8. The Beijing Observatory:
Identity and Change

Verbiest instrument in Potsdam

Judged by its longevity, Ferdinand Verbiest's renewal of the Beijing Observatory was remarkably successful. The observatory today appears largely unchanged from the arrangement instituted by Verbiest. The instruments are still open to the sky but the site is now a tourist destination rather than an astronomical institution.

One aspect of this continuity is deceptive. Several of the instruments were shipped to Germany for display in Potsdam after the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion at the beginning of the 20th century. They were returned to Beijing some 20 years later.

The modern observatory tower and its surroundings

While the tower and instruments remain, the wall of which the building formed a part has gone and, rather than uninterrupted views of the horizon, the observatory is now surrounded by tower blocks and billboards. These often bear witness to a new and more commercial Western presence in contemporary China.