Johann Schreck - Life

Life

Schreck studied medicine starting 1590 at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, the University of Altdorf and after 1603 in Padua. He became a highly respected medic and was affiliated to the scientific society the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, whose other members included Galileo Galilei. At this academy he worked on the encyclopaedia of botany Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus alongside Francisco Hernández de Toledo.

To everyone's surprise (Galileo wrote: "Una gran perdita" - "a big loss"), Schreck became a Jesuit, to go to China as a missionary. He met the Belgian Pater Nicolas Trigault in 1614, with whom he prepared his scientific mission. He started his journey to China in April 1618 from Lisbon. After several pirate incidents and epidemics Schreck arrived in October 1618 in Goa, where he began his opus Plinius Indicus, a botanic and zoological encyclopaedia about Asia, which he was never able to finish. On 22 July 1619 they reached Macau. In 1621 he arrived in Hangzhou, and in late 1623 Beijing.

Schreck was able to achieve enormous language skills; he was fluent in German, Italian, Portuguese, French and English. He wrote his letters in Latin. He also mastered the source languages of Christianity, namely Greek, Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic. Later in his life, he learned Chinese.

At the beginning of the 17th century, he wrote and translated several Chinese textbooks on mathematics, engineering, medicine and astronomy alongside Nicol├▓ Longobardo and Chinese scholars. He was in contact with all important scientists of his time: Johannes Kepler sent his newest astronomic opus, the "Rudolphine Tables" to China, which, however, he was not able to receive: they arrived in Macau 16 years after Schreck's death. Schreck is said to have died of a medical experiment on himself. He is laid to rest on the Beijing cemetery of Zhalan.

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