Sciences in Communist China: A Symposium Presented at the New York Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, December 26-27, 1960

By Sidney H. Gould | Go to book overview

Botanical Sciences

HUI-LIN LI,* University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Before 1949

A review and an evaluation of progress in botany in Communist China in the past decade should be made with a knowledge of the status of the botanical sciences in the country before that period.

For centuries various applied aspects of botany were much emphasized in China, and an extensive literature on crop plants, ornamental plants, medicinal plants, weeds, and other economic and noneconomic plants was accumulated. The Chinese, a history-minded people, recorded through the centuries much of their knowledge of plants--their occurrence, introduction, cultivation, variation, and utilization. It is probable that in no other language is there such a vast store of knowledge on economic botany as in Chinese. The late W. T. Swingle once said that "Chinese literature is undoubtedly the best in the world as source material for the history of utilization of wild plants and their domestication as cultivated crops."

Although botany as a folk and empirical science is highly developed, however, the introduction of botany as a modern scientific pursuit from the West was a relatively recent affair. Western science was first introduced into China in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a number of learned Jesuit priests. Although there were some accounts of plants of different parts of the world in the several geographical treatises written by these priests in the Chinese language, with the help of Chinese scholars,

____________________
*
The writer is indebted to Dr. Ralph O. Erickson and Dr. Martin Schwartz for their helpful suggestions in the preparation of this review.

-161-

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