Unraveling the Miracle of Chinese Magic Mirrors
An ancient oriental miracle, far removed from the religious sphere, and from the western concept of ‘miracle,’ manifested around first century AD China to those who 'had faith', where explanations were not immediately ascribable to the scientific knowledge of the time. However, “Try and try again” the motto of the Academia del Cimento, founded in Florence in 1675 by Evangelista Torricelli and Vincenzo Viviani, students of Galileo Galilei, prevailed over centuries to finally unravel the mystery of the Chinese magic mirrors.
Shen Kuo’s Explanation
"... there are certain light-penetrating mirrors that have about 20 engraved characters, in an ancient style, that cannot be interpreted. If a mirror of the genus is exposed to sunlight - although the characters are all on the back - they are reflected on the wall, where one can read them extremely clearly..." is how Shen Kuo (1031-1095 AD), an official and scientist at the court of the Chinese Emperor Shengzon of the Song Dynasty, described the mirrors just under a thousand years ago in his work entitled, Brush Talks from Dream Brook published in 1088.
Shen Kuo (1031-1095 A.D.) Chinese scientist, author of writings on Chinese "magic" mirrors (CC BY-SA 3.0)
“In my family I have three of these engraved light-penetrating mirrors and I have seen similar and somewhat ancient treasures in other families, but I don't understand why other mirrors, though extremely thin, don't let the light through. The ancients must have had some special art..."
In fact, the perplexed Shen Kuo put forward a subdued explanation, suggesting that during the fusion of these mirrors, the inner part of the metal cooled faster than the surface and this would have caused the formation of imperceptible deformations of the profile, not observable to the naked eye. He also noted that too thin mirrors did not perform the 'miracle'. A similar observation was made, at the end of the 13th century, by Dzhou Mi.
An example of one of the 'miraculous' products of ancient Chinese craftsmanship. The bronze mirror is illuminated from the left. On the wall in front of it, the image that has been imprinted on the back of the mirror, appears. (You Tube)
Globalization of the Magic Mirrors
One of the first archaeological finds relating to these artifacts were found in tombs in the province of Uhan, in southern China, which were dated to the sixth century BC.
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Top Image: Chinese Bronze Mirror (CC BY-SA 1.0)