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In the sixth century, an instrument was in use which indicated the course of time by the weight of water, as it gradually came from the beak of a bird and was received into a vessel on a balance, every pound representing a kih. About this time mercury began to be employed, instead of water, which rendered the aid of heat in winter unnecessary. Changes were made also in the relative number of kih for day and night, so as to vary with the seasons.
As in Europe, monks of the Roman church devoted considerable attention to mechanical inventions, especially in the construction of instruments for measuring time for the regulation of their worship and vigils; in like manner, also, Buddhist monks, in their silent retreats, but at an earlier period, similarly occupied themselves, and for the same purposes. Several instruments, designed as time-pieces, the invention of priests, are mentioned in Chinese history. They present nothing novel, however, with the exception of one, which is nothing more than a perforated copper vessel, placed in a tube of water, which gradually filled and sunk every hour, requiring, of course, frequent attention. Although their knowledge of hydrodynamics has ever been very limited, the Chinese appear to have been the first to devise that form of clepsydra to which the term water-clock is alone properly applied; that is to say, composed of apparatus which rendered watching unnecessary by striking the hours. Until the commencement of the eighth century, the persons employed to watch the clepsydra in palaces and public places struck bells or drums every kih; but at this period a clock was constructed, consisting of four vessels, with machinery which caused a drum to be struck by day, and a bell by night, to indicate the hours and watches. No description of the works of this interesting invention can be found. It is possible, however, that the Saracens may have anticipated them in this invention of water clocks.
In the history of the Tong dynasty, (620-907,) it is stated that in the Fahlin country, (which, in this instance, doubtlessly means Persia, though the best living authority amongst the Chinese makes it Judea,) there was a clepsydra on a terrace near the palace, formed of a balance, which contained twelve metallic or golden balls, one of which fell every hour on a bell, and thus struck the hours correctly. It is not improbable that this instrument is identical with the celebrated one which the king of Persia sent, in 807, to Charlemagne.
In 980 an astronomer, named Tsiang, made an improvement on all former instruments, and which, considering the period, was a remarkable specimen of art. The machine, which was in a sort of miniature terrace, was ten feet high. divided into three stories, the work being in the middle. Twelve images of men, one for every hour, appeared in turn before an opening in the terrace; another set of automata struck the twelve hours, and the kih, or eighths, of such hours. These figures occupied the lower story; the upper was devoted to astronomy, where there was an orrery in motion, which, it is obvious, must have rendered complex machinery necessary. We are only told that it had oblique, perpendicular, and horizontal wheels, and that it was kept in motion by falling water.
As the Saracens had reached China by sea at the close of the eighth century, and by land at an earlier period, some assistance may have been derived from them in the construction of this instrument; but I am disposed to consider it wholly Chinese. Beckman, after much learned research, ascribes the invention of clocks to the Saracens, and the first
appearance of these instruments in Europe to the eleventh century. Mention may here be made of other instruments of the same description, also constructed about this period. One (which, like the last, united an orrery and clepsydra) was formed in one part like a water-lily; whilst in another were inages of a dragon, a tiger, a bird, and a tortoise, which struck the kih on a drum, and a dozen gods, which struck the hours on a bell, with various other motions, besides a representation of the revolu tion of the heavenly bodies. The machinery of another of these was moved by an under shot water-wheel; its axis was even with the ground, and consequently the frame containing it was partly below the surface. The motions of the sun and moon, stars and planets, were made to revolve around a figure of the earth, represented as a plain from east to west. Images of men struck the hour, and its parts. In this, however, as in all the aforenamed instruments, the sounds struck were always doubtless the same, as the Chinese do not count their hours. Another machine was constructed which also represented the motions of the heavenly bodies. It was a huge, hollow globe, containing lights, and perforated on its surface, so as to afford, in the dark, a good representation of the heavens. This, also, was set in motion by falling water. Subsequently to this, various machines are mentioned, but the brief notices given afford nothing of interest, until we approach the close of the Yuen dynasty, the middle of the fourteenth century. Shungtsing, the last of the race of the great Genghis Khan, who is depicted in history as an effeminate prince, and as having the physiognomy of a monkey, was evidently a man of great mechanical skill, and to the last, when his dominions were slipping from him, and confusion reigned everywhere, he amused himself by making models of vessels, automata, and time pieces. His chief work was a machine contained in a box seven feet high, and half that in width, on the top of which were three small temples. The middle of these temples had fairies holding horary characters, one of which made her appearance every hour. Time was struck by a couple of gods, and it is said they kept it very accurately. In the side temples were representations of the sun and moon, respectively, and from these places genii issued, crossing a bridge to the middle temple, and after ascertaining, as it were, the time of day from the fairies, returning again to their quarters. The motions in this case were, it is thought, effected by springs. An instrument somewhat similar is described as an ornament in the palace of the capital of Corea; it was a clepsydra, with springs, representing the motions of the celestial orbs, and having automata to strike the hour. Since the introduction of European clocks, clepsydras have fallen into disuse. The only one, perhaps, in the empire, is that in the watch tower in the city of Canton; it is of the simplest form, having no movements of any kind, but it is said to keep accurate time.
