(4 June 1654, Verdun – 27 March 1707, Peking, China) was a
French missionary, who worked in China.
He entered the Society of Jesus
Oct, 1670, and after completing the usual course of study taught
grammar and humanities for seven years. His long-cherished desire
to labor in the missions of the East was gratified in 1685, when he
joined the group of Jesuits who had been chosen to found the French
mission in China. For the first leg of the trip, he was
attached to the embassy of the Chevalier de Chaumont to Siam, and was
accompanied by a group of Jesuit mathematicians (Jean de Fontaney (1643-1710), Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730), Louis Le Comte (1655-1728), Guy Tachard (1648-1712) and Claude de Visdelou (1656-1737)).
Tachard would remain in Siam besides King Narai
, but the others would reach China in 1687.
Upon their arrival in Beijing
received by the Kangxi Emperor
was favorably impressed by them and retained Gerbillion and
at the court. This
famous monarch realized the value of the services which the fathers
could render to him owing to their scientific attainments, and they
on their part were glad in this way to win his favour and gain
prestige in order to further the interests of the infant
As soon as
they had learned the language of the country, Gerbillion with
Thomas Pereira, one of his
companions, was sent as interpreter to Nerchinsk with the ambassadors commissioned to treat with the
Russians regarding the boundaries of the two empires, which were
determined in the Treaty of
This was but the beginning of his
travels, during which he was often attached to the suite of the
emperor. He made eight different journeys into
"Tartary" (i.e., Manchuria and Mongolia).
one of these he was an eyewitness to the campaign in which Kangxi
defeated the Oirats
. On his last journey he
accompanied the three commissioners who regulated public affairs
and established new laws among the Khalkha
Mongols, who had yielded allegiance to the emperor. He availed
himself of this opportunity to determine the latitude and longitude
of a number of places in what is today the Northeastern China
and adjacent areas of
Russia and Mongolia.
Gerbillion was for a time in charge of the French college in
Beijing, and afterwards became superior-general of the mission. He
enjoyed the special friendship and esteem of the emperor, who had a
high opinion of his ability and frequently availed himself of his
scientific and diplomatic services. He was withal a zealous
missionary, and in 1692 obtained an edict granting the free
exercise of the Christian religion. After the emperor's recovery
from a fever, during which he was attended by Gerbillion and
Bouvet, he showed his gratitude by bestowing on them a site for a
chapel and residence.
Gerbillion was a skilled linguist. He was the author of several
works on mathematics, and wrote an account of his travels in
Tatary. These relations are valuable for their accurate account of
the typography of the country, the customs of the people, and also
for the details of life of the missionaries at the court.
"Eléments de Géométrie" (1689), "Géométrie pratique et théoretique"
(1690), "Eléments de philosphie". "Relations du huit Voyages dans
la Grande Tartarie". A work entitled "Elementa Linguæ Tartaricæ" is
also attributed to him.