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Science & Technology in China 11.2006 Outline Joseph Needham, Science & Civilisation in China 1. A comparison of the Western and Chinese development in science & technology 2. Human law and the laws of Nature 1. A comparison of the Western and Chinese development in science & technology The assumption: modern science originated only in Europe In arts: a certain incommensurability between the civilizations, little continuous development can be found among them. In science, technology, medicine: there is a clear increase in man’s knowledge and power through centuries. 1.1 Define modern and mediaeval science Mediaeval science: tied closely to their ethnic environment. It was difficult if not impossible for people of those different environments to find any common basis of discourse. But it was not impossible for inventions of great importance to pass from one civilization to another, and that they did, right through the Middle Ages. 1.1 Define modern and mediaeval science Modern science: developed only in Western Europe in the time of Galileo during the Renaissance and during the science revolution. That is, it was there alone that there developed the fundamental basis of modern science, e.g. the application of Mathematical hypotheses to Nature, the full understanding and use of the experimental method. 1.2 The Four Great Chinese Inventions 1. Gunpowder 2. Compass 3. Paper 4. Printing 5. Other famous Chinese inventions 1.2.1 Gunpowder The first appearance of gunpowder: 850-900 AD, in Tong Dynasty Was the result of an experimental accident in the search of “The Immortal potion” for the Emperors Originally used to make fireworks: small bamboo cases filled with gunpowder, which were used for shows but later also to scare enemies in war. Later adaptation of gunpowder revolutionized modern warfare. 1.2.2 Compass Invented during the Warring Period (476-221 B.C.) “Si Nan,” used in Feng Shui was the forerunner of the compass The compass started as a bronze/wooden plate with Chinese character markings and a metal spoon made of magnetic loadstone on top. Representing spiritual and physical opposites. The spoon represents Tian and the plate represents Earth. 1.2.2 Compass During the Northern Song Dynasty (960- 1127 A.D.), tiny needles made of magnetized steel were invented. Pingzhou Table Talks recorded the first use of compas for navigation in 1117A.D. Knowledge of the compass moved overland through Arab countries and then to Europe sometime later in the 12th century. 1.2.3 Paper The word “paper” derives from the Egyptian word ‘papyrus.” (5000 years ago the Egyptians used papyrus as a mode of paper. Paper as we know it today stems from China. 3 important types of paper existed: silk rags, wooden strips (least expensive), silk cloth (most expensive) Most types of paper consisted of over 50% bamboo, other ingredients included cloth, mulberry bark, and plant fibers. 1.2.3 Paper Cai Lun, a Chinese court official in Eastern Han Dyansty, improved paper making techniques in 105 A.D. Excavations from tombs of the former Western Han Dyansty (207B.C.-9A.D.) revealed ancient paper fragments. In some places in SW China’s Guizhou Province, where many ethic-minority groups live, Cai Lun’s ancient paper making techniques are still practiced. 1.2.3 Paper Paper was not used for writing before 1st century B.C. Paper was not used exclusively for writing, but also in decorative arts, ceremonies and festivals, for business records, household furnishing… The Chinese were the first to use paper money. 1.2.3 Paper The paper-making industry flourished during the 2nd century AD and Chinese used to grind bamboo into rough straw paper. Eventually, paper enabled books to become cheaper and more portable. In the past, books were exclusively written on bamboo or silk, which made them extremely heavy & expensive for the common people. Extensive production and wide distribution was not possible till the invention of printing. 1.2.3 The Spread of Paper-making It was not till the 3rd century that the art of paper making spread outside China (to Vietnam and Tibet first) 4th century to Korea; 6th century to Japan 12th century, war spread Chinese papermaking in Europe. 16th century, reached America; 19th century, reached Australia. It took more than 1500 years for papermaking to reach every part of the world. 1.2.3 The Spread of Paper-making *Paper and the printing press are responsible for the cultural advancement of societies throughout the world. During the European Renaissance period, printing and paper were the main catalyst for the spread of ideas. Paper also played a huge roll advancing Chinese culture during the Han Dynasty. 1.2.4 Printing Woodblock printing was first practiced by the Chinese around 700A.D. Each woodblock corresponded to one page. In 868 A.D., the 1st book ever was printed. Wood, ink, and paper are required for woodblock printing. Later, Chinese invented movable printing. However, because of the complexity and sheer number of characters (thousands) in written Chinese, woodblock printing was still primarily used to produce books until the 19th cnentury. 