Schall von Bell, Johann Adam
SCHALL VON BELL, JOHANN ADAM
Missionary in China and astronomer; b. Cologne, May 1, 1591; d. Beijing, Aug. 15, 1666. After studying at the Germanicum in Rome, he entered the Society of Jesus on Oct. 20, 1611. Following his ordination, he left Lisbon for the China mission on April 16, 1618, landing in Macau in 1619, and arriving in Beijing on Jan. 25, 1623. Except for a three-year interlude in Xi'an, Shaanxi (1627–30), Beijing remained the center of his activities until his death.
The reform of the Chinese calendar had long been a matter of grave concern to the government. Hsü Kuangch'i, leading Chinese Catholic, had repeatedly urged that Jesuit astronomers be employed in the task. In 1629 his efforts bore fruit. The emperor ordered the establishment of a calendrical bureau to undertake the scientific reform of the calendar, putting Hsü Kuangch'i in charge and, in an edict of Sept. 27, 1629, approved the employment of Jesuits. The brilliant Johann Terrenz Schreck died a few months after having been assigned to the task, and Schall, together with Giacomo Rho, was appointed to take his place. The two men performed brilliantly. By 1635 they had completed a series of translations on astronomical subjects comprising 137 chüan. Official adoption of the reformed calendar, blocked by adherents of the old schools, had, however, to await the advent of a new dynasty in 1644.
Schall had enjoyed considerable prestige during the last years of the Ming dynasty, but it was under the Ch'ing dynasty that he attained a preeminent position in the empire.
Influence at Court. His relations with the precocious young Shun-chih emperor were close; the emperor always called him "Ma-Fa" (grandfather). In 1644 Dorgon, the regent, named Schall director of the bureau of astronomy. As such he was ex officio an official of the fifth grade, first division, of the mandarinal hierarchy that consisted of nine grades, each of two divisions. On Feb. 2, 1658, he reached the pinnacle of the hierarchy when he was made a mandarin of the first class, first division. A year earlier a member of a Dutch embassy reported: "Father Adam Schall is in such great favor with this prince that he has access to him at any hour." In 1661 his younger associate, Ferdinand Verbiest, wrote: "Schall has more influence upon the emperor than any viceroy, or than the most respected prince, and the name of Father Adam is better known in China than the name of any famous man is in Europe." In 1650 Francesco Brancato, writing from Shanghai, had said: "All of us who are in this mission bask by divine favor in the aura of Father Adam." Schall, however, made enemies as well as friends, among them some of his fellow Jesuits. One of these, Gabriel de Magalhães, mounted a campaign against him that lasted for 17 years and ended only with Schall's death. First, he attempted to have Schall expelled from the Society of Jesus on personal charges that were characterized by Verbiest as "calumnies and lies." Thorough investigation cleared Schall. De Magalhães then urged that he be removed as head of the astronomical bureau upon the ground that the office was incompatible with his vow against accepting proferred dignities and that its functions involved him in superstition. Both questions were ultimately resolved by Rome in Schall's favor, but when word of final vindication reached Beijing, Schall was already dead.
Last Years. Schall's last years were shadowed with tragedy. The Shun-chih emperor died in 1661. Under the influence of Yang Kuang-hsien, a notorious anti-Christian crusader, Oboi, the most powerful of the four regents, removed Schall from his office, stripped him of his titles, and on Nov. 12, 1664, committed him, together with the other three Jesuits then in Beijing, one of whom was De Magalhães, to prison. Schall had suffered a stroke and, partially paralyzed, could not speak. His assistant, Verbiest, conducted his defense. In January of 1665, Schall was sentenced to death by strangulation, changed by Oboi in April to the terrible penalty of death by dismemberment. The anger of the empress dowager and the protest of Schall's admirers and friends forced Oboi to retreat. Although five of his Christian scholar-colleagues had been executed, Schall and the other Jesuits were released. Complete vindication came after his death at the age of 75. In 1668 the K'ang-hsi emperor dissolved the regency. The following year, Oboi was imprisoned for treason and tyranny. Yang Kuang-hsien was exiled. Verbiest was made director of the bureau of astronomy. All of Schall's titles and ranks were restored, as were those of the five Christian astronomers executed in 1665, and Schall was honored with an official funeral.
Schall was a man of exceptional attainments. Science was his specialty, but he was a typical Renaissance man in the universality of his knowledge. Besides his native German, he had a perfect mastery of Portuguese, as well as of both literary and vernacular Chinese. He was at home in Italian, had a fair knowledge of Spanish, and easily understood Dutch. In his old age he still wrote beautiful Latin. In practical skills, he manufactured cannons, drew plans for the fortifications of Beijing, planned and built a baroque church, constructed astronomical instruments, rebuilt a spinet, built a sailing boat for the emperor, and wrote a treatise on mining.
The distinguished sinologist, Paul Pelliot, wrote of him: "Man of the Church, man of science, man of action, man capable of irony and anger, a many faceted figure, attractive and intriguing. Schall would have made an impact anywhere."
Bibliography: a. schall, Historica relatio de ortu et progessu fidei orthodoxae in regno Chinensi (Regensburg 1672); Lettres et mémoires d'Adam Schall, S.J., ed. h. bernard, tr. p. bornet (Tientsin 1942). d. bartoli, Istoria della compagnia di Gesù: La Cina, terza parte dell'Asia, 8 v. in 5 (Naples 1859). c. r. boxer, Fidalgos in the Far East 1550–1770: Fact and Fancy in the History of Macao (The Hague 1948). g. h. dunne, Generation of Giants: The Story of the Jesuits in China in the Last Decades of the Ming Dynasty (Notre Dame, Ind. 1962). l. pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jésuites de l'ancienne mission de Chine, 1552–1773, 2 v. (Shanghai 1932–34). a. vÄth, Johann Adam Schall von Bell (Cologne 1933). r. attwater, Adam Schall: A Jesuit at the Court of China, 1592–1666 (New York 1963). Archivum Societatis Iesu (The Jesuit archives in Rome contain a great deal of unpub. material).
[g. h. dunne]