes a cooling powdered medicine.
This ailment is treated much more specifically in the several nosographies of conjunctival inflammatory diseases in Essential Subtleties on the Silver Sea (Yinhai jingwei, likely compiled around the fifteenth century, despite a traditional attribution to the Tang medical writer Sun Simiao [581–682?]).84 The historical disease "epidemic red eye" (tianxing chiyan), has been identified as epidemic kerato-conjunctivitis, and its exacerbated form with corneal infiltrates that directly follows in the nosography sequence causes a sufferer to "avoid the light and fear the sun."85 In all cases, the remedies are cooling powders taken internally to cleanse heat from the viscera as well as topical applications of other prescriptions. The heat inherent in all these inflammations is not merely the physical heat and redness generated by the inflammation, but also an accumulation of heat in the viscera that is the real source of the infection.86 Although Sun Yunqiu's spectacles are superficially palliative rather than internally curative, the description demonstrates a deeper knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine in terms of treatments that create cooling qi both internally and externally. The first preface, written by Zhang Ruoxi, suggests that Sun was knowledgeable about such things: he mentions that upon arriving in Suzhou after the dynastic transition and the death of his father, Sun sold medicines in the Tiger Hill area in order to support his mother.87
Rather than include diagrams of inflamed eyes as is the Essential Subtleties, the sunset lenses are paired with a "Picture of a Sunset" (xiyang tu, Figure 9): a classical landscape painting depicting a temple complex on a rocky island dotted with trees, following the trope of a solitary temple on an elevated outcrop amid mountains that hearkens back to the monumental landscapes of the Song Dynasty. At the foreground, parts of two other roofs are visible among the trees and outcrop that otherwise conceal these buildings, while at the middle-right edge, a mountain modeled simply with traditional texture strokes and foliage lines extends [End Page 88]
out of sight of the picture plane. The cluster of buildings and the pagoda on the island are rendered with careful lines that suggest the use of a straightedge (rather than the intentionally amateurish architectural renderings of a literati painter). At the bottom left corner, the illustration is inscribed, "drawn by (xie) Mr. Yan Shiduan of Wu," indicating that the illustration was created by a Suzhou-area painter who although not remembered today, was likely well known locally at the time. By presenting a classical painting alongside a pair of dark glasses that offer relief from eye inflammation, Sun elevates a simple prescription to the level of elite culture by relying on an image rather than additional poetry or inscriptions to make his point. It is also significant that the top third of this illustration is unprinted, representing the unpainted paper or silk [End Page 89] of a hanging scroll. With no poem inscribed but plenty of room for one, the viewer is invited to reflect for himself on the shared poetic inspiration of sunset lenses and landscape paintings, linking them through his own calligraphic inscription on a scroll in a quintessentially scholarly act.
Following the dark glasses, Sun Yunqiu describes his "lens for revealing minutiae" (xianwei jing) — a simple microscope consisting of a magnifying lens in a tripod stand — as useful for enhancing one's understanding of the world:
This lens is used by bowing one's head and looking. Take extremely small things and place them in the center of the three feet. You can clearly see a biting midge from head to tail, a mite's hair and legs fully displayed; a mosquito is just like a swallow or sparrow, and ants and lice are as rabbits or monkeys.88 Those with broad learning about things will know what they did not know before, truly they will see what they have not seen before.
The simplicity with which this device is used to great zoomorphic effect builds to the complex sentiments of the final line, which emphasizes the benefits to "those with broad learning about things" (bowu zhe), using the term that would later be used for "natural science" (bowu). By focusing on new knowledge gained through observing new things, the passage also underscores the role of instrumentalized looking in expanding one's knowledge beyond what was simply available to the naked eye.
