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Science and Empire in East Asia: Qing Imperial Order and the Spatial Dynamics of Knowledge

Sun, June 26, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 107

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


Twentieth century historiography of imperialism has consistently depicted China as patient rather than as agent. In keeping with this view, historians of science have long narrated Qing China’s encounter with “modern science” as a failure to emulate institutions of knowledge already developed by expanding Western powers. However, early and mid-Qing China was itself an expanding empire. This panel proposes to apply to the Qing Empire two questions that have been thoroughly investigated in the case of European colonial powers. Firstly, how did Qing imperial expansion and scientific knowledge interact with one another? Secondly, how did the construction of the Qing Empire shape the production and circulation of knowledge at a regional level, both within its borders, and beyond them?

These issues are explored in two ways. The first two contributions address different ways of knowing about empire. Mario Cams sheds new light on cartography, a paradigmatic example of the early modern globalization of scientific practice. Catherine Jami focuses on scientific and technical knowledge turned into scholarly discourse in the Kangxi Emperor’s “investigation of things” (gewu). The two other contributions look at knowledge circulation across the empire’s borders. Lim Jongtae interprets the Pukhak (Northern Learning) agenda in late 18th century Korea as that of scholars from a cultural margin who had the opportunity to travel to the metropolis. Mathias Vigouroux shows the role of traveling experts and of the scholarly practice of “brush conversation” in the reception of Chinese medical knowledge in Edo Japan.

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