Full text with illustrations
Song Yingxing (Traditional Chinese: 宋應星; Simplified Chinese: 宋应星; Wade Giles: Sung Ying-Hsing; 1587-1666 AD), born in Yichun of Jiangxi, was a Chinese scientist and encyclopedist who lived during the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). He was the author of an encyclopedia that covered a wide variety of technical subjects, including the use of gunpowder weapons. Comparing him to the famous French encyclopedist Denis Diderot, the British sinologist and historian Joseph Needham called Song Yingxing "The Diderot of China."
As the historian Joseph Needham points out, the vast amount of accurately drawn illustrations in this encyclopedia dwarfed the amount provided in previous Chinese encyclopedias, making it a valuable written work in the history of Chinese literature. At the same time, the Tiangong Kaiwu broke from Chinese tradition by rarely referencing previous written work. It is instead written in a style strongly suggestive of first-hand experience. In the preface to the work, Song attributed this deviation from tradition to his poverty and low standing.
CosmologySong Yingxing also published two scientific tractates that outline his cosmological views. In these, he discusses the concepts of qi and xing (形). Qi has been described in many different ways by Chinese philosophers. To Song, it is a type of all-permeating vapor from which solid objects (xing) are formed. These solid objects eventually return to the state of qi, which itself eventually returns to the great void. Some objects, such as the sun and the moon, remain in qi form indefinitely, while objects like stones are eternally xing. Some objects, like water and fire, are intermediary between the two forms.