The significance of this statement is made clear in the accompanying image of a damask-bound horizontal "handscroll" (shoujuan, Figure 10) displaying an inscription in clerical script (lishu) on the concept of shendu — the ideal Confucian gentleman's cultivation of blamelessness and conscientiousness in his private life. Citing directly from the classical text The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong), the inscription reads: [End Page 90]
There is nothing more visible than what is secret,and nothing more manifest than what is minute.89The gentleman who is cautious when alone inscribes this and admires it.[signed] He who knows the minute
Despite direct references to minutiae, the inscription obliquely suggests that the microscope is an acceptable pursuit for a Confucian gentleman, which is supported by the scholarship required for both the classical [End Page 91] references and the skill to produce the distinctive width, bold lines, and slightly awkward horizontality of clerical script. Although largely replaced by other script styles around the fourth century, in the late Ming and early Qing, scholars and calligraphers revived clerical script particularly by collecting and studying ink rubbings of Han steles.90 The use of this archaic calligraphy style, presented as inscribed by brush on a handscroll, links the magnifying lens and self-examination in a way that is particular to the Confucian-educated scholars and calligraphers of the late seventeenth century. It offers one manifestation of the early Qing intellectual trend of "returning to origins" (huixiang yuandian), which advocated for better comprehension of canonical classical texts through empirical research into phonology, epigraphy, and evidential research.91 This new emphasis also affected calligraphy, which manifested in the revival of clerical script as a demonstration of both the research and integrity of the scholar-calligrapher who produced it — particularly through the direct quotation of The Doctrine of the Mean. In light of such trends, Sun Yunqiu's decision to pair the microscope with an ancient canonical reference ensures its applicability to a Confucian lifestyle and enhances its commercial desirability.
The final optical device is a "myriad flowers lens," which multiplies beautiful things and is perhaps the most frivolous of all the lenses that are included in Sun's catalogue:
With this lens, you can see one thing transformed into several tens of things. If you look at a beautiful woman, instantly [twelve] women (lit. "golden hairpins") appear in a row on a screen [painting]. If you look at flowers, suddenly the apsaras come in riotous profusion. If you look into the distance at mountain forests and terraces with pavilions, they will be like a neatly arranged mirage (lit. "sea city and clam tower"), all irregularly piled up and resplendent. [Even] from a pavilion at Penglai [Island], I fear that there would not be such transformative sights.
The device described is often mistaken for a kaleidoscope (which was only developed in the early nineteenth century), but is far more likely to be faceted lenses cut from rock crystal. Such lenses that multiplied [End Page 92] any object seen through the facets did not correct vision, but were a luxury entertainment device in seventeenth-century Europe that also served as a moral metaphor against the misinterpretations that arose when the multiplied object seen through the lenses falsely suggested abundance.92 No hint of that moral concern is found here: the last line of the description instead celebrates the device's ability to multiply beautiful women, flowers, and landscapes. This statement resonates more with earlier claims that Sun's lenses supplement Heaven's handiwork, here by amplifying it for an even more beautiful world not even seen on the mythical immortal isle of Penglai.
However, the negative connotations of excessive display do earn a cautionary critique in the final poem on the illustration titled "Flower Manual" (huapu, Figure 11) that depicts male and female peacocks in front of lush peonies and a perforated garden rock:
Peonies harbor fragrance, brocade [tails] make a curtain.
Cranes spread their wings, blossoms vie in fragrant competition. In this dusty world, there are truly few who care for elegant words. Do not display your crest to the bustling masses.
The floral and avian references in the first two lines, all contending in a riotous profusion of competitive appeal, may be understood as a reference to the profusion of optical devices and makers practicing in and around Suzhou at the time. Sun Yunqiu signs this final poem himself (using his name Wenyu, "literary jade"), and the admonition not to display one's talents to the general population implies that one should instead reserve such abilities to the cultured elite "who care for elegant words," or in this case, elegant words, pictures, and lenses. These lines confirm the ideal social status Sun desires of the audience for both the catalogue and the devices. By implying that the illustration is a page from a connoisseurial manual for flowers, the sort of manual of lofty leisure activities predicated on making fine distinctions of quality as a sign of social status that was common among late Ming literati, Sun is also classing the ability to distinguish between superior and inferior optical devices as the province of his elite, cultured audience, distinguishing them from the general populace. As his uncle Dong Deqi writes in the second [End Page 93]
preface, "Considering the exhausting chaos of the world, full of people who are scampering after profit and fame, if that is not enough to move one's heart, then perhaps there is a good case for supporting oneself this way?"93 Sun singles out those who identify with the "few who care for elegant words," and seeks to market his lenses as a way for such men of good taste to further distinguish themselves.
Because they mediate vision to distort how the world looked, rather than simply restoring clarity as in the standard spectacles, the final three devices require the most careful presentation. For the literate class, the negative consequences of misapprehending the world through vision — of mistaking what one saw through these distorting lenses as reality [End Page 94] — stood to undermine the truth of their perceptions that placed them, as intellectuals, at the pinnacle of society and culture. In emphasizing the enhanced knowledge available to those of "broad learning" who used the microscope, Sun offers a more contentious proposal to educated men who may have been first tempted by his subtle presentation of spectacles. Spectacles, in their ability to triumph over natural human and heavenly limitations, will inherently entice even the most conservative scholars. These final devices, by contrast, offer a whole new perspective on the world, but one that although illustrated with familiar pictures, most firmly engages the reader and prospective lens buyer as a literate gentleman who also practices calligraphy and poetry — even leaving room for him to do so in the "Sunset Picture." In the final image, the promise of an abundance of beautiful things from the text is limited by what is displayed in the illustration: a manual for appreciating flowers that is only capable of displaying one beautiful sight at a time. Here, then, the illustration serves not just to allow the reader to imagine himself as a connoisseur, but to show the limitations of a view without lenses. What is illustrated in these final juxtapositions is the insufficiency of these old forms to truly capture the potential of Sun's lenses.
In A History of Lenses, each of the illustrations functions as a complement to the description of a particular lens or device, seeking to cater to an elite audience by avoiding any direct reference to the products for sale. Rather than market lenses as curious and exciting foreign novelties, A History of Lenses encourages literati consumption in a literati style by making the case that lenses simply make their users better participants in traditional classical culture. The use of familiar images (even if recently familiar, as in the copperplate engraving) corroborate this point, demonstrating that Sun sought to situate the foreign devices within a familiar elite classical cultural context. By the final entries, this approach seems to become somewhat disingenuous, as the descriptions of the optical devices promise to offer new views and experiences even as they are marketed using old, familiar images.
Conclusion: Catering to Ambivalent Perceptions
How did educated men respond to Sun's text and his optical devices? Did they quietly buy a pair of spectacles as they approached their twilight years? Did they tend to use them privately at home, as they might secrete [End Page 95] away a worn copy of Jin Ping Mei? The most conspicuous example of the contemporary reception of this text is found in Li Yu's short story, "A Tower for the Summer Heat," with which this essay began. Although Li Yu's narrator does not direct readers to Sun's shop, sending them instead to Hangzhou-based Zhu Sheng, Sun's one-time teacher and contributor of a preface to A History of Lenses, the descriptive passages included in "A Tower for the Summer Heat" are obviously adapted from A History of Lenses. In that story, Li Yu's narrator characterizes the novel optical devices during this period as "strange and ingenious" (qiqiao),94 celebrating their potential as the stuff of good stories, but also as ways to improve everyday life. The burning and make-up mirror are improvements on standard practice: the former for its elimination of incense smoke, and the latter for its convenient portability. The burning mirror frees one up from having to wait for a servant to have a smoke while drinking.95 Li Yu shortens the description of the telescope to approximate the length of the other entries; nevertheless, it stands out among the other devices as being a mere plaything (except in the context of the story, where it is used to obtain a wife).
With the discovery of A History of Lenses, scholars are freed from having to rely on the scant evidence in gazetteers to speculate about precisely what sorts of lenses Sun Yunqiu was making in 1670s Suzhou. This allows us to use gazetteers in new ways: to reconsider the representation of lenses and of elite responses to them based on the gazetteers' coverage of lenses. Other than the paratexts attached to A History of Lenses and Li Yu's fictional text, gazetteers are the only other sources to reference Sun's lenses specifically. Sun's biography in the Gazetteer of Wu County attests to his influence, stating that "[Sun] authored A History of Lenses and had all of the [craftsmen] in the city manufacture [lenses] according to [his] method. Thereupon, [his lenses] circulated widely in the world."96 The same biography suggests that Sun's contemporaries recognized the superior quality of his lenses: "Those who heard [about Sun's spectacles] did not hesitate to pay a high price to purchase them from him."97 Such claims suggest that not only did Sun's [End Page 96] lenses sell well, but his method was also adopted by craftsmen across Suzhou who might have considered themselves to be making "Sun Yunqiu lenses."
