China's first modern observatory was here

Shanghai Star. 2001-10-11

During the national holidays, Shanghai people cared a great deal about the weather forecasts prepared by local meteorologists based on statistics obtained from several observatories. But few of them may have been aware that Shanghai once had the country's first modern astronomical observatory.
The Siccawei Observatory was China's first modern astronomical observatory.

The first observatory was built by Jesuit missionaries in 1872 in the western Siccawei (Xujiahui) area.

Legend has it that the missionaries chose Siccawei because it was where Hsu Kwang-ch'i (Xu Guangqi) lived.

Xu was the friend and student of Matteo Ricci, the then Jesuit missionary in Shanghai. He left all his property in Siccawei to the Jesuit after his death, to show his gratitude.

Jesuit missionaries gathered there to preach to local people, and Siccawei became a rallying point for Catholics.

Many Catholics thought Shanghai should have an observatory, so they gathered the funds to build one in Siccawei.

At the very beginning, the observatory was only a bungalow, with simple and crude instruments. The missionaries used it to observe and record astronomical phenomena.

In 1879, the missionaries started to expand the first observatory. They set up a wooden tower, 33 metres in height, for observation. An anemoscope was placed atop the tower.

Afterwards, the well-equipped observatory attracted more astronomers and meteorologists.

With the frequent renewal of observing equipment, the experts widened their scope of study.

In 1884, the experts set up a signal tower on the Bund.

With increasing numbers of experts swarming in, the Siccawei observatory did not have enough room, so the experts decided to construct a bigger one in Sheshan Hill.

In 1890, they moved their equipment to the new observatory.

The experts linked the observatory to a network of 70 other stations spread over the Asia-Pacific Region, including Irkutsk in the northwest, Japan's Nemura in the northeast, Cap St Jacques in the southwest, and Guam in the southeast.

By keeping track of typhoons and storm centres, and giving advance warning of their approach, the observation achieved world-wide fame in meteorology circles.

The research results contributed immensely to the safety of navigation along the China coast.

Zou Huilin

Copyright by Shanghai Star.