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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Some Comparative Issues in the World History of Science and Technology: Jesuit Learning in Late Imperial China

Vol. 41 No. 1   03/2011    


Some Comparative Issues in the World History of Science and Technology: Jesuit Learning in Late Imperial China


Benjamin A. Elman  









Key words

history of science, technology, Jesuits in China, Macartney mission    


         For over a century, Europeans have heralded the success of Western science and assumed the failure of science elsewhere. Since 1954, Joseph Needham had stressed the unique rise of modern science in Europe, but at the same time he acknowledged the achievements in traditional Chinese science and technology until 1600. In the decades since Needham answered his provocative question, “why didn’t the pre-modern Chinese develop modern science?” we have increasingly acknowledged that ourfocus on the “failure” of Chinese science to develop into modern science is heuristically interesting but historiographically misguided. We are now forced to reassess how the history of science globally should be rewritten. T his article will focus on why the Chinese never learned about the “Newtonian Century” in Europe and its analytic style of mathematical reasoning until after the Opium War (1839–1842). Some still contend that the Qing state during the Macartney mission in 1793, for example, was too closed-minded to learn about the emerging early modern world. With hindsight, such views appear incontrovertible, but there were many external factors to China, such as the collapse of the Jesuit mission in China and Europe in the middle of the eighteenth century, which help explain why the Newtonian revolution came so late in Asia, and not in the eighteenth century.



Author: Benjamin A. Elman
Genre: Article
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