【Stanislav Juznic】Vacuum and Electricity for the Chinese Emperor

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Hallerstein already measured the declinations of the magnetic needle while on the ship to China. Later, he made some similar observations in Beijing.[1] In 1750, the Jesuits of the Portuguese college of St. Joseph in Beijing received the electrical machine and the instrument for the observation of the eclipses. Sanchez[2] provided the instruments from his friends in London and Holland. The bishop of Beijing de Souza[3] helped in the shipping.[4] The nature of the electrical machine was not specified, but it was certainly the Leyden jar invented in 1745. As the former Leyden student Sanchez knew about Musschenbroek’s work on Leyden jar. At the same time, Collinson[5] of the Royal Society of London shipped the Leyden jar to Benjamin Franklin across the Atlantic. Sanchez was in correspondence with Collinson and sent him the plant of rhubarb obtained from the Jesuits from Beijing.[6]
As the leading scientist among the Beijing Jesuits, Hallerstein took part in the experiments with the electricity. His collaborator from French college Amiot was especially interested in electricity. French college of Beijing probably had no electrical instruments. Therefore Amiot then used Hallerstein’s equipment at the nearby Portuguese college. At that time, Amiot, Hallerstein, and Gogeisl also cooperated on the measurement of the height of the star Gamma in Andromeda to match the order of Pezenas[7] and two other Jesuits, who made similar measurement in Marseilles.[8]
In 1755, the Jesuits from Beijing electrified a thin glass plate by friction and put it on the glass coverage of the magnetic needle. The needle suddenly raised and adhered to the inner side of the glass wall for some hours. Later it returned to its normal position. When the Jesuits removed the previously electrified glass plate the needle rose again and remained in touch with the glass cover. When they returned the plate, the needle fell down again. The experiment could be repeated many times.[9]
On January 12, 1755, Gaubil received the undated letter of Richman[10] and Kratzenstein’s letter dated April 12, 1753. Both were addressed to the Jesuits of Beijing. Gaubil wrote back to both Petersburg academicians on April 30, 1755, and mentioned Amiot’s experiments “that should make you happy.” Gaubil added that the Chinese were not very interested in electrical experiments[11] compared to the European and American euphoria of that time. Around August 1755, Gaubil sent many items to Razumovskii, among them two Amiot’s packets.[12]
Richman and Kratzenstein published about electricity. Eventually Gaubil was not aware that Richman died on July 26/August 3, 1753. Soon afterwards on August 13, 1753, Kratzenstein left the academy of Petersburg and became professor of medicine and physics at the University of Copenhagen.[13] Zeiher[14] replaced Kratzenstein in 1756 and replied to Gaubil reporting about Richman's death.[15]
Richman was replaced by Aepinus, who was born in Rostock in Prussia where he completed his studies and taught. He collaborated with his Swedish student Johann Karl Wilcke (1732-1796) on the early type of condenser that Volta later developed into electrophorus at the gymnasium of Como in 1775. After working in Berlin for a short time, Aepinus was appointed member of the Petersburg academy to replace Richter. On May 10, 1757,[16] Aepinus arrived at Petersburg and remained professor of physics at the academy until 1798.
The data about Beijing experiments were immediately passed to the new professor of physics Aepinus.[17] Just months later he submitted the report of the Beijing experiments to the Petersburg academy[18] and read it on March 9, 1758. Aepinus explained the experiment from Beijing with the small conductivity of glass with the induced charge on the glass coverage of the magnetic needle, slow movement of the charge into the attached needle during the experiment, and equally slow returning of the charge after the induced charge was removed. Aepinus successfully repeated Beijing experiment and added twelve similar experiments of his own. He stated, that Beijing experiment fully confirms Franklin’s theory.[19]
On September 7, 1758, Aepinus delivered the lecture about the forces of electricity and magnetism at the academy and dedicated it to the empress. He used experiments with Leyden jar to forward the analogy between electricity and magnetism but didn’t mention the Beijing report.
In autumn 1758 Aepinus developed his mathematical theory of the electric and magnetic effects. On June 4, 1759, Aepinus presented the book to the academy. The book was published at the end of November[20] and dedicated to Razumovskii. He used his favorite Franklin’s theory of one fluid, again without mentioning the Beijing experiments.[21]
Aepinus’ explanation didn’t please everyone. Symmer[22] conducted two sets of experiments similar to the Beijing ones that he apparently hadn’t hear about. Symmer presented his results to the Royal Society of London between February 1 and December 20, 1759. He concluded with an essay about two distinct powers in electricity[23] that pleased Franklin’s opponents.