The gazetteers mention Sun most frequently, however, in the context of lists of local artisanal products, where spectacles are singled out as the only optical device worth mentioning. The Gazetteer of Suzhou Prefecture (Suzhou fuzhi) lists Sun and A History of Lenses by name, but lists spectacles (yanjing) arbitrarily between rabbit-hair writing brushes and fans in the "utensils" (qiyong) subsection of "products" (wuchan).98 Sun's biography in the Gazetteer of Wu County (Wuxian zhi), which was republished into the twentieth century, includes basic information about Sun's life and A History of Lenses and includes again lists spectacles under the category of "utensils," this time between fan-related paraphernalia and gauze kerchiefs.99 In these gazetteers, Sun and his products are treated in the same way as any other artisan and his crafts. Following another entry in the Gazetteer of Suzhou Prefecture that lists a number of accomplished local artisans who excel at making such things as writing implements, tea service, and sheepskin lanterns, there is a comment that reads: "Recently there was also a student (zhusheng) named Sun Yunqiu who excelled at making spectacles. He wrote A History of Lenses (1 vol.), and he was as famous as Qian Baochu who made writing brushes and Xiang Tiancheng who made clay figurines."100 These examples demonstrate that throughout the Qing dynasty, Sun's name was the most closely associated with spectacles in Suzhou. Although his student status and book are mentioned, and the latter, at least, seems to have been crucial to his ability to promote his brand, he was nevertheless remembered as an artisan — a maker of utensils. Although Sun succeeded in achieving fame, the significant effort he exerted to market his lenses to a literati audience may have convinced them of the value of his lenses, but not of his literati credentials.
Other sources can give us a sense of the range of elite reactions to lenses in this period. The quintessential early Qing example of a classically educated skeptic who rejected lenses is the literatus, [End Page 97] philosopher, and amateur painter Fang Yizhi (1611–71). In his Brief Account of the Principles of Things (1664, Wuli xiaoshi), Fang criticized both the telescope and the camera obscura, dismissing the former as insufficiently subtle for understanding the true profound nature of light, and the latter as useful only for helping to depict the details of flowers and insects.101 Fang rejected these optical devices because of how they instrumentalized vision in favor of what was merely physically visible at the expense of the larger universe in which perception functioned. And as a literatus-amateur painter, who avoided any semblance of the mimetic realism associated with highly skilled professional painters, it may be expected that he would have rejected any device used as a painting aid. Fang's well-known comments epitomize an elite intellectual's mistrust of less-common optical devices, and serves at least as rhetorical rejection given that his thoughts on the common presence of spectacles are unknown.
An alternative contemporary response to lenses can be found in a pentasyllabic ancient-style poem by the Confucian thinker Chen Que (style Qianchu, 1604–77). Hailing from Haining (Zhejiang province), Chen Que sought to revise late Ming Confucian thought associated with Wang Yangming to purge it of subjectivism, which he attributed to Buddhist influence. He argued instead for "a monistic ontology and a ritualistic approach to cultivating morals."102 Even as Chen sought to purge Confucianism of Buddhist influence, Ming developments, and heretical texts, his positive assessment of the possibilities of the material world, along with his refusal to discard the concrete in favor of the abstract, led him to accept and celebrate corrective lenses. In philosophical terms, he considered lens making to be a legitimate way to tap into nature and the Great Dao, the "natural order of things."
Titled "On Western Lenses" (Ti xiyang jing), the poem extols the many virtues of spectacles and offers impressions of other optical devices as well:
The vast heavens shine constantly;the sun and moon move without ceasing,People receive their brightness, [End Page 98] and the two eyes attend to their duties.Yet so soon do they lament the decline of their vision,just as the midday sun must set.Who can wield Duke Luyang's halberd [to turn back time]?103Have not Western methods already achieved this?Skillfully grinding glass lenses,fitting each according to the eye's strength.One by one, eyes are restored to their original brightness,and the finest details are examined without loss.But that's not all: they make the far-off near,so that a hundred li seems like a mere foot.They also make the minute visible:how startling to see a flea the size of a cicada.This principle seems like a recurring illusion,can this be the natural order of things?104Although our former sages were intelligent,they did not make full use of foreigners:The Great Dao is inherently limitless;it seeks talent even unto Western countries.They first submitted to Wanli's [1563–1620] authority,and enjoyed considerable imperial favor.Do not make this out to be a humble skill,and cause it to be suspected of bias.105
This poem praises spectacles as the best type of optical device: the first stanza of the poem describes spectacles that correct vision for the elderly, analogizing the daily setting of the sun to the natural decline of vision over the span of a life. The power of lenses to restore vision is heralded [End Page 99] as exercising dominion over time, with an analogy to Duke Luyang's reversal of the sun with his halberd in the Huainanzi. Likewise, in the opening lines of the second stanza, clear lenses "restore" (huan) the eyes "to their original brightness" (chuguang). In the second stanza, Chen only briefly references both a telescope and a magnifying glass, suggesting that revealing the minute or making the distant appear close are illusions that are not central to understanding the world. The greatest accomplishment of lenses is to conquer time rather than space; he values extending the natural faculties over the full course of a life rather than celebrating the distortions generated by lenses in other contexts. At the end of the poem, in addition to expanding the reach of the Great Dao to include the Western world, Chen presents an argument in favor of craft. That a Confucian thinker would embrace new optical technology as the bearer of the Great Dao in this way provides important clues to how such devices, and knowledge about them, were received outside the court. With his investment in both classicism and the new knowledge made possible through these optical devices, Chen Que may be understood as a model reader of A History of Lenses.
