A Bibliography of the Islamic and Chinese Scientific Relationships in Classical Times

by FSTC Published on: 8th September 2008

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In the following bibliography of the Islamic and Chinese scientific relationships in classical times, a list of the main recent works is produced. The researches cover various scientific domains, from mathematics and astronomy to technology, geography and travel accounts. They show the mutual influence between the world of Islam and the Chinese world.


Figure 1: Method of making observation instruments, based mainly on a source from the late Ming Dynasty. Source: Yi Xiang Kao Cheng. (Image in the public domain).

Figure 2: Map of the routes of the Chinese trade, including the silkroad (in red) that extended from China, Central Asia and the Muslim World to reach the Southern Europe. (Source).

  • Chemla, Karine 1992. “Résonance entre démonstration et procédure: Remarques sur le commentaire de Liu Hui (3ème siècle) aux Neuf Chapitres sur les Procédures Mathématiques (1er siècle).” Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident vol. 14: pp. 91-129.
  • Chemla, Karine 1994. “Similarities between Chinese and Arabic Mathematical Writings: (1) Root Extraction.” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy vol. 4: pp. 207-266.
  • Dold-Samplonius, Yvonne, Dauben, Joseph W., Folkerts, Menso, Dalen, Benno van (editors). From China to Paris: 2000 Years of Transmission of Mathematical Ideas. “Boethius, Texte und Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Mathematik und der Naturwissenschaften”, Band 46. Stuttgart: Steiner.
  • Dun, Liu, 2002. “A Homecoming Stranger: Footsteps of the Double-False-Position Method.” In: From China to Paris. 2000 Years Transmission of Mathematical Ideas. Edited by Yvonne Dold-Samplonius, Joseph W. Dauben, Menso Folkerts & Benno van Dalen. Stuttgart: Steiner. [Abstract: Appearing first in the Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures (ca. 50 AD), the Double-False-Position Method spread from China into Central Asia in the Middle Ages and became known as the “Khitan algorithm” [hisâb al-khata’ayn] among Arabic mathematicians. Leonardo Fibonacci (1170?-1250) devoted a separate chapter to this method in his Liber Abaci (1202). When the Jesuits introduced Western mathematical knowledge into China in the early 17th century, they claimed that the Double-False-Position Method was a new technique invented by Western mathematicians and could not be found in the “old text” of the Nine Chapters. This is because ancient Chinese mathematical books had become extremely rare at that time. Therefore when the Double-False-Position Method appeared in the Tongwen suanzhi (1613) and Xijinglu (ca. 1610), it was said that “a stranger came from overseas”].
  • Gazagnadou, D. 1998. “De la différence entre la diffusion du savoir scientifique et celle du savoir technologique: A propos de la rencontre du persan Fazi et d’un lettré chinois.” In: La science dans le monde iranien à l’époque islamique. Edited by Ziva Vesel. Tehran: Institut Français de Recherche en Iran.
  • Ferrand, Gabriel 1916. Relations de voyages et textes géographiques Arabes, Persans et Turcs, relatifs à l’Extrême Orient, du 8ème au 18ème siècles. Traduits, revus et annotés, 2 vols., Paris: Ernest Leroux.
  • Ferrand, Gabriel 1922. Voyages du Marchand Sulayman en Inde et en Chine rédigé en 851; suivi de remarques par Abu Zayd Hasan (vers 916). Paris: Bossard.
  • FSTC 2001. Zheng He – the Chinese Muslim Admiral. Published on www.MuslimHeritage.com.
  • FSTC 2003. The Beginning of the Paper Industry. Published on www.MuslimHeritage.com.
  • Hartner, Willy 1950. “The Astronomical Instruments of Cha-ma-lu-ting, their Identification, and their Relations to the Instruments of the Observatory of Maragha”, Isis vol. 41: pp. 184-194. [Reprinted with additional notes in Willy Hartner, Oriens-Occidens, Hildesheim, 1968, pp. 215-266].
  • Ibn Labban, Kushyar. Introduction to Astrology. Edited and translated by Michio Yano. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1997. Text and Translation, pp. 1-262. Appendix 1: Chinese Text of the Ming-yi tien-wen shu, pp. 263-296; Appendix 2: Index of Arabic Words with Chinese and English Translation, pp. 296-314; Appendix 3: English-Arabic Glossary, pp. 315-323.
  • Kennedy, Edward S. 1987-88. “Eclipse Predictions in Arabic Astronomical Tables Prepared for the Mongol Viceroy of Tibet.” Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften vol. 4: pp. 60-88.
  • Kennedy, E. S. & Hogendijk, Jan P. 1988. “Two Tables from an Arabic Astronomical Handbook for the Mongol Viceroy of Tibet.” A Scientific Humanist. Studies in Memory of Abraham Sachs. Edited by Erle Leichty et al. Philadelphia: S. N. Kramer Fund.
  • Kennedy, Edouard S., Saiyid, Mustafa K., and Van Dalen, Benno 1997. “The Chinese-Uighur Calendar in Tûsî’s Zîj-i Ilkhânî”, Zeitschrift fuer Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften vol. 11: pp. 111-151.
  • King, David A. 1990. “Between Europe and China: Aspects of the Traditions of the Lands of Islam”. In Dall’Europa alla Cina: Contributti per una storia dell’Astronomia. Edited by I. Iannaccone and A. Tamburello. Napoli, pp. 55-66.
  • Lam, Lay Yong 1996. “The Development of Hindu-Arabic and Traditional Chinese Arithmetic.” In: A Festschrift for Nathan Sivin, Part II, in Chinese Science vol. 13: pp. 35-54.
  • [LDI 2008]. Islam in China: A Selected Bibliography of English-Language Publications. Harvard University’s Library Digital Initiative (LDI).