Cigna[24] was the first to comment on Aepinus’ analysis of Jesuits’ experiment.[25] Cigna’s uncle Beccaria[26] was also interested in Beijing experiment. In 1747, Beccaria became professor of experimental physics at the university of Turin. In 1767, he added a new similar effect to Jesuit experiment. He charged the coated glass plates. He removed the coating from the negative plate and put other neutral uncoated glass plate nearby. He coated uncharged plate and used the conductor to connect its coating with the coating of charged plate. The plates touched and leaned on each other with the whole area. If he separated the plates after they were in touch for some time but before the fusion, the charged plate got the positive charge on both sides and the uncharged plate got the negative charge on both sides. If he separated the plates after the fusion, the charged plate became negative on both sides, and the uncharged became positively charged on both sides. If after the fusion he separated and again joined the plates, the small circle of paper under the uncharged plate fused to it after each separation and got repelled after each touch. Beccaria was able to repeat the experiment for as many as 500 times after he charged the plate only once.[27]
In 1769, Beccaria reprinted the Beijing report, mentioned Aepinus explanation as incomplete, and used the explanation of his own. He offered the idea of the special “electricitas vindex”.[28] Alessandro Volta was not satisfied with Beccaria’s explanation and his search for other possible explanations led him to the invention of electrophorus several years later described in a letter to Priestley dated June 10, 1775.[29] Priestley also analyzed the Beijing experiment in his masterpiece.[30] In that way Beijing electrical experiment became the forerunner of modern electricity.
On January 12, 1773, the new French missionaries with the help of the superior in Canton le Fevre brought the excellent mirror telescope, many presents, and the first vacuum pump to Beijing. The missionaries were the watchmaker Méricourt[31] and the artist Panzi,[32] who traveled according to the order of French minister Bertin.[33] Both Jesuits knew the working conditions of the pump. On January 18, 1773, emperor ordered to bring the pump into the Ru yiguan (Jou-y-koan) building where the European artists worked. Benoist and Sickelbarth had the duty to present the pump and explain how it works to the emperor in the spring.
Benoist worked on the pump for a few months to make it usable for the demonstration. He explained to one of the Chinese how to handle the pump and trained him as the assistant. He chose the most interesting experiments for the emperor, made copper engravings of their drawings, and explained them in a little book. He kept the pump in a room with controlled temperature to avoid extreme cold. Méricourt and Panzi taught the eunuchs to handle the pump and Yuen-Ming-Yuen translated their orders.
For the first vacuum experiments on March 10, 1773 in Ru yiguan (Jou-y-koan), four eunuchs ran the pump. Three missionaries Méricourt, Archange, and Ventavon, examined all parts of the pump in their clockmaker shop. The eunuchs were excited when Benoist showed them pressing, rarefying and other properties of the air. At eight o’clock p.m., the emperor demanded the explanation of all experimental results. He examined the inside parts of the pump. Benoist had to explain the meaning of the numerous copper engravings about the pump to him. The emperor ordered Benoist to repeat all the experiments from Ru yiguan (Jou-y-koan) that eunuchs arranged for him. On the next day March 11, 1773, eunuchs reported to Benoist immediately after his arrival to Ru yiguan (Jou-y-koan). They described the events of the previous day. Emperor ordered the preparation of new experiments. Therefore Benoist took the pump apart to examine if all of the pieces were in working condition. Before noon, Benoist explained to the emperor the use of the different valves, great pipe on the other side of the piston that prevents the outer air entrance into the pump, and the outer security valve, which prevents the transition of the outer air into the recipient. When emperor learned about all parts of the pump, he asked for experiments to begin. During the preparation of the experiments, as usually, emperor posed thousands of questions. Benoist showed twenty-one selected experiments to emperor. The first six of them proved the existence of air pressure. The experiments followed each other. When emperor listened to the explanation of the previous experiment, they were already preparing the next one. Benoist brought barometer and thermometer to the hall. Emperor posed several questions about the mechanism how the air pressure lowers the level of the quicksilver in barometer, how it raises the water in pump and why the change of the pressure is proportional to the height of the quicksilver. Benoist used the explanations common in Europe of that time. He described how the density of the air changes with the weather conditions.
The second group of Benoist’s experiments showed the elasticity and the compressibility of the air. Emperor liked them very much.
