Knowledge and Power: A Social History of the Transmission of European Mathematics in China during the Kangxi Reign (1662-1722)

Mon, Apr 10, 2017,
4