The Tartar Moment

My first book project, The Tartar Moment: Martino Martini and the Globalization of Chinese Cosmopolitics argues that the Manchu conquest of China in the 1640s transformed the politics of the sciences in early modern Europe.

The “Tartar war” between the weakened Ming dynasty, peasant rebels, and the Manchus—a semi-nomadic population from northeast Inner Asia—was experienced first-hand by several Jesuit missionaries proselytising in China. During the unstable interregnum, Jesuits sought patronage from disparate warring factions, offering their astronomical expertise to help various pretenders secure the “Mandate of Heaven” to rule legitimately over China, hoping to ensure their mission’s survival. By engaging with Chinese astronomy, and reading local treatises on cosmology, agriculture, cartography, history, and moral philosophy, and interacting with Chinese scholar-officials and Manchu military commanders, Jesuits learned extensively from local scientific discourses and practices. Between 1653 and 1658, the Italian missionary Martino Martini (1614-1661) served as a mission procurator—responsible for promoting the China mission in Europe—and representative of the new, Manchu-led Qing dynasty. In Europe, Martini published accounts of the Ming-Qing War (1654), China’s geography (1655), and history (1658) with commercial printers, reaching a wide, interconfessional readership. He courted patronage from powerful Habsburg rulers and defended the Jesuits’ involvement in Chinese sciences and politics at an audience with Pope Alexander VII. As The Tartar Moment contends, Martini’s successful mobilisation of disparate political, religious, commercial, and scholarly networks across a turbulent Eurasia enabled his laudatory accounts of Chinese sciences to reach an extraordinarily wide audience. In turn, during the long eighteenth century, European writers drew—often polemically—on Martini’s accounts of Chinese agriculture, astrology, cartography, chronology, cosmology, ethnography, military cultures, and moral philosophy to propose new solutions to contemporary technoscientific and political crises. Thus, The Tartar Moment argues that Manchu and Chinese cultures of knowledge, mediated by Jesuits, occupied an extraordinarily important and underappreciated role in early modern European sciences and politics.

The first chapter examines the social and technological factors that shaped the adoption of gunpowder technology in seventeenth-century China. The chapter explores Martino Martini's account of the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, De Bello Tartarico Historia (1654), which suggests that cavalry played at least as important a role as firearms in the establishment of the Qing Dynasty.

The second explores the role of Martini's geographical description of China, the Novus Atlas Sinensis, published in Amsterdam in 1655 by the renowned Dutch East Indies Company cartographer and print-capitalist Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), in shaping cartographic practices and visual culture in early modern Europe. It is concerned with understanding how the Atlas helped to construct an image of China as a wealthy, civilised, cultured, and above all different-but-not-too-different empire, which distinguished it from the New World, which was often characterised by iconographies of cannibalism, savagery, and incivility.

The third chapter links the history of agriculture to the history of astronomy in the context of the Jesuit China mission. Both reformist Ming Dynasty-literati, such as Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) and later European writers on agriculture, such as François Quesnay (1694-1774) were interested in understanding how the state could harness the power of nature—in all its different, culturally-specific articulations—to build its strength and economic influence. My research looks at how the Jesuits' understanding of the Chinese calendar shaped their perceptions of agriculture in the Middle Kingdom. Read more about this project undertaken at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science here!

The fourth chapter examines how the contestation of the "Mandate of Heaven" in seventeenth-century China affected the credibility of different genres of historical knowledge—material histories, text-based hermeneutics, and astronomical reconstructions—in early modern Europe. The chapter suggests that the highly visible adoption of Chinese astronomical records in European historical scholarship in the early Enlightenment was shaped by an astronomy-centred alignment of interests between the Jesuit missionary Martino Martini (1614-61), the new Manchu regents of China, and secular French scholars.

The final chapter considers the long-lasting impact of the Manchu conquest on the "Enlightenment" in Europe, examining how the appropriation and deployment of Chinese and Manchu cultures of knowledge shifted in Europe between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

A painted portrait of the Jesuit missionary Martino Martini (1614-61). He is wearing a red hat and has a long black beard.

Portrait of Martino Martini S. J. (1614-61), painted by the Walloon artist Michaelina Wautier in 1654.

Portrait of the Ming literature Xu Guangqi

Portrait of the Ming era literatus, philosopher, and Christian convert Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), who was heavily involved in reforming the Chinese calendar under the Chongzhen Emperor.

A 17th century book open across two pages, showing Martini's 1655 general map of China. All of the then-Qing Empire is shown in the map. The top left corner shows a box with well-dressed figures and the text "Imperii Sinarum Nova Descriptio"

Martini's general map of China from Novus Atlas Sinensis (Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu, 1655)

Martini's hometown of Trento, the southernmost Prince-Bishopric of the (German-speaking) Holy Roman Empire, and one of the northernmost Italian-speaking cities in the seventeenth-century