Korean J Med Hist.  2012 Aug;21(2):251-278.

Zhuzhiqunzheng, the Jesuit translation of Western medicine and its influence on Korean and Chinese intellectuals

  • 1Department of Medical History and Institute for History of Medicine, College of Medicine, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. isyeo@yuhs.ac


The Jesuits were great transmitters of Western science to East Asia in the 17th and 18th century. In 1636, a German Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell (1591-1666) published a book titled Zhuzhiqunzheng (Hundreds of Signs Testifying Divine Providence). The book was not Adam Schall's own writing, but it was the Chinese translation of De providentia numinis (1613) of Leonardus Lessius (1554-1623) who was also a Jesuit scholar. The book was a religious work which particularly aimed at converting the pagans to the Christianity by presenting them with hundreds of signs testifying the divine providence. One group of the signs is those manifested in the human body. The bodily signs in question include anatomical structures and physiological processes. It gives a brief survey of bodily structures with bones and muscles. The translator had much difficulties in explaining muscles for there was no corresponding concept in Chinese medicine. The theory of human physiology was a simplified version of medieval Galenism. Three kinds of pneuma were translated into three kinds of Qi respectively. 'Natural pneuma' was translated into 'Qi of the body nature', 'vital pneuma' into 'Qi of life and nourishing', 'psychic pneuma' into 'Qi of movement and consciousness'. The book of Schall von Bell and other books on Western science written in Chinese were also imported to Korea during the 17th and 18th century. Unlike China, Korea was very hostile to Christianity and no Jesuit could enter Korea. Only the books on Western science could be imported. The books, which were called Books on Western Learning, were circulated and read among the progressive Confucian literati. However, Western medicine thus introduced had little influence on the traditional medicine of East Asia. However, some intellectuals paid attention to the physiological theory, in particular the theory of brain centrism, which fueled a philosophical debate among Korean intellectuals of the time.


Jesuits; Adam Schall von Bell; Zhuzhiqunzheng; Galenism; anatomy; physiology; pneuma; Qi; brain centrism; providence

MeSH Terms

Asian Continental Ancestry Group
Far East
Human Body
Medicine, Traditional
Missions and Missionaries
Physiological Processes
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