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The French Missionary-Botanists

The Opium Wars, which opened European trade in China, represent a complex and ugly piece of history that is best dealt with in another forum. However, suffice it to say that the result, as far as plant exploration was concerned, was to open up a whole new world of flora.

Père David

It was into this rarified world of great potential that the Roman Catholic Church sent a number of missionaries from France. This was done ostensibly to 'save' the populace of a foreign land, but the results were far more pragmatic, and suitable to the needs of both cultures.

Père Delavay

The missionaries soon realized that the local people were quite content with their own beliefs, so what education did take place at the missions tended to be in the form of lessons in the practical sciences or mathematics. And the missionaries' time away from the classroom was often spent collecting specimens of the local flora and fauna to send to the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Thus began one of the most important periods of plant exploration in China.

Père Farges

The individuals selected for this mission were chosen for their interest in the natural sciences and their love of exploration and discovery. Their contribution to the world's understanding of it's natural history would be incalculable. Of the many French missionaries who carefully searched the countryside for botanical treasures, only three are currently profiled here.


'Carte Generale De L'Empire Chinois' par L.Vivien - engraved by Giraldon-Bovinet and published in Vivien's Atlas Universel, Paris, 1826.

For more information on the Opium Wars...


Selected by the SciLinks program, a service of
the National Science Teachers Association.
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