Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits and Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits and Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China

Article excerpt

Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits and Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China. By Florence C. Hsia. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2O09- Pp. xv, 273. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-226-35559-7.)

There is no shortage of books, in several languages, on the Jesuit missionaries in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China, and on the European science that a few of these Jesuits taught in China. If any subject in the history of late-imperial or early-modern China has attracted enough scholarship to do it justice, it would probably be this one. But much of the more recent scholarship on this subject rather neglects the European audience and background of the scientific mission of the China Jesuits (just as Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land [New York, 1961] does not tell us much of what we might like to know about Valentine Michael Smith's Martian background and support network).

But whereas Heinlein does tell us quite a bit about Smith himself, Hsia's account of the China Jesuits is cast more as a "biography in a collective mode" (p. 7) in which individual personalities do not stand out as clearly or vividly as in the Jesuit historiography of an earlier generation. Although Hsia demonstrates an admirable competence in the field of spherical astronomy (starting on p. 100), neither does the book focus on the science that Jesuits taught in China or even much on the Chinese reception. Hsia's niche in this comparatively oversubscribed field is, rather, "the historical emergence and fortunes of this puzzling figure" (p. 2) of the Jesuit missionary scientist in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China- an individual who transmitted European science and personal discoveries to the Chinese literati, European savants, and other interested parties of the European proto-Enlightenment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.