Although A History of Lenses does address the relationship of new optical technology to classical learning, this hybrid text — part advertisement, part celebration of traditional literati arts — focuses more on aesthetic appreciation. In leaving room between the descriptions and the illustrations for multiple interpretations, Sun is able to cater to both skeptics like Fang Yizhi and enthusiasts like Chen Que. With the non-technical knowledge it presents about the various lenses and optical devices, A History of Lenses weaves novel text together with familiar yet allusive images to form a delightful visual experience of reading and looking, scrutinizing and deciphering. The optical devices hover at the edges of the catalogue: between the reader and the text, beneath the dense illustrations or poems, and finally beyond, in Sun's workshop. The aura that the text stirs up around these devices cultivates a desire for them that would not have been possible had they been referentially pictured in diagrams, or merely described without the accompanying poems and inscriptions. This treatment therefore needs to be integrated into the future scholarship on visuality (the social aspect of vision) in seventeenth-century [End Page 100] print culture, a topic that is receiving increasing attention among both literary and art historians.106
While contemporary sources offer a wide range of creative attempts to incorporate lenses and optical devices into writing, finding an appropriate way to assimilate them into the realm of visual representation seems to have presented a greater challenge. A full assessment of optical devices in late Ming and early Qing art and visual culture is far outside the scope of this paper, but even among known works, the seemingly common spectacles are only very rarely found in either portraits or genre paintings.107 The illustrations in A History of Lenses deliberately do not depict its items for sale, as was typical in sale catalogues, and as such, the text-image relationships in A History of Lenses resonate with the rhetorical ambiguity of its title to offer readers, critical and curious alike, a tasteful amalgam of the strange and the familiar. The condition of being simultaneously brand new and already antiquated characterizes Sun Yunqiu's attempt to anchor his lenses in various established classical traditions — to give them a history, as it were. Evidence in the gazetteers suggests that Sun's lenses sold well, likely thanks to some combination of his expertise and his compelling catalogue, even if his literati identity was ultimately subsumed into his craft. A more careful look at A History of Lenses allows us to understand the aspect of his project that can be seen only through pictures and poetry: the persona of the scholar-artisan that he went to such lengths to create in order to sell optical devices in Suzhou. [End Page 101]
S.E. Kile is an Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan.
Kristina Kleutghen is an Assistant Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Washington the University, Saint Louis.
|Dong Tianmushan zhi||東天目山志|
|dushu wanjuan yan sheng hua||讀書萬卷眼生花|
|fa mo shen yan, qiao mo ji yan||法莫神焉, 巧莫及焉|
|Jin Ping Mei||金瓶梅|
|pingmian er jian wei shenyuan||平面而見為深遠|
|Ti Xiyang jing||題西洋鏡|
|Xi Tianmushan zhi||西天目山志|
|yuan shi hua||遠視畫|
* We would like to thank Tong Chang (Washington University in St. Louis) and Chen Yanmei (Shanghai Library) for their assistance in obtaining images of the text; Sheng Xiwen and Ad Dudink for sharing their expertise in seal script and Jesuit names; the Michigan Society of Fellows and the Getty Research Institute for supporting this research; and our anonymous reviewers, Maram Epstein, and Tobie Meyer-Fong for their challenging questions and invaluable suggestions."
1. In the first edition, with a 1658 preface by Du Jun, the plot pivots on innovative use of a telescope, but the text does not include mention of other optical devices. The Xiaoxian ju edition, a later Qing edition that was probably revised by Li Yu, and the one most often reproduced in modern editions, includes descriptions of a number of optical devices adapted directly from Sun's catalogue. Li Yu, Li Yu quan ji, vol. 9, chap. 3; Li Yu, A Tower for the Summer Heat, 3–40, especially 16–20 and 19n8.
