Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph W. Dauben

Subject Categories

History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine


Astronomical Bureau, He Guozong, Hereditary mathematician families, Qing dynasty


This dissertation presents a research that relied on the online Archive of the Grand Secretariat at the Institute of History of Philology of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan and many digitized archival materials to reconstruct the hereditary mathematician families of the Astronomical Bureau in Qing China. The research found several patterns and strategies that these hereditary mathematician families exhibited during their long careers at the Astronomical Bureau. It found that family networks remained the most important channel that the Astronomical Bureau used to recruit new members until the last days of the Qing dynasty. Moreover, professional mathematicians at the Astronomical Bureau were willing to learn new knowledge--including switching from the Chinese traditional Great Concordance system of calendar making to the New Western Method introduced by European Jesuit mathematicians--and continue sending their descendants to work for the Astronomical Bureau as long as their families were properly rewarded.

This dissertation chooses the family of He Guozong, one of the most famous mathematicians of the early Qing period, as its representative case, because of the richness of the records related to the He family and the roles it played in several important junctures of the history of the Astronomical Bureau. Familial connection became a cause of the stagnation of the Astronomical Bureau in the late eighteen century. However, the dissertation uses the case study of superintendent Jingzheng and the hereditary mathematician families in the first half of the nineteenth century to show that a capable administrator and a strictly implemented periodical examination system had effectively stimulated competition among mathematician families and ousted the old and incompetent ones, such as the He family.