Wang Zhenyi: Astronomer, Mathematician, and Poet

Wang Zhenyi: Astronomer, Mathematician, and Poet

Born in 1768 in the Anhui province in China, Wang Zhenyi is remembered as a famous female scientist from the Qing dynasty. She was able to describe the relationship between the lunar and solar eclipses. Zhenyi explored how the equinoxes moved and how to calculate their movement. She made very accurate findings and observations about the movement of the sun, moon and earth.

Despite societal norms which prohibited female education, her grandfather Wang Zhefu, a former governor of Fengchen county and Xuanhua District, taught her astronomy. Her father, Wang Xichen, taught Zhenyi many things, including medicine, geography, and mathematics. In the realm of mathematics, Zhenyi had mastered trigonometry and knew the Pythagorean theorem.

She admired the mathematician Mei Wending. Well-known in the early Qing dynasty, he wrote the book Principles of Calculation. Zhenyi rewrote Principles of Calculation in simpler language, and made it available to others under the title, The Musts of Calculation.

When her grandfather, Wang Zhefu died in 1782 the family traveled to Jiling, close to the Great Wall, for his funeral. They stayed in the region for five years, where she gained extensive knowledge from reading her grandfather’s collection of books as well as learning equestrian skills, archery, and martial arts from the wife of a Mongolian general named Aa.

Wang Zhenyi died in 1797 at age 29 and had no children. One of her contributions was being able to describe her views of celestial phenomena in her article, "Dispute of the Procession of the Equinoxes."

In literature, she left 13 volumes of poetry, prose, prefaces and postscripts written for other works and the natural sciences.

Although she lived in a feudal society, she held a progressive belief that a woman could display her talents to the fullest. Her idea that learning was not just for men, but for men and women was and still is very forward looking.

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