In Ru yiguan (Jou-y-koan), Benoist wanted to call the pump »the tube for the air research« (yan qi tong (yen chhi thung), Nien-ki-tung in French transcription). Emperor decided to use the word hou (Heou in French transcription) instead of yen (Nien in French transcription). That word was considered more noble and they used it in classical Chinese books for the description of the sky observations, for the observations for predictions of the agricultural activities and the changing of the seasons. Therefore the emperor chose the name »tube for the air observation« (hou chhi thung, in French transcription Heou-hy-tung).
At the end of the presentation of the pump, emperor thanked his wives and other ladies for their help during the experiments. The emperor stood near the pump for the entire duration of a very long exhibition. After it was over, he retired to his rooms and ordered the servants to bring the pump. He abundantly presented Benoist, Méricourt, and Panzi with three huge pieces of silk.[34] In the next year, Benoist died after a stroke, just a few days before the twelve-year older Hallerstein. Panzi later drew a huge emperor’s portrait.[35]
We don’t know exact kind of the vacuum pump, that minister Bertin sent to the Chinese emperor. In those times, Hauksbee pumps from the beginning of the century still prevailed. In 1721, Swedenborg[36] fabricated a new type of pump. He used table with the two high legs that held the evacuated sailed bell. The iron vessel was connected to the iron tube with the quicksilver flowing through it. Joseph Baader later used the same principle in his pump, as did Frenchmen Michel and Cazalet after him. Most contemporaries did not know about Swedenborger’s discoveries, so Gren[37] reprinted it with the comments.[38] In 1847, Strutt baron Rayleigh published in London the translation of Swedenborg’s papers under the title Principles of Chemistry. Ten years later, Geissler used Swedenborg’s principle in Bonn to evacuate the first cathode ray tubes. Bertin probably sent the Paris pump of Michel and Cazalet to Beijing. The use of the quicksilver in vacuum pump probably caused numerous imperial questions about the quicksilver.
(PICTURE 32: French vacuum pump (Pouillet. 1853. Élements de physique expérimentale et de météorologie. Paris: Hachette. Plate 5, fig 1, 2))
(PICTURE 33: M Horace Benedict de Saussure (1740--1799) from the university of Geneva made the manometer that was also used in Ljubljanese physics cabinet (Pouillet. 1853. Élements de physique expérimentale et de météorologie. Paris: Hachette. Plate 5, fig 1, 2, 19))
French minister Bertin sent to Beijing the vacuum pump elaborated in Paris. The most important Paris pump manufacturer was Fortin,[39] the collaborator of the bureau for the longitude. After Lavoisier’s initiative, Fortin began to fabricate the experimental tools. In 1778 and 1779, he presented his vacuum pump to the Paris academy using the double walk as the very first in France. In 1784, he fabricated the gas gauge, and in 1788 he prepared a big accurate balance for Lavoisier. Fortin invented a very useful transportable barometer with quicksilver. After Lavoisier’s execution, Fortin’s laboratory was sold on November 10, 1794. During the time of Napoleon’s empire, Fortin completed the scientific instruments, and in 1806, he made the gauge for Gay-Lussac’ research of the air expansion.
Fortin’s vacuum pump had two pumping mechanisms made of brass. The chain with hooks directed the pistons in the opposite directions of the lever. Fortin connected both pistons to diminish the force used to overcome the air pressure. Denis Papin (1647--1712), Willem Jacob ‘sGravesande (1688--1742) in Francis Hauksbee (about 1666--1713) already developed that idea. Two conducting tubes coming out of the pump merged in one and opened in the middle of the horizontal plate with the vacuum vessel. The pressure on the vessel worked on the side test tube that contained »truncated« siphon barometer with the equal legs. The barometer measured the small pressures as the difference of the quicksilver lever in both legs. The rest pressure in barometer could be measured by the vertical tube on the second side hole, with the ends sunken into the vessel full of quicksilver. When the pressure in vacuum vessel lowers, the vessel quicksilver ascends. The pipe in front of the plate releases the air into the vessel, which would be impossible otherwise because of the air pressure. In a later improvement the second barometer and the small side pipe in front of it were added to release the gas into the previously evacuated vessel.

[1] Amiot, October 2, 1784 Mémoires, 11: 563; Pfister, 1934, 760.
[2] Gaubil, 1970, 617.
[3] Polycarpe de Souza (Sou Tche-Neng Joei-Kong, * January 26, 1697 Coimbra; SJ October 31, 1712 Portugal; † May 26, 1757 Beijing (Pfister, 1934, 701)).
[4] Gaubil, 1970, 703.
[5] Peter Collinson (* January 14, 1694 Hugal Hall; † August 11, 1768 London).
[6] Chalmers, 1816, 27: 88; Gaubil, 1970, 37.
[7] Espirit Pezenas (* November 28, 1692 Avigon; SJ; † February 4, 1776 Avignon).
[8] Gaubil, 1970, 840, 843, 850.
[9] Aepinus, 1979, 130.
[10] Georg Wilhelm Richman (Richmann, * July 11, 1711 Pernau; July 26, 1753 Petersburg).
[11] Gaubil, 1970, 803, 810-811; Heilbron, 1979, 405; Kloss, 1987, 41; Koplevič, Cverava, 1989, 55; Cverava, 1986, 58.
[12] Gaubil, 1970, 818.
[13] Koplevič, Cverava, 1989, 80.
[14] Johan Ernst Zeiher (* 1720 Weissenfels; † January 7, 1784 Wittenberg).
[15] Cverava, 1986, 58.
[16] Novik, 1999, 10.
[17] Franz Maria Ulrich Theodosius Aepinus (* December 13, 1724 Rostock; † August 10/22, 1802 Dorpath).
[18] On November 17, 1757 (Novik, 1999, 11) or on December 1, 1757 (Aepinus, 1979, 492).
[19] Aepinus, 1761, 23-24.
[20] Novik, 1999, 12-13.
[21] Aepinus, 1979, 130-131.
[22] Robert Symmer (* about 1707 Galloway; † June 19, 1763 London).
[23] Symmer, 1759, 380; Aepinus, 1979, 406.
[24] Gian Francesco Cigna (* July 2, 1734 Mondovi; † July 16, 1790 Turin).
[25] Aepinus, 1979, 200.
[26] Giacomo Battista Beccaria (Beccheria, * October 31, 1716 Mondovi; † May 27, 1781 Turin).
[27] Beccaria, 1767, 297-298. Beccaria (1767, 297) noted the wrong volume citation of the Aepinus’ comment of Beijing experiment (Phil.Trans. 8: 276). Priestley (1775, 1: 316) later repeated the error.
[28] Beccaria, 1769, 44-47; Heilbron, 1979, 405-410.
[29] Aepinus, 1979, 131; Volta, 1816, IV, 108. Joseph Priestley (* March 13, 1733 Fieldhead; February 6, 1804 Northumberland).
[30] Priestley, 1775, 1: 315-316.
[31] Father Hubert de Méricourt (Li Tsuen-Hien Si-Tschen, * November 1, 1729 France; SJ January 8, 1754 France; † August 20, 1774 Beijing). He arrived to Beijing on January 12, 1773, but he soon died (Pfister, 1934, 975).
[32] Brother Joseph Panzi (Pansi, P’an T’ing-Tchang, Jo-Ché, * about 1733 Italy; SJ Genes; † before 1812 Beijing). In 1771, he was in French mission for China. He arrived to Beijing on January 12, 1773 (Pfister, 1934, 971).
[33] Henri-Léonard-Jean-Baptiste Bertin count de Bourdeilles (* March 24, 1720 Périgueux; † 1792 Spa in Belgium) was the minister for the agriculture, and in 1774 for the foreign affairs. He was a honorary member if the Paris academy (Amiot, 1774, 519).
[34] Needham, Ling, 1959, 3: 451; Francis Burgeois (Bourgeois, Tch’au Tsuen-Sieu, Tsi-Ko, * March 21, 1723 Pulligny (Meurthe) in Loraine; SJ September 17, 1740 Nancy; † July 29, 1792 Beijing (Pfister, 1934, 926)) wrote to father Dupre on November 1, 1773 or November 29, 1773 (unpublished, Recueil de Zi-ka-wei, pp. 37--41, 42 (Pfister, 1934, 948); Aimé-Martin, 1843, 4: 223--224; Benoist, letter to the unknown on November 4, 1773).
[35] Amiot, 1943, 457.
[36] Emanuel Swedenborg (Emmanuel Svedenborg, * 1688 Stockholm; † 1772 London).
[37] Friedrich Albrecht Carl Gren (1760--1798).
[38] Gren, 1791, 409--410.
[39] Jean Nicolas Fortin (* 1750 Mouchy-la-ville (Oise); † 1831 Paris).



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