1.2.5 Other Technologies and Knowledge in Ancient China China had seen remarkable achievements in many directions. E.g. Mathematics: decimal place value and a blank space for zero had begun in China earlier than anywhere else, and a decimal metrology had gone along with it. 22.214.171.124 Mathematics By 1st BC, Chinese artisans were checking their work with sliding calipers decimally graduated. Chinese mathematical thought was always deeply algebraic, not geometrical. In the Song & Yuan dynasties, the Chinese led the world in the solution of equations, so that the triangle called by the name of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was already old in China in 1300AD. 126.96.36.199 Mechanics The system of linked and pivoted rings were known as the Cardan suspension after Jerome Cardan (1501-1576AD). They should be called Ting Huan’s suspension because it had been used in China 1000 years before the time of Cardan. 188.8.131.52 Astronomy The Chinese were the most persistent and accurate observers of celestial phenomena before the Renaissance. For astronomy was needed for astrology, which played a great role in major decision-makings. Though geometrical planetary theory did not develop among them, they conceived an enlightened cosmology, mapped the heavens using our modern coordinates, and kept records of eclipses, comets, and sun-spots and so on that are used by radio astronomical instruments down to this very day. 184.108.40.206 Physics Optics, acoustics and magnetism were well- developed in ancient and mediaeval China. This was in striking contrast with the west, where mechanics and dynamics were relatively advanced but magnetic phenomena almost unknown. 220.127.116.11 Physics Yet China and Europe differed most profoundly in the great debate between continuity and discontinuity; just as Chinese Maths. was always algebraic rather than geometrical, so Chinese physics was faithful to a prototypic wave theory and perennially averse to atoms. 18.104.22.168 Physics No doubt, the Buddist philosophers brought in theories about atoms, but no Chinese listened to them. The Chinese stuck to the ideas of universal motion in a continuous medium, action at a distance, and the wavelike motions of Yin and Yang. 1.3 Needham, “China was an organic materialism.” This can be illustrated from the pronouncements of philosophers and scientific thinkers of every era. Metaphysical idealism was never dominant in China, nor did the mechanical view of the world exist in Chinese thought. The organicist conception in which every phenomenon was connected with every other according to a hierarchical order was universal among Chinese thinkers. 1.3 Needham, “China was an organic materialism.” In some respects this philosophy of Nature may have helped the development of Chinese scientific thinking. E.g. The lode stone should point to the north, to the North Star, the pole star. It was not surprising if one was already convinced that there was an organic wholeness in the cosmic itself . 1.3 Needham, “China was an organic materialism.” In other words, the Chinese were a priori inclined to field theories, and this might well account also for the fact that people in China arrived so early at correct ideas of the causes of the tides of the sea 1.3 Needham, “China was an organic materialism.” Chinese mathematical thought and practice were invariably algebraic, not geometrical. No deductive Euclidean geometry developed spontaneously in China, and there was no doubt, somehow inhibitory to the advances the Chinese were able to make in optics. Euclidean geometry was probably brought to China in the Yuan period but it did not take root until the arrival of the Christians. 1.3 Needham, “China was an organic materialism.” Nevertheless, the lack of Euclidean geometry did not prevent the successful realization of the great engineering inventions, e.g. there were highly complicated ones in which astronomical demonstrational and observational equipment was driven by water power through the use of elaborate gearing. 1.4 Needham, “Chinese were fundamentally practical people” The fundamental practicality did not imply an easily satisfied mind, because very careful experimentation was practised in classical Chinese culture. E.g. the discovery of magnetic declination would never have occurred unless the geomancers had been attending most carefully to the positions of their needles. 1.5 Differences in Social and Economic Structure between Traditional China & the Traditional West After the time of Chin Shih Huang Ti (3rd century BC), there was no feudalism in the aristocratic military Western sense. The country was ruled by only one feudal lord, the emperor himself, operated by civil service recruited from the scholar-gentry. Families rose into “estate,” of the scholar-gentry, and sank out of it again, especially during the period when the imperial examination played an important part in the recruiting of civil service. 1.5 Differences in Social and Economic Structure between Traditional China & the Traditional West The scholar-gentry (shih) were the literary and managerial elite of the nation for 2000 years. The conception of “career open to talent,” which many people date from the French Revolution, was neither French/ European: it had been Chinese for a millennium already. 1.6 How did social & economic structure effect science & technology? In China, certain sciences were orthodox from the point of view of the scholar-gentry, and others not. E.g. The institution of the calendar and its importance for a primarily agricultural society, and also to a lesser extent the belief in state astrology, made astronomy one of the orthodox sciences. 1.6 How did social & economic structure effect science & technology? Mathematics was considered suitable as a pursuit for the educated scholar, so also physics up to a point, especially as both Maths and physics contributed to the engineering works so characteristic of the centralized government. 