  • Kennedy, Edouard S. 1964. “The Chinese-Uighur Calendar as Described in the Islamic Sources”, Isis, vol. 55: pp. 425-443. [Reprinted in E.S. Kennedy, Colleagues and Former Students 1983. Studies in the Islamic Exact Sciences. Beirut: American University in Beirut, 652-660].
  • Leslie, Donald Daniel, Yang, Daye, and Youssef, Ahmed (editors) 2006. Islam in Traditional China. A Bibliographical Guide. Sankt Augustin – Nettetal, Germany: Institut Monumenta Serica – Steyler Verlag, series ‘Monumenta Serica Monograph’.
  • Leslie, Donald Daniel 1981. Islamic Literature in Chinese, Late Ming and Early Ch’ing. Canberra: The Canberra College of Advanced Education.
  • Leslie, Donald Daniel 1986. Islam in Traditional China : A Short History to 1800. Canberra: The Canberra College of Advanced Education.
  • Lorch, Richard P. 1981. “Al-Khazini’s Balance-Clock and Chinese Steelyard Clepsydra”, Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences vol. 31: pp. 183-189.
  • Ma Ziliang, Isa “Islamic Astronomy in China: Spread and Development”, First ISTAC International Conference on “Islamic Science and the Contemporary World”, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Kuala Lumpur, 9-10 January 2008.
  • Melville, Charles 1994. “The Chinese Uighur Animal Calendar in Persian Historiography of the Mongol Period”, Iran, vol. 32: pp. 83-98.
  • [The Warburg Institute 2006]. Islam & Tibet: Cultural Interactions, An international conference organised by The Warburg Institute, London, 16-18 November 2006. Click here for Abstracts. [The papers on science, technology and medicine include: Anna Akasoy : “Tibet in Islamic Geography and Cartography”, Yossef Rapoport: “Tibet, the Road to China and the Enigmatic Map of India in the Fatimid Book of Curiosities”, Dan Martin: “Byzantine Greek and Islamic Medical System in Contact with Tibet: A Reassessment in View of Recently Available and Relatively Early Sources on Tibetan Medical Eclecticism”, Anya King: “Tibetan Musk and Medieval Arab Perfumery” and Benno van Dalen: “Islamic Astronomy in Northeastern Tibet (14th century)”].
  • Benno van Dalen 1996. “Tables of Planetary Latitude in the Huihui li: Analysis”. The Eighth International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia (Seoul, 26-31 August 1996).
  • Van Dalen, Benno 1997. “Islamic Astronomy in China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (translation and partial revision of a chapter from a book by Kiyosi Yabuuti)”, Historia Scientiarium vol. 7, pp. 11-43.
  • Van Dalen, Benno, and Yano, Michio, 1998. “Islamic Astronomy in China: Two New Sources for the Huihui li (Islamic Calendar)”. In: Highlights of Astronomy, vol. 11B. Edited by J. Andersen. Dordrecht: Reidel, pp. 697-700.
  • Van Dalen, Benno 1999. “Tables of Planetary Latitude in the Huihui li. Part II”. In: Current Perspectives in the History of Science in East Asia. Edited by Yung Sik Kim and Francesca Bray. Seoul: Seoul National University Press, pp. 315-329.
  • Van Dalen, Benno 2000. “A Non-Ptolemaic Islamic Star Table in Chinese”. In: Sic itur ad astra. Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften. Festschrift für Paul Kunitzsch zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Menso Folkerts and Richard P. Lorch. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 147-176.
  • Van Dalen, Benno 2002. “Islamic Astronomical Tables in China: The Sources for the Huihui li”. In History of Oriental Astronomy. Proceedings of the Joint Discussion-17 at the 23rd General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, organised by the Commission 41 (History of Astronomy) held in Kyoto, August 25-26, 1997. Edited by S.M. Razaullah Ansari. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 19-31.
  • Van Dalen, Benno 2002. “Islamic and Chinese Astronomy under the Mongols: a Little-Known Case of Transmission”. In: Yvonne Dold-Samplonius, Joseph W. Dauben, Menso Folkerts & Benno van Dalen, eds., From China to Paris. 2000 Years Transmission of Mathematical Ideas. Series: Boethius 46, Stuttgart: Steiner, 2002, pp. 327-356. [Abstract: This paper describes the exchange of astronomical knowledge between the Iranian part of the Islamic world and the Yuan dynasty in the latter third of the 13th century, when both territories were part of the Mongol world empire. Only few Chinese astronomers are known to have been active at the Ilkhan observatory in Maragha, which was founded by Hülegü Khan in 1258. These Chinese are the most likely source for the technical descriptions of the so-called Chinese-Uighur calendar used in Iran from the late 13th century onwards and first described in al-Tūsī’s Īlkhānī Zīj. On the other hand, probably at least ten Iranian scholars were employed at the Islamic Astronomical Bureau in Beijing, which was established by the first Mongol emperor of China, Khubilai Khan, in 1271 and operated parallel to the Chinese Astronomical Bureau for several centuries. At the Islamic Bureau extensive new observations were made and a “zīj” (astronomical handbook with tables) in Persian was compiled. This work was translated into Chinese in the early Ming dynasty (1383), together with Kūshyār’s Introduction to Astrology, and was the subject of research by numerous later scholars].
  • Van Dalen, Benno, reseearch project (2004). Investigation of the achievements of the Muslim astronomers who were brought to China by the Mongols in the early Yuan Dynasty (around 1270).
  • The available sources for this investigation are:

1. The Huihui-li (c. 1384), a Chinese translation of a presumably Persian astronomical handbook with tables (a so-called zîj), known to have been available in China in the beginning of the Yuan. The Huihui-li is extant in a number of somewhat different versions, apparently all deriving from a restoration of the original translation carried out by an officer of the Astronomical Bureau of the Ming dynasty in 1477.

2. The Sanjufînî Zîj, an Arabic astronomical handbook written for the Mongol viceroy of Tibet in 1366.

3. An Arabic or Persian manuscript at the Pulkovo Observatory (near St. Petersburg in Russia), which was obtained in China in the 19th century and contains only a small set of astronomical tables.

Although the sources 1 and 2 are obviously two different works, a mathematical investigation of their planetary tables shows that they must be based on a common predecessor. It turns out that the two sources share values for most of the planetary parameters which are not found in any other Arabic or Persian astronomical handbooks (including those resulting from the extensive observational program at the contemporary Ilkhan observatory in Maragha). It is therefore probable that their common predecessor was a work compiled by the Muslim astronomers who were active at the official Islamic Observatory in the Chinese capital Beijing. The presence in one of the extant versions of the Huihui-li of a large star table independent of Ptolemy’s table in the Almagest also points to original, hitherto unknown Islamic observations. For more details, see Homepage of Benno van Dalen].

  • Van Dalen, Benno 2004. “The Activities of Iranian Astronomers in Mongol China”. In: Sciences, Techniques et Instruments dans le monde Iranien (Xe-XIXe siècle). Actes du colloque tenu à l’Université de Téhéran (7-9 juin 1998) (eds. N. Pourjavady and Z. Vesel), Tehran (Presses Universitaires d’Iran / Institut Français de Recherche en Iran) 2004, pp. 17-28.
  • Van Dalen, Benno 2006. “Islamic Astronomy in Northeastern Tibet (14th century)”. In: Islam & Tibet: Cultural Interactions, An international conference organised by The Warburg Institute, London, 16-18 November 2006. Click here for abstracts. [Abstract: During the last third of the 13th century, the Mongol empire included both China and the Iranian part of the Islamic world. As a result, an exchange of scholars and scholarly information became possible. Khubilai Khan founded an Islamic Astronomical Bureau with observatory in his new capital near present-day Beijing in 1271, which was headed by Zhamaluding (presumably Jamal al-Din al-Bukhari), and at which a large number of other Muslim astronomers were active. The main surviving source for the achievements of the Bureau is a Chinese translation of an Islamic astronomical handbook with tables, called the Huihuilifa, which was made in the early Ming dynasty (1383) and was later reworked in Nanjing in 1477, as well as in Seoul in 1442. It was finally included in the Annals of the Ming Dynasty (in a distorted version) and in the Sikuquanshu. The Huihuilifa turns out to be based on a set of astronomical parameters that are mostly unknown from any other Islamic astronomical sources and which are therefore very probably the result of Zhamaludings observational program at the Islamic Astronomical Bureau. In recent years a Persian manuscript in St. Petersburg and an Arabic one from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris have been found to be related to the Huihuilifa. The St. Petersburg manuscript appears to have been a document used in the preparation of the original Chinese translation. The Paris manuscript is an astronomical handbook by the otherwise unknown astronomer al-Sanjufini, who worked for the Mongol viceroy in northeastern Tibet in the 1360s and who based himself heavily on the material which is also included in the Huihuilifa. In my talk I will discuss various characteristics of this work and show through which route the knowledge it contains may have reached Tibet].
  • Van Dalen, Benno 2006. “Transmission of Islamic astronomical knowledge to Mongol China” in David Pingree Memorial Seminar, Empires and Exact Sciences in Pre-modern Eurasia 29–30 May 2006, Leiden University. [Abstract: In the last third of the 13th century both China and the Iranian part of the Islamic world belonged to the Mongol world empire. A large number of Muslim scholars, craftsmen, and military experts were brought to China and were employed by the rulers of the Yuan dynasty. In 1271 emperor Khubilai Khan founded an Islamic Astronomical Bureau in his capital Beijing, of which Zhamaluding (Jamal al-Din) from Bukhara became the first director and at which around forty other persons were active as researchers, teachers or administrators. Hardly any direct evidence is available for the activities at this Astronomical Bureau. However, various sources in Chinese, Arabic and Persian, all dating from 1360 and later, indicate that an extensive observational program had been carried out under Zhamaluding and an astronomical handbook with tables, a so-called zij, compiled. In this talk I will introduce the sources that allow us to partially reconstruct the original Persian handbook compiled in the early Yuan dynasty and discuss some aspects of the interaction of the Muslim astronomers in Beijing with their Chinese colleagues].
  • Wikipedia, History of science and technology in China.
  • Yabuuti, Kyosi 1977. “Islamic Astronomy in China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties”, Historia Scientiarum vol. 7: pp. 11-44.
  • Yabuuti, Kyosi 1987. “The Influence of Islamic Astronomy in China”. From Deferent to Equant: A Volume of Studies in the History of Science in the Ancient and Medieval Near East in Honour of E.S. Kennedy. New York, pp. 547-559.
  • Yano, Michio 2002. “The First Equation Table for Mercury in the Huihui li”. In: S. M. Razaullah Ansari, ed., History of Oriental Astronomy. Proceedings of the Joint Discussion-17 at the 23rd General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, organised by the Commission 41 (History of Astronomy), held in Kyoto, August 25-26, 1997. Chapter 1.3. Dordrecht, Kluwer, 2002, pp. 33-43. [Abstract: During the early Yuan dynasty, in the last third of the 13th century, many Muslim scholars were brought to China by the Mongol rulers. A group of astronomers presumably of Iranian origin was active at the Islamic Astronomical Bureau in the Yuan capital near current-day Beijing, which had been founded by emperor Khubilai Khan. The astronomical handbook produced by these astronomers is extant in three different Chinese translations, whereas further traces of it can be found in various Chinese commentaries, an Arabic manuscript from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and a Persian manuscript at the Oriental Institute in St. Petersburg. Recently the research on Islamic astronomy in China has been most actively carried out by the authors of the three publications listed above. In these articles, van Dalen describes the sources available for such studies, Yano shows that one of the planetary equations includes an error also found with al-Bīrūnī, and Shi Yunli discusses the Chinese translation prepared in Korea and instruments that could have been used to verify and extend the original work].

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