2. Needham, "Light (Optics)"; Wang Jinguang, "Qingchu guangxue yiqi zhizaojia: Sun Yunqiu," 58; Needham and Lu, "The 'Optick Artists' of Chiangsu"; Wang Bing, "Ming Qing shiqi Xifang jindai guangxue de chuanru"; McDermott, "Chinese Lenses and Chinese Art," 9–29; Purtle, "Scopic Frames."
3. Sun's biography containing the lens list in the 1691 Gazetteer of Wu County (Wuxian zhi) is translated in Needham and Lu, "'Optick Artists'." The list was later reproduced in Gu Lu's 1842 book about Suzhou, Tongqiao yizhuo lu, 156, and cited by McDermott, "Chinese Lenses and Chinese Art," 13, who speculates about the many other types of devices left out of the biography.
4. Sun Chengsheng, "Ming Qing zhi ji Xifang guangxue zhishi zai Zhongguo de chuanbo ji qi yingxiang." The table of contents for A History of Lenses is followed by a paragraph listing ten additional types that are neither described or mentioned further because Sun states that they are rarely used or considered mere "playthings" (wanju), thus categorically distinguishing them from the implicitly more serious devices in the text. In this article, we use "spectacles" rather than "eyeglasses" to underscore the fact that glass was typically not used for the lenses.
5. Yu Sanle includes the text of the poems in the illustrations and mentions the basic contents of a few images, and Cheng-hua Wang includes Sun's single illustration, but neither offers significant analysis (Yu Sanle, Wangyuanjing yu Xifeng Dongjian, 88–98; Cheng-Hua Wang, "A Global Perspective on Eighteenth-Century Chinese Art and Visual Culture," 386–87.)
8. Jia Jianxun, "Woguo zhizao wangyuan jing diyi ren Bo Jue jiqi yu Xixue guanxi zhi kaobian"; Shi Yunli, "Cong wanqi dao kexue"; Chiu Chunglin, "Wan Ming yilai de Xiyang jing yu shixue ganguan de kaifa."
13. Broad accounts of the development of lens technology, production, and circulation in imperial China can be found in Needham, "Light (Optics)"; Needham and Lu, "'Optick Artists'"; McDermott, "Chinese Lenses," 11–17; and Chiu Chunglin, "Wan Ming yilai de Xiyang jing yu shixue ganguan de kaifa."
17. Shirayama Sekiya, Megane no shakaishi (Tokyo: Daiyamondosha, 1992), 93–102, from data initially compiled in Nagazuma Yoko, TMsen yushutsunyūhin sūryM ichiran (Tokyo: S Mbunsha, 1987), cited in McDermott, "Chinese Lenses," 12, 27n26. Duan Benlo and Zhang Qifu, Suzhou shougongye shi, 116.
22. The following biographical detail is drawn from the prefaces themselves and Sun Chengsheng, "Ming Qing zhi ji Xifang guangxue," 364–65, which also includes their full text.
23. Ad Dudink has suggested that Qian Fugu may be an early name of Michele Ruggieri (1543–1607), who left China in 1588 (personal communication, 1 April 2016).
25. In addition to Zhu Sheng, these include Yu Tianshu (Tongxi), Gao Yishang (Xiling), and Chen Tianqu (Qiantang).
27. Cao Yunyuan and Li Gengyuan, (Minguo) Wuxian zhi, juan 75, part 2, Liezhuan yishu er, 4a.
36. Bo Juyi, Huang Tingjian, and other poets described vision waning in old age as a result of overtaxing the eyes by reading books. For example, a line from Li Zhaoqi's (1053?–1110?) "Presented to Zichang [Deng Xunwu, 1055–1119], first of two poems" reads, "After reading ten thousand volumes, eyes grow blurred" (dushu wanjuan yan sheng hua). In "Lejing ji," in Qinding siku quanshu, jibu, bieji. Vol. 4, 2a. Huang Tingjian, in his "Matching the rhyme of Yuanshi [Fan Wen], Diseased Eyes," writes, "Daoist practitioners often lament that they have not yet attained an enlightened mind, while Confucian scholars are passionate about their reading-book eyes (dushu yan)." Huang Tingjian, Huang Tingjian shiji zhu, 2.675.
