Scientific knowledge in the Qing Empire

Engaging with the world, 1644–1911

Authored by: James Flowers

The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367221256
eBook ISBN: 9780429273360
Adobe ISBN:


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Twentieth-century Chinese nationalists aimed to strengthen China as an important power in the global community in part by proselytising for China to adopt science. They implied that there was little science in China before the twentieth century. Much subsequent scholarship followed this claim of Chinese otherness, arguing that imperial governance was based on traditional philosophy and stifled scientific innovation. Recently scholars have overcome this view by examining the concerted efforts made by rulers, administrators, scholars, and physicians to understand the natural world. The Qing imperial project based much of its ability to rule on scientific knowledge learned alongside a number of Jesuit scholars based in China, as well as a long tradition of Chinese interest in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. New scholarship shows that the knowledge production was a case of hybrid knowledge in which there is no distinct Western or Eastern knowledge or science. Furthermore, scientific knowledge from Qing China entered Europe from the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, arousing strong interest among European scholars and physicians. The clearest examples are the cartographic project to map the Qing Empire, as well as the transmission of Chinese medical ideas and practices to Europe.

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