top of page

Wang Zhenyi: The Lost Astronomer, Poet, and Mathematician

Clouds overcast the hills, The sun bathes in the sea.”

Humans have always been complex creatures, always evolving and creating. That is how societies have been created, how they have come and gone. Once upon a time in our past the arts and sciences were more closely related, philosophy and math were brothers, not the strangers they are today. Men specialized in everything instead of today’s world of tunnel vision success.

she wanted to share her privilege with others. She wanted an educated and equal world and that is something we are still striving for today

Wang Zhenyi was no different, she was a true academic of her time extending her knowledge over many branches of science and art. She was born in 1768 in the Anhui province of China during the Qing dynasty. This was a time of feudalism and women had no rights and education was very limited. This did not stop her though, from a young age Wang Zhenyi was fond of reading. She was lucky though, she hailed from a family of academics, her father taught her basic math, medicine and geography while her grandfather taught her astronomy. It was from her grandmother she learned the art of poetry.

Upon her grandfather’s death Zhenyi gained extensive knowledge from his vast book collection and befriended the wife of a Mongolian general. From her she learned archery, martial arts and equestrian. She traveled the country with her father which aided in her education and around the age of 18 she moved to the capital where she gained friends with fellow female scholars through her poetry. She also began focusing her study on mathematics and astronomy, most of which was self-taught.

Wang Zhenyi only lived to the age of 29 but learned and experienced more than most can hope to in a lifetime. She propelled herself above her societal place and shared her knowledge with others. She was able to do her own research and expand on the research of others and published articles of her work and published at least 12 books.

One of her main goals was to make this knowledge accessible to others, she wanted this complex material to be understood by all and she set up experiments and published articles hoping to make these ancient and poorly understood concepts easier to digest. She explained eclipses, the rotation of the planets and even the Pythagorean theorem in terms for the common man and woman. She was so remarkable she even went on to tutor male students, something completely astounding and unheard of for her time. She helped express her progressive ideas through her poetry, she lived in a world of suppression and duty, but she found a way to give women a voice.

It's made to believe, Women are the same as Men; Are you not convinced, Daughters can also be heroic?

(an excerpt from one her poems)

Unfortunately, most of her works have not passed the test of time but in 2004 the International Astronomical Union recognized her achievements and named a crater on Venus after her (FUN FACT: all but 3 of the named features on the planet Venus are named after historical and mythological women).

Wang Zhenyi is a woman of today, she is a woman of passions and wisdom, but she is also a woman of compassion, she wanted to share her privilege with others, she wanted an educated and equal world and that is something we are still striving for today. It is important to remember that you can gaze upon the stars and write of their beauty but still understand what they are.

Written by: Alicia Whitcome


467 views0 comments


bottom of page