Amiot, Father

, one of the most learned French missionaries in China, and a Chinese historian, was born at Toulon in 1718. The last thirty years of the last century have been those in which we have acquired most knowledge of China. The French missionaries during that time have taken every pains to be able to answer the multitude of inquiries sent to them from Europe, and among them father Amiot must be considered as the first in point of accuracy, and extensive knowledge of the antiquities, history, languages, and arts of China. This learned Jesuit | arrived at Macao in 1750; and at Pekin, to which he was invited by order of the emperor, in August 1751, and remained in that capital for the long space of forty-three years. In addition to the zeal which prompted him to become a missionary, he was indefatigable in his researches, and learned in those sciences which rendered them useful. He understood natural history, mathematics; had some taste for music, an ardent spirit of inquiry, and a retentive memory; and by continual application soon became familiar with the Chinese and Tartar languages, which enabled him to consult the best authorities in both, respecting history, sciences, and literature. The result of these labours he dispatched to France from time to time, either in volumes, or memoirs. His principal communications in both forms, were: 1. “A Chinese poem in praise of the city of Moukden,” by the emperor Kien Long, translated into French, with historical and geographical notes and plates, Paris, 1770, 8vo. 2. “The Chinese Military Art,” ibid. 1772, 4to, reprinted in vol. VII. of “Memoires sur les Chinois;” and in vol. VIII. is a supplement sent afterwards by the author. The Chinese reckon six classical works on the military art, and every soldier who aspires to rank, mttet undergo an examination on them all. Amiot translated the first three, and some parts of the fourth, because these alone contain the whole of the Chinese principles of the art of war. 3. “Letters on the Chinese characters,” addressed to the Royal Society of London, and inserted in vol. I. of the “Memoires sur les Chinois,” and occasioned by the following circumstance: in 1761, the ingenious Mr. Turberville Needham published some conjectures relative to a supposed connection between the hieroglyphical writing of the ancient Egyptians, and the characteristic writing now in use among the Chinese; founded upon certain symbols or characters inscribed on the celebrated bust of Isis, at Turin, which appeared to him to resemble several Chinese characters. From this he conjectured; first, that the Chinese characters are the same, in many respects, as the hieroglyphics of Egypt; and secondly, that the sense of the hieroglyphics may be investigated by the comparative and appropriated signification of the Chinese characters. But as the similarity between the two species of writing was contested, an appeal was made to the literati of China, and the secretary of the Royal Society, Dr. Charles Morton, | addressed himself on the subject to the Jesuits at Pekin, who appointed Arniot to return an answer, which may be seen in the Phil. Transactions, vol. LIX. It in general gives the negative to Needham’s opinion, but refers the complete decision of the question to the learned society, which he furnishes with suitable documents, copies of inscriptions, &c.

His next communication was, 4. “On the music of the Chinese, ancient and modern,” which fills the greater part of vol. VI. of the “Memoires sur les Chinois.” 5. “The Life of Confucius,” the most accurate history of that philosopher, and taken from the most authentic sources, with a long account both of his ancestors and descendants, who yet exist in China, a genealogy which embraces four centuries. This life, which is illustrated with plates from Chinese designs, occupies the greater part of vol. XII. of the “Memoires, &c.” 6. “Dictionnaire Tatarmantcheou-Français,Paris, 1789, 3 vols. 4to, a work of great value, as this language was before unknown in Europe. The publication of it was owing to the spirit and liberality of the deceased minister of state, M. Bertin, who bore the expence of the types necessary, and employed M. Langles, a learned orientalist, to superintend the press. Amiot also sent over a grammar of that language, which is printed in the XIIIth volume of the “Memoires.” He published in the same work, a great many letters, observations, and papers, on the history, arts, und sciences of the Chinese, some of which are noticed in the Monthly Review (see Index), and in the index to the “Memoires,” in which his contributions fill many columns. He died at Pekin, in 1794, aged seventy-seven. 1


Biog. Universelle. Monthly Review ubi supra. Philos. Transactions, vol. LIX. &c.