In dialling, the Chinese have never accomplished anything, being deficient in the requisite knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. It is true, the projection of the shadow of the gnomon was carefully observed at the earliest historic period; but this was for astronomical purposes only.*
* It was by a gnomon that the ancient Chinese endeavored to ascertain the centre of the earth. A measurement of the length of the solstitial shadow, made at Loyang, on the Yellow river, 1200 B. C., was found by Laplace (quoted by Humboldt, in Cosmos, vol. 2, p. 115) to accord perfectly with the theory of the obliquity of the ecliptic, which was only established at the close of the last century.
Proper sun-dials were unquestionably derived from the West; but they were not introduced, as Sir J. F. Davis supposes, by the Jesuits. The Chinese are probably indebted to the Mahomedans for this instrument, although we find an astronomer endeavoring to rectify the clepsydra, by means of the sun's shadow, projected by a gnomon, about a century earlier than the Hegira. There is a sun dial in the Imperial Observatory at Pekin, above four feet in diameter. Smaller ones are sometimes met with in public offices. These were all made under the direction of missionaries of the Roman church, or their pupils. From remote antiquity, a family named Wang, residing in Hiuning, north latitude 29° 53', longitude E. G. 118° 17', in the province of Canhwui, has had the exclusive manufacture of pocket compasses, with which sun-dials are often connected. In most of these, a thread attached to the lid of the instrument serves as a gnomon, without any adaptation for different latitudes, although they are in use in every part of the empire. Another form, rather less rude, is employed by clock-makers for adjusting their timepieces; it is marked with notches, one for each month in the year, to give the gnomon a different angle every month. The Chinese instrument exceeds that of Corea in every respect.
Time is not unfrequently kept by igniting incense sticks, the combustion of which proceeds so slowly and regularly as to answer for tempo. rary use tolerably well.
Hour glasses are scarcely known in China, and only mentioned in dictionaries as instruments employed in Western countries to measure time. A native writer on antiquities says: "The western priest, Limatau, (M. Ricci) made a clock which rendered and struck time a whole year with out error." The clock brought out by Ricci, if not the first seen in China, is the earliest of which mention is made in Chinese history. They subsequently became an article of import, and, as already mentioned, this branch of trade was at one time of considerable value. Clocks and watches of very antique appearance are often met with-specimens of the original models scarcely to be found in any other country; some of the latter, by their clumsy figure, remind one of their ancient name, "Nuremberg eggs;" but their workmanship must have been superior to that of most modern ones, or they would not be found in operation at this late day.
The Chinese must have commenced clock-making at an early period, as none now engaged in the trade can tell when or where it orignated; nor can it be easily ascertained whether their imitative powers alone enabled them to engage in such an undertaking, or whether they are indebted to the Jesuits for what skill they possess. It is certain the disciples of Loyola had for a long time, and until quite recently, in their corps at Pekin, some who were machinists and watch-makers. One of these horologistes complains, in "Les Lettres Edifiante et Curiouse," that his time was so occupied with the watches of the grandees that he had never been able to study the language. Doubtless the fashion which Chinese gentlemen have of carrying a couple of watches, which they are anxious should always harmonize, gave the fathers constant employment. A retired statesman of this province has published a very good account of clocks and watches, accompanied with drawings representing their internal structure, in a manner sufficiently intelligible.
The Chinese divide the day into twelve parts, which are not numbered, but designated by characters termed, rather inaptly, horary. These terms were originally employed in forming the nomenclature of the sexagenary cycle, (2657 B. C.,) which is still in use. It was not until a much later period that the duodecimal division of the civil day come into use, when terms to express them were borrowed from the ancient calendar. The same characters are also applied to the months. The first in the list (meaning son) is employed at the commencement of every cycle, and to the first of every period of twelve years, and also to the commencement of the civil day at 11 p. m., comprising the period between this and 1 a. m. The month which is designated by this term is not the first of the Chinese year, but, singularly enough, it coincides with January. Each of the twelve hours is divided into eight kih, corresponding to quarter hours. This diurnal division of time does not appear to have been in use in the time of Confucius, as mention is made in the spring and autumn annals of the ten hours of the day, which accords with the decimal divisions so long employed in clepsydras, the indices of which were uniformly divided into one hundred parts. A commentator of the third century of our era, in explaining the passage relating to the ten hours, adds a couple more; but even at that time the present horary characters were not employed.
The accompanying diagram represents the form I would recommend as suitable for the dial-plates of clocks manufactured for this market. The small characters on the outer circle are numerals, exactly corresponding to the Roman figures on Western clocks. The inner circle contains the twelve horary characters, and within these are the signs for noon, evening, midnight, and dawn. In the horary circle, the large single characters represent whole hours, and the small double ones half hours, equal to a whole European hour.
Let the minute hand extend to the inner part of the outer circle, and make twelve revolutions in a diurnal period. The hour hand should reach to the inner edge of the horary characters, and make one revolution in the same period of time. Let the pendulum vibrate seconds as now, and the minute hand, at the expiration of 60 seconds, make half a revolution. It should strike from 1 to 12 a. m. and p. m., and correspond in this respect to European clocks. It will be understood, then, that at our even hours the short hand will point to a large horary character-the middle of a Chinese hour-and the long hand will be directly upward; and at our odd hours the former will be opposite the small characters, which point the commencement of their hour, and the latter will point directly downward, or at the 12 p. m. of our clocks, or to repeat the same in another manner: at 1 o'clock p. m. our reckoning the hour hand will be half way between the large characters on the top and the next one to the right, and the minute hand, having made half a revolution, will point perpendicularly downwards, and the clock strike one. At the expiration of another of our hours, a whole Chinese hour will have expired when the former hand will have reached the first large character to the right, and the latter be directed to the zenith, the clock striking two.
After this perhaps unnecessarily minute description of what is wanted in the machinery, a few words remain to be added respecting the instrument as a whole. In the first place, it should be well made. A few
worthless ones would damage the business irreparably. They should be of brass, and placed in frames of wood, which will not be easily affected by atmospheric changes. Common pine wood, veneered with mahogany, have answered well. Spring clocks will not succeed. Some of this description, sent from New York, cannot be kept in repair; whilst a quantity of clocks moved by weights, manufactured chiefly in Connecticut, imported into China above seven years ago, have proved good time-pieces, and give no trouble.
With regard to the external appearance, on which so much depends, I would advise that, in every case, there be as much of the works exposed as possible through an opening in the dial plate. A Chinaman not only wishes to see what he is buying, but what is going on in his instruments when bought; and, as his countrymen have the merit of being extreme utilitarians, mirrors in the lower part of the door will be generally preferred to any other ornament. Some, however, should be ornamented at this point for the sake of variety; and perhaps nothing would please more than such a grouping of objects by the artist as would represent a river, bringing into view a steamboat and a sloop, and on the banks a railroad, locomotive, and cars; a steepled church, or a many storied hotel, in the distance; and a stage coach also. Or another interesting device would be afforded by a representation of the solar system; but this would need to be accompanied with several Chinese characters.
It is of primary importance that a particular description of the manuer of using the clock, the mode of putting it up, setting it off, winding up, and regulating, should be given. These directions, which should be more minute than if designed for English readers, can be translated and printed very easily in this country. But there would be no difficulty in printing the directions by means of wooden blocks in the manufactory at home. In copying the characters for the dial extreme care is requisite that every stroke and each line should be represented exactly as given in the diagram. Astronomical characters or descriptions of any kind which may be needed by individuals trying the experiment of clock-making for China, I shall furnish most cheerfully, for the privilege of increasing the utility of the instrument by introducing with them a few passages of sacred Scripture.
It may be asked, why, if such a clock be needed by the Chinese, they have never constructed one for themselves? It is certainly marvellous that they should manufacture clocks, including dial plates, and always employ Roman figures, and follow the reckonings of foreigners, which so few of them are able to comprehend, and which by all are considered mysterious and outlandish. It is only to be accounted for on the ground of their limited inventive abilities and high powers of imitation. That a time-piece of this description would be in demand in China, I am perfectly satisfied from inquiries made of natives in various quarters. Chinese merchants say that they should be retailed at about $5 or $6 each. If I recollect rightly, they can be made in Connecticut at $2 50, which would afford sufficient profit both for the mechanic and merchant.
NINGPO, July 4, 1851.