Encyclopedia on Classic Chinese Technology

The Exploitation of the Works of Nature (天工开物) is an encyclopedia on ancient Chinese technology, compiled by Song Yingxing (宋应星), a Ming Dynasty scholar and engineer, published in May 1637, but destroyed by Manchus who originated in Tunguska and entered China’s northeast via Korean peninsula.

After more than 200 years of Manchu reign, Chinese became rather ignorant of most ancient knowledge, including the book The Exploitation of the Works of Nature.

Fortunately, some copies were secretly brought to Japan, hand-copied in the 17th century and eventually printed out in the 18th century.

It was only after Manchu’s reign ended in 1911, Chinese have realized the existence of this book when the copies brought back from Japan.

The Exploitation of the Works of Nature consists of a total of 18 volumes with 123 illustrations.

The List of the Encyclopedia Chapters

Agriculture, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering,
Sericulture and textile technology,
Agriculture and milling processes,
Salt technology,
Sugar technology,
Ceramics industry,
Bronze metallurgy,
Transportation; ships and carts,
Iron metallurgy,
Coal, vitriol, sulfur, and arsenic,
Oil technology,
Metallurgy of silver, lead, copper, tin, and zinc,
Military technology,
Fermented beverages,
Pearls and jade.

Selected Original Illustrations from the Book

China’s Ocean Diving Suit and Oxygen Mask Developed During the Southern Song and the Ming Dynasties:

China’s Pearl Fishing Technology Developed During the Southern Song and the Ming Dynasties

Traditional Chinese Papermaking Process


Ady adrian (Jan 22, 2016)
This book should be made public and translated into other languages

All Things Chinese
The encyclopaedia was just one of a large number of book titles, mainly in science, technology, martial arts and Daoism, confiscated and burned by the Manchus when they ruled China, as they couldn’t understand and feared the knowledge would be used to against them. 

Ady adrian
Sadly old books were destroyed frequently. Egipt Biblioteca from Alexandria was destroyed by Muslims, l heard while in Tibet Dalai Lama also destroyed some old books, in America Spanish Christian priest destroyed Maya books. 

All Things Chinese
That’s why we are constantly awed or puzzled by some remains of the old civilisations. The backward force in humanity just like the dark side in a person, it’s very destructive.  

Aquil A Rahman
Who were the Manchus? Were they Nomadic tribes?

I recall that the history of Genghis Khan was kept from the Mongolian people for nearly 8 centuries.

All Things Chinese
They were a group of people mainly migrated to China’s northeast from Tunguska in Siberian in the 14th and 15th centuries, joined by a small number of Mongols, as well as some local Chinese outlaws. 

yuky Lee
Burned books might have low values. 

All Things Chinese
Manchu emperors were not on the position to judge the value of the Chinese classics. Qianlong was the guy destroyed more classic documents than anyone else in human history, including the original records of the Ming Dynasty. Anything he and his culture couldn’t understand and don’t want to face up would be thrown into the fire by him. 

yuky Lee
It was so unfortunate and lawless. 

All Things Chinese
Yes, it’s a tragedy. But laws can’t prevent such tragedy to happen by themselves. Think about Indian culture. I believe early European settlers did live by their own laws. 

yuky Lee

Manchus were still on the stone age. Their political system was backward. 

All Things Chinese
The systematic burning of the books by Qianlong and in fact during the entire Qing dynasty has little to do with political system but everything to do with the conflict between two civilisations.

The early Manchu culture from the day it was formed was all about the raid: looting (not producing) food and livestock from the horsebacks and capturing local people to turn them into slave labours. That was how the core members of the Manchu tribes stormed their way from Siberia to China.

They thus had a deep fear instead of an appreciation of a more sophisticated culture that they couldn’t understand and the power behind which they felt they would not be able to control.

These people had never experienced the hardship, excitement and power of creation of either tangible or intangible products, thus there was no problem for them to easily destroy other people’s houses and farmlands that they could use, there was certainly even less problem for them to destroy other people’s arts and technologies that they didn’t know how to use. 

But on the other hand, even some much more sophisticated civilisations also have a fear of other cultures and try all their can to destroy the native ones.

It happened in Australia too. When today the descendants of the settlers celebrate the landing of the First Fleet from the British Empire, the indigenous people are grieving over the arrival of the First Feet of the UK colonists which resulted in the forced assimilation and stolen generation.
If a civilisation can only survive by getting rid of all other cultures, clearly this civilisation is not yet a civilised one.  

Today’s Australians and the government have made a great effort to correct the past wrong, including offering an apology. Same in Canada. Yet in China, some descendants of the Manchus try to justify the atrocity committed by their ancestors by distorting Chinese history and misrepresenting Chinese culture through mass media and TV dramas, with the help of the government out of certain political needs.

While Chinese nation’s resurrection and Chinese culture to become part of the world’s mainstream are inevitable to happen in a few decades (after some further setbacks), I do believe it is important to make sure what China has contributed to the global community will be the positive aspects in the genuine classic Chinese civilisation (benevolence, inclusiveness, refined simplicity, personal integrity and self-respect), not the Manchu-Mongol’s spirit of blood-thirsty wolf-worship, their pleasure in cultural genocide and their longing for the return of a slavery/surf system.    

You are most welcome to leave your comments below