In China’s Image: Chinese Self-perception in Western Thought by Rupert Hodder (auth.)

By Rupert Hodder (auth.)

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GT, p. 206) China and the Western Heartland 29 A fabulous, older, wiser and spiritual China could be extracted by sinology from travellers’ tales; and the romance of Chinoiserie became professionalised. Observations, artifacts and historical texts were to be interpreted not merely according to initial beliefs about the intellectual and moral supremacy of Chinese culture; those interpretations were now to be rationalised through the medium of the scientific approach with its ritual invocations of structure and forces, and its detestation of individual human decision and thought, and of chance events.

China and the Western Heartland 41 The mythographers instruct their readers that, with regard to applied science, we need hesitate little over the assumption that transmission rather than independent invention explains the appearance of similar inventions in different places: For example, the gaining of power from the flow and descent of water by a wheel can only have been first successfully executed once. Within a limited lapse of time thereafter the invention may have occurred once or twice independently elsewhere, but such a thing is not invented over and over again.

P. , p. 85). , p. 107). , p. 58). What does it mean, they ask, to be a precursor or a predecessor? ‘For those who are interested in intercultural transmissions this is a vital point’ (SCC4, p. xxvi). The difficulty, they argue, is that any mind is necessarily the denizen of the organic intellectual medium of its own time: Discoveries and inventions are no doubt organically connected with the milieu in which they arose. Similarities may be purely fortuitous. Yet to affirm the true originality of Galileo and his contemporaries is not necessarily to deny the existence of precursors, so long as that term is not taken to mean absolute priority or anticipation; and in the same way there were many Chinese precursors or predecessors who adumbrated scientific principles later acknowledged – one thinks immediately of Huttonian geology, the comet tail law, or the declination of the magnetic needle.

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