37. For the full original text of each description, see Sun Chengsheng, "Ming Qing zhi ji Xifang guangxue."
39. The term "zhifei" means "to know the error of one's ways." In the "Yuan Dao" (Originating in the Way) chapter of the Huainanzi, Qu Boyu is described as regretting his actions for the past forty-nine years upon turning fifty. Subsequently "zhifei" refers to someone who has wisely realized the error of his past ways at the age of fifty. Liu An and Major, The Huainanzi, 51 (juan 1, verse 11).
41. This translation is tentative, as the archaizing script used here is difficult to decipher. We are grateful to Professor Sheng Xiwen of Renmin University for his assistance with the transcriptions of the characters on the scepter and flaming rock (personal communication, 12 April 2016.)
45. In the late Ming and early Qing, muli also denoted an intangible, invisible quality valued in a connoisseur and an aspect of one's persona that a portraitist aspired to capturing in a painting: Clunas, Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China, 129; Vinograd, Boundaries of the Self, 15.
47. We have been unable to decipher the two-character signature that follows the couplet.
48. Graham, trans., The Book of Lieh-Tzu, 96; juan 5 Tang wen. A similar illustration of a butianshi appears in the earliest edition of Supplement to Journey to the West (Xiyoubu, 1641): see Hegel, "Picturing the Monkey King."
50. After climbing the mountain, Confucius asked Yan to identify a distant white object, which Yan thought was a white cloth, but which Confucius identified as a white horse. Upon descending the mountain, the young man's hair turned white, his teeth fell out, and he died not long after.
54. Rusk, "The Rogue Classicist," 178.
56. Engagement with the telescope (or perceived lack thereof) has been taken as a measure of scientific curiosity in Huff, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution; a more nuanced view can be found in Florence C. Hsia, Sojourners in a Strange Land.
59. The preface is translated in Zhishan Zhang, "Johann Adam Schall von Bell and His Book On Telescopes," 687–88.
76. Although the handled form can be found more often during the Tang and Song Dynasties, handles were never popular and seem to have typically connoted a foreign rather than domestic form: Trousdale, "A Chinese Handle-Bearing Mirror from Northern Afghanistan," 12–15; Xiaoneng Yang, "A Han Bronze Mirror and Gilt Bronze Stand in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art," 14–23.
78. They worked together on multiple projects, such as the chuanqi play, Qinlou yue: Zhu Suchen, Qinlou yue. See for example the text identifying him as the illustrator on the first image of Yunduan et al., Yangzhou meng chuanqi.
82. Schall von Bell, Yuanjing shuo, 15b–16a. Early modern European painters' use of the camera obscura, although acknowledged, remains controversial regarding the extent to which perceived artistic ingenuity was in fact a product of the device. Scholarship on the moral implications of the device in the European context is summarized and expanded upon in Hunter, "'Mr. Hooke's Reflecting Box'."
89. The original text reads: "There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone." Legge, trans., Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean, 384.
92. Stafford, Terpak, and Poggi, eds., Devices of Wonder, 184–91, illustrated p. 186.
97. "Liezhuan yishu er," in Wuxian zhi 80 juan , juan 75, p. 5b.
98. Suzhou fuzhi 150 juan, juan 18, 34a.
100. "Zazhi wu" (Miscellaneous records, part 5), in Suzhou fuzhi 150 juan, juan 149, 11b–12a.
103. The reference to Duke Luyang is from the sixth chapter of the Huainanzi (lanming [Surveying Obscurities]); translated in John S. Major, trans., The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 215, chapter 6 "Surveying Obscurities," part 1.
104. For Chen Que, wuze, understood as "the natural order of things," relates to the Confucian practice of examining the natural world to arrive at an understanding of moral truth.
105. "Bias" (bici) appears, for example, in the Mencius, where Mencius replies to Gong Sun Chou's query: "What do you mean by "an insight into words"? "From biased words I can see wherein the speaker is blind." Chen Que and Wu Qian, Chen Que ji, vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju, 1979), 668; Lau, Mencius, Book II, Part A, 33.
107. McDermott ("Chinese Lenses and Chinese Art," 11–12) mentions and illustrates a scholar wearing spectacles in the undated late Ming genre painting Thriving Festival of the Southern Capital (Nandu fanhua tu, National Museum of China). A key portrait that requires significant additional study is Shi Qu's (act. 1796–1820) 1797 copy of Zeng Jing's (1564–1647) self-portrait of the artist holding glasses, published in Marshall P.S. Wu, The Orchid Pavilion Gathering, vol. I, 258–61; vol. II, 128–29.