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Historia Medica lecture, A new vision: Chinese spectacles and eyesight in "A History of Lenses" (1681)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022 | 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Bernard Becker Medical Library, King Center
660 S Euclid Ave, St. Louis, Missouri 63110

Bernard Becker Medical Library, in collaboration with the Center for History Of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, presents this lecture series on the history of medicine. Lectures are free and open to the public.

In 1681, the Chinese scholar-artisan lens maker, Sun Yunqiu (ca. 1650–after 1681), published his short catalog, "A History of Lenses" (Jingshi, 1681). This first Chinese-authored treatise on optical devices describes several optical devices together with four types of spectacles: For presbyopia and nearsightedness, as well as lenses for aging eyes and for alleviating the discomfort of conjunctivitis. Presumed lost since the mid-Qing dynasty, a single copy of "A History of Lenses" was rediscovered in 2007, containing complex illustrations. Instead of depictions of the featured devices or diagrams depicting their function, the images, alongside poetry and erudite inscriptions, present a variety of antiques, works of art and material objects. Beginning with the spectacles, the publication integrates illustrations and texts to situate the new optical devices into more established, elite cultural practices.

Focusing on the four types of spectacles in "A History of Lenses" reveals a range of techniques used to convince cultivated gentlemen that they should purchase these highly personal devices, and demonstrates how sight and vision were reconceptualized to integrate traditional Chinese medical beliefs with the new technology of spectacles.

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations


Arts & Sciences, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, School of Medicine


Arts & Culture, Science & Technology, Humanities & Society, Medicine & Health

Bernard Becker Medical Library
Event Contact

Elisabeth Brander | ebrander@wustl.edu

Speaker Information

Kristina Kleughten, David W. Mesker Associate Professor of Art History and Archeology at Washington University in St. Louis

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