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The Wonders of China

KIRCHER, ATHANASIUS. China Monumentis. illustrata.

Amsterdam: Jansson, 1667.

Folio. Engraved title, 2 folding maps, portrait, 23 plates (2 folding), five supplied from another copy, and 59 half-page text engravings. [14], 237, [11] pp. Early calf, morocco label, edges sprinkled red. Joints slightly tender at top, some foxing, occasional browning. A fine, fresh copy.

FIRST EDITION. One of the grandest and most important works on China up to its time, Kircher’s China Illustrata (China, Illustrated Through Its Monuments, Both Sacred and Profane) inaugurated the late 17th-century age of European fascination with China.

This first edition is in Latin; the book was quickly reissued in Dutch, English, and French. Kircher’s wide-ranging and magnificently illustrated work covers Chinese language, history, religion, government, architecture, mechanical marvels, and natural wonders. The work brought to the attention of large numbers of Westerners the wonders and curiosities of the Far East including foot binding, Confucianism, the Great Wall, lacquer, bird’s nest soup, and tea. One of the most distinguished German scholars of the 17th century, Kircher (1601-1680) is sometimes called “the last Renaissance man.” He made wide-ranging contributions in oriental studies, geology, and medicine. He attempted to collect and catalogue the world’s knowledge, employing a vast network of correspondents to gather information.

This book represents a milestone in the study of Chinese language. Kircher learned from missionary Michael Boym of the now-famous Nestorian inscription at His-an fu, which showed that Christian missionaries reached China in A.D. 781. The transcription and transliteration of the His-an fu inscription, printed here for the first time, make up “the first Chinese vocabulary ever printed in the West . . . the standard text for the study of Chinese until the nineteenth century” (Merrill).

This is a very handsome, fresh copy in an early unrestored binding.