Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633)

Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633)

Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633)

Statecraft and Intellectual Renewal in Late Ming China: The Cross-Cultural Synthesis of Xu Guangqi (1562-1633)

Synopsis

This is the first comprehensive work on one of the key figures in early Chinese-Western relations. Xu Guangqi was one of the first promoters of Western science in China, worked together with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci on translations of Western science, was one of the first Chinese converts, a high-ranking statesman, organizer of a major calendar reform, introduced Western weapons into the Chinese army, etc. etc.His astonishingly multifarious activities are now for the first time pieced together within their (Chinese and Western) social, intellectual and cultural context. The result is a composite profile of this complex figure that is solidly anchored in Chinese (and Western) primary sources A major achievement.

Excerpt

So much as a brief glance at the biography of Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) highlights the uniqueness of his position in Chinese history. He served as Grand Secretary of the empire, led an astronomical reform, translated Western scientific books, renovated the army, compiled an important treatise on agriculture, and was a Christian convert. Moreover, he also introduced a series of innovations to traditional Chinese society: new mathematics (Euclid’s Elements), new astronomical knowledge, a new religion, new military technology and - though less conspicuously so - agricultural experiments.

Xu Guangqi’s life and work have not gone unnoticed, and in historical writings, many of high quality, he has received his share of attention. Yet, both the extraordinary range of his endeavours and the nature and importance of the innovations with which he is associated have created a distorted image of his role during the last phase of the Ming dynasty and of the nature of his interest in Western culture.

In the first place, the picture suffers from fragmentation. In earlier literature, we may meet him in specialized studies on the history of science or in political and military histories of the last phase of the Ming dynasty. In a broader context, we will also find him mentioned and cited in works charting the “intellectual trends” which emerged during this period of history, in particular in the context of the so-called movement for “concrete studies” (shixue). In Western sources, where he was more or less the first Chinese “to have a face”, he was long studied strictly in the context of the introduction of Christianity, and more recently he has been treated in terms of the impact of Western culture in China generally.

Secondly, his activism and the originality of his personality have invited accounts of his historical role from an overtly ideological point of view. In early Western sources he was portrayed as a model Christian - one of the “three pillars” of the early Church in China - whose deeds were all subservient to the foremost goal of laying the foundations of the Church in China. In the late nineteenth century, he was turned into a model for those Chinese intellectuals who pleaded for “Westernization without loss of Chinese characteristics”. To early twentieth-century nationalists he was above all a patriot who tried to save the dynasty from foreign domination by making use of Western . . .

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