Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Science _amp; Technology in China


  • pg 1
									Science & Technology in China


   Joseph Needham, Science & Civilisation in
   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 &

   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

   Mediaeval science: tied closely to their ethnic
   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

   Modern science: developed only in Western
    Europe in the time of Galileo during the
    Renaissance and during the science
   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
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
   Excavations from tombs of the former Western Han
    Dyansty (207B.C.-9A.D.) revealed ancient paper
   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
   The Chinese were the first to use paper
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
   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
   4th century to Korea; 6th century to Japan
   12th century, war spread Chinese papermaking in
   16th century, reached America; 19th century, reached
   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
   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. 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. 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. Astronomy

   The Chinese were the most persistent and accurate
    observers of celestial phenomena before the
   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. 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. 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. 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

   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

   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

   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

   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

   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
   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

   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

   However, one cannot push that argument too
   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
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
   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.

To top