On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900

On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900

On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900

On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900

Excerpt

This work is not a straightforward historical survey of the Chinese sciences that approaches that history topically. Fortunately, Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China series provides the best sourcebook for that. Instead, I focus principally on Chinese natural studies and the literati mastery of European natural learning from 1550 to 1900. In particular, I show how Manchu rulers and Chinese scholars broadened late imperial studies of astronomy, geography, mathematics, and medicine through court and literati contacts with Jesuits and Protestants, who presented European natural philosophy as part of their religious inheritance. Other areas such as physics, chemistry, and technology are covered when pertinent.

In this volume, the term literati refers to select members of the land-holding gentry who maintained their status as cultural elites primarily through classical scholarship, knowledge of lineage ritual, and literary publications. The term gentry refers to those before 1900 who wielded local power as landlords or provincial and empirewide power as government officials. The cultural status of both the gentry at large and the literati in their midst correlated with their rank on the civil service examinations. In addition, during the late empire, gentry and merchants intermingled, with the latter becoming part of the gentry elite.

Chinese characters have not been included for Chinese historical figures. Most are readily available in biographical collections such as Dictionary of Ming Biography (see DMB), Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (ECCP), and Howard Boorman and Richard Howard, Biographical Dictionary of Republican China (5 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967–1971). A romanized bibliography of Chinese and Japanese sources cited in the text is presented at the end.

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