1.6 How did social & economic structure effect science & technology? The need of Chinese bureaucratic society for great works of irrigation and water conservation meant not only that hydraulic engineering was regarded favorably among the traditional scholars, but also that it helps to stabilize and support that form of society of which they themselves were such an essential part. 1.6 How did social & economic structure effect science & technology? Many people believed that the origin and development of feudal bureaucratic society in China was at least partly dependent on the fact that from very early times the undertaking of great hydraulic engineering works tended to cut across the boundaries of the lands of the individual feudal lords, and this had the effect of concentrating all power in the centralized bureaucratic imperial state. 1.6 How did social & economic structure effect science & technology? In contrast with these forms of applied science, alchemy was unorthodox. Medicine was rather neutral. To conclude: The centralized feudal style of social order was favorable to the growth of applied science. 1.7 Some Drawbacks of being Orthodox From early rimes, Chinese astronomy had benefitted from state support but the semi-secrecy which it involved was to some extent a disadvantage. Some historians in the ChinShu (265-420AD) says, “astronomical instruments have been in use from very ancient days, … closely guarded by official astronomers… Scholars therefore have had little opportunity to examine them, and this is the reason why unorthodox cosmological theories have been able to spread and flourish so much.” 1.7 Some Drawbacks of being Orthodox However, one cannot push that argument too far. It is clear that in the Sung period, the study of astronomy was quite possible and even usual in scholarly families. There were periods, e.g. in the 11th centry, Maths and astronomy played a prominent part in the famous official examination for the civil service. 2.Human law and the laws of Nature In the West, in Europe, there has always been a close connection between the idea of natural law and the appreciation of the recurrent operations of Nature. Natural law in the juristic sense, law which it is natural for all men to obey, has always been closely linked in men’s minds with the concept of laws enacted by God, the Creator for Nature. 2.1 The Common Root of Natural Law & the Laws of Nature Primitive society: the law of unwritten custom Gradually as society developed and became differentiated into classes, did a body of judgments develop, and with the growth of a central state, these judgments became broader than those which societies had previously followed; in fact lawgivers arose. Law incorporated was deemed to be good for the welfare of the community. 2.1 The Common Root of Natural Law & the Laws of Nature In Chinese thought, such law was expressed by the word fa, just as the customs of society based on ethics, covered by the word li. After the defeat of the Legalists at the end of 3rd century BC, fa was reduced to a minimum, and li returned to its former dominance. 2.1 The Common Root of Natural Law & the Laws of Nature Aristotle, the Nicomachean Ethics, “Political justice is of two kinds, one natural and the other conventional. A rule of justice is natural when it has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting it or not. A rule of justice is conventional when in the first instance it may be settled in one way or the other indifferently…” 2.2 Natural Law and Positive Law in Chinese Jurisprudence In the West, law has always been revered as something more or less supreme important, imposing itself on everyone, defining and regulating the conditions of all forms of social activity. In China, law took an inferior place to the powerful body of spiritual and moral values. E.g. in Shu Ching (the Book of Documents): the supple and personal relations of li were preferable to the rigid fa. 2.3 The Law & Phenomenalism “The Mandate of Tian” e.g, excessive rain can be a sign of the emperor’s injustice, prolonged drought indicates that he is making serious mistakes. A similar, though less elaborate, conviction among the early Greeks. It arose from a kind of projection of the internal relationships of the tribe on to external Nature. 2.3 The Law & Phenomenalism The West saw justice and law at all levels closely associated with personalized being, enacting laws and administering them. The Chinese saw only that righteous embodied in good custom represented the harmony necessary for the existence and function of the social organism. 2.3 The Law & Phenomenalism The Chinese recognized, too, the harmony of tian, and if pressed, would have admitted harmony in the individual body as well. Discord in one was echoed by disharmony in the others. In China, this phenomenalist conviction gave no stimulus to the idea of the laws of Nature In the West, the Greeks ideas were important elements in the stream of thought which led to the Universal Law of Nature. 2.3 The Law & Phenomenalism For the Chinese, e.g. Wang Chung’s views on phenomenalism were based on the absurdity of supposing that tian echoed the petty doing of men, a move against the human-created universe of phenomenalism, but they did not help in bringing about any conception of scientific law.
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