The question has been raised, “why on earth is your logo/avatar a Chinese girl?” The owner of the coffee shop across the street from where I am typing, for example, thinks it’s “just weird.” Not knowing science nor the role she played in our understanding of lunar eclipses for example, it is hard to dispute ignorance without education.
Wáng Zhēnyí Laoshí (age of 21 years)
“It’s made to believe,
Women are the same as Men;
Are you not convinced,
Daughters can also be Heroic?”
– in a poem by Wang Zhenyi
After one year following Ms. Greta Thunberg in Europe, her boldness in speaking the truth; her honesty in confronting the ‘un-confrontable’ – the responsible jet-setters, the high officials, the ‘norms’ of society; and her actual desire for humanity to unite behind the science, how can you doubt that heroic sentiment expressed in Wang Zhenyi’s poem? You cannot.
As we enter near the Winter Solstice, let us remember then, the contributions of “a Chinese girl.”
“Why should the time the day becomes its shortest, change?” challenged more than one Confucian scholar, “It must be the will of Gods; of the Emperor HIMSELF!”
In “Dispute of the Procession of the Equinoxes,” and “Dispute of Longitude and Stars” Wang Zhenyi – in one of her most profound and major accomplishments in experimental and analytical writing – defends the cause of science and explains not only how the equinoxes and solstices change from year to year, but how to calculate those changes. At the time, the processions, times, and locations of the equinoxes and solstices were not understood.
Who is this optimistic skeptic? This brave scientist? Wang Zhenyi (1768-1797 C.E.) was born into a middle class scholar family during the Qing Dynasty in The Middle Kingdom [China]. She was an Astronomer, Mathematician, and Poetess in her too-short life!
In 2004, the International Astronomical Union recognized Wang Zhenyi’s achievements by naming a crater on Venus after her: “Wang Zhenyi Crater”, N13.2° E 217.8° Venusian.
Poems of the Young Scientist/Teacher Wang Zhenyi
“Transiting Tong Pass”
So important is the doorway,
occupying the throat of the mountain
Looking down from the heaven,
The sun sees Yellow river streaming
“Climbing Tai Mountain”
Clouds overcast the hills,
The sun bathes in the sea.
“A Poem of Eight Lines” excerpt
…Village is empty of cooking smoke,
Rich families let grains stored decay;
In wormwood strewed pitiful starved bodies,
Greedy officials yet push farm levying…
Wang Zhenyi was a prolific writer. Most of her works are expositions and explanations of mathematical theorems such as you might encounter in trigonometry or algebra, though she also published a collection of original poetry and original articles on her astronomy research. This included works explaining the movements of equinoxes, as well as, a monograph analyzing the movement of the Moon and describing solar and lunar eclipses.
One described her set-up for carrying out lab experiments on lunar eclipses, a little understood subject. Drawing from her own extensive notebooks of astronomical data and findings from nights of observing, she used a large, round table to represent Earth in two dimensions, a bright lamp as the Sun and a small round hand mirror as the lunar surface. She suspended the bright lamp and the round mirror over the table to demonstrate the lunar eclipse as the earth was put between the lamp and mirror at various positions and dates to match her data to scale.
Why Teacher Wang Zhenyi is a Role Model?
I first read her poems before I understood her science. She was a daughter of the Qing Dynasty period in the Middle Kingdom or Center of Earth, as China called itself then.
Then I realized the context of her short life and all she accomplished. If a woman on 18th Century Earth – anywhere – could accomplish so much in 29 years, what MORE can we accomplish living twice or three times as long in the advanced 21st Century?
Her image challenges us all!