Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li T'ien-ching

LI T'ien-ching 李天經 (T. 仁常, 性參, 長德), 1579–1659, official, was a native of Wu-ch'iao, Hopei, descendant of a family of officials and scholars. His grandfather, Li I 李懿 (T. 省齋, chin-shih of 1544), served as intendant of the Hsi-ning Circuit, Kansu; and his father, Li Ju-fêng 李如峰 (西軒) held a post in the Banqueting Court. Li T'ien-ching received the degree of chü-jên in 1603 and that of chin-shih in 1613, followed by appointment as prefectural director of schools in K'ai-fêng, Honan. After several promotions he was, at the beginning of the T'ien-ch'i reign-period (1621–28), made prefect of Tsinan, Shantung. Later he went home to look after his aged mother who died a few days after his arrival. Shortly thereafter his father died and Li remained at home to observe the period of mourning. About the year 1628 he was appointed intendant of the Ta-liang Circuit, Honan, and was later promoted to the post of provincial judge of Shensi. In 1632 Hsü Kuang-ch'i [q. v.], in a memorial to the throne, suggested Li as a desirable person to take charge of the Calendrical Bureau (曆局), at Peking. But as Li could not be spared from his post in Shensi, Hsü recommended instead (November 22, 1632) Chin Shêng 金聲 (T. 正希, 子駿, chin-shih of 1628, 1598–1645), who also declined on account of ill health. A year later (October 21, 1633) Hsü memorialized the throne, again recommending Li for the past, who was then serving as an assistant financial commissioner of Shantung.

After Hsü's death Li was appointed to the Calendrical Bureau, in which he served for ten years (1634–44). By this time the translation into Chinese of Western calendrical methods, under the direction of Jacques Rho (see under Han Lin) and Schall von Bell (see under Yang Kuang-hsien) was well under way, and early in 1635 the last instalment of the translations was presented to the throne. The entire collection of works on the calendar (three times submitted to the throne by Hsü Kuang-ch'i and twice by Li) was printed under the title 崇禎曆書 Ch'ung-chên li-shu, in 137 chüan (including two tables). It was reprinted many times under various titles, such as 西洋新法曆書 Hsi-yang hsin-fa li-shu, and 新法算書 Hsin-fa suan-shu, 100 chüan, the latter being the name under which it was copied into the Ssŭ-k'u Manuscript Library (see under Chi Yün). Thereafter the Bureau began the construction of quadrants, globes, telescopes, and other astronomical instruments, and from time to time submitted information on the calendar to the throne. During this period Li T'ien-ching was twice raised in rank, being first given the title of provincial judge of Shantung (1636) and later director of the Banqueting Court (1638). In the hope of remedying the financial difficulties of the government he memorialized the throne on the opening of mines according to methods suggested in the work 坤輿格致 K'un-yü ko-chih, 3 + 4 chüan, by Schall von Bell, which Li submitted to the throne in two instalments in 1639. It seems that no action was taken by the government on this matter.

After fourteen years (1629–43) of efforts to reform the existing calendar the government was finally convinced of the superiority of Western methods of calculation. But before the new system could be adopted the capital fell to Li Tzŭ-ch'êng [q. v.]. Li T'ien-ching retired to his native place until he was recalled in 1644 by the Ch'ing House which appointed him a commissioner in the Transmission Office. But he soon resigned and returned to his home where he died in 1659.


[Wu-ch'iao hsien-chih (1673) 5/2a, 6/7b, 9a, 14a, 10/3b; Ch'ung-chên li-shu, 修曆緣起 passim; Juan Yüan [q. v.], Ch'ou-jên chuan (1935), pp. 409–17.]

J. C. Yang