1656  — 1730

Joachim Bouvet

Jin Bai , 白晋

Jesuit mathematician and missionary in China.

A native of Le Mans, France, Bouvet entered the Society of Jesus in 1673 with the express desire to go to the China mission. This was fulfilled when Louis XIV included him among the five royal mathematicians sent to Peking (Beijing) in 1685. The emperor chose Bouvet and Jean-Francois Gerbillon (1654-1707) to work at the court and allowed the other three to live and preach in China wherever they wished. Engaged in teaching mathematics and philosophy to the emperor, in 1693 Bouvet was sent as an imperial envoy to Louis XIV to thank the latter for the astronomical instruments he had presented as gifts to the Chinese court. During his sojourn in France, he corresponded with Leibniz and published two works about China, Upon his return to Peking, Bouvet deepened his study of the I-ching (Book of Changes) and the mythological and historical origins of China. His subsequent system, called figurism, sought to find figures of the Old Testament in the Chinese classics. He attracted a following among some of his confreres, especially Jean-Francois Foucquet.

This was their attempt to solve the Chinese Rites Controversy. At first the emperor was interested in Bouvet’s views, but by 1716 he expressed anxiety about further Western contacts with China. A new emperor ascended the throne in 1723 and subsequently exiled the missionaries in the provinces to Canton. However, Bouvet was allowed to continue his research and apostolic work among the Christian community in Peking.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


Joachim Bouvet, Portrait historique de l’empereur de la Chine (1697) and L’Estat present de la Chine en figures (1697). Claudia von Collani, P. Joachim Bouvet, S. J.: Sein Leben und sein Werk (1985); John Witek, Controversial Ideas in China and in Europe: A Biography of Jean-Francois Foucquet, S. J, 1665-1741 (1982).

About the Author

John W. Witek

Associate Professor of East Asian History, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA