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Science, Westernization, and Feng Shui in Early Twentieth-Century China

  • Michael R. Matthews
Chapter
Part of the Science: Philosophy, History and Education book series (SPHE)

Abstract

Since the 1911 overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and the creation of modern political China, each generation has grappled with issues about the maintenance of Chinese culture, specifically its mixed Confucian/Daoist traditions, alongside the modernization of society. It is useful to put this ‘feng shui and modernization’ question into historical context. There was, and is, a significant internal Chinese tradition that views feng shui in the same light that outsiders such as Matteo Ricci and Ernst Eitel did, and see the comparable social and cultural changes required for remediation of its detrimental impact on the country. This Chinese cultural ‘reformist’ tradition has both philosophical and political dimensions. By the late-nineteenth century, there had been a number of Chinese translations of European scientific and mathematical works which were read by ever increasing numbers of scholars. In the three centuries following Ricci’s death, Western science had made precious little impact in China. Knowledge of Western science was confined to a miniscule portion of the mandarin class, and there it was understood in utilitarian terms and pursued mainly for technological advantage. The argument of this book is that what is needed for genuine modernization is engagement with scientifically informed philosophy, not just with Western philosophy. Of fundamental importance was the late-nineteenth-century introduction of European science and mathematics as optional subjects in the 2000-year-old system of Civil Service Exams. The modernization of thought called for by twentieth-century Chinese scholars echoes the Enlightenment project launched in Europe in the eighteenth century. This is clear in the writings, achievements, and tribulations of Fang Lizhi, the prominent cosmologist and astrophysicist.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Matthews
    • 1
  1. 1.University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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