1768, Wang Zhenyi is born into the Qing Dynasty China. In a world not too deep in history but seemingly worlds apart with completely different ideological forms of gender roles and opportunity for women. There was a massive gap of educational standards between men and women and Zhenyi’s natural passion to educate herself and go onto teaching others took her to breach the feudal customs of her era, studying against rules, laws and social norms.
Astronomy, science, mathematics, geography, history, medicine, poetry; Zhenyi only lived to the age of 29 yet it is frankly remarkable the amount of work she managed to master in her short life. An immediate passion for her was astronomy and the universal laws; some of her most notable publications are: “the explanation of a lunar eclipse” and “dispute of longitude and stars’.
Zhenyi carried out practical demonstrations of her studies, one of which was a recorded experiment of the demonstration of a solar eclipse in which she set up and described an experiment demonstrating the motions and form. Zhenyi placed a round table in a garden pavilion which she used to represent the globe, she proceeded to hang a crystal lamp on a piece of string from above which represented the sun. On one side of the round table she placed a mirror which she ascribed to the moon. Zhenyi moved these objects in accordance to the astronomical principles and described the relationship between them and noting their positioning in reference to each other. Zhenyi’s calculations from this experiment were extremely acurate and she articulated a perfect explanation of the eclipse.
As well as astronomy she excelled in mathematics, Zhenyi published an article called, “the explanation of the pythagorean theorem and trigonometry’. In addition to studying the laws of the universe Zhenyi found herself re-writing some infamous works to enable them to be accessible to beginners of the subject. One example of this was her mastering of the book ‘Principles of calculation’ by Mei Wending, Zhenyi renamed is ‘The Must of Calculation’ and within the works she was able to simplify the language as well as the multiplication and division. Zhenyi was a strong believer in the transference of wisdom and took it upon herself to teach those who were not as naturally gifted as her in the realm of academia. By the age of 24 Zhenyi had written her own book on her study of mathematics which she named ‘The Principles of Calculation’.
In perfect balance to her academic life Zhenyi was an avid poet. Her prose didn’t conform to the standardised idea of women’s vocabulary of soft, delicate and flowery imagery. Instead Zhenyi’s poetry included her understanding of history, classics, wealth and her strive for equality. Zhenyi had a progressive stance on equality and actively engaged in her beliefs by continuing in her studies throughout her life and in turn tutoring male students, which was completely unheard of for the time.
Wang Zhenyi is a prominent figure in history for her attitudes and enthusiasm and her completed works, one is left to think, what marvels would she have completed if she lived a longer life? We take for granted the freedom that we have in the modern world, there are still today places in the world that people are not regarded as equal, where education is limited and opportunities repressed, individuals like Zhenyi remind us of the importance of persevering to fulfil our potential. We live in a modern world in which a lot of individuals have the luxury of time as well as all the information we can use to aid ourselves to become genius level intellect and further humanity, but a vast amount of society trades in their potential for superficialities, we must understand how that in turn reflects upon humanity. Imagine what you could achieve if your time off was dedicated to a hobby, to education, to aiding those less fortunate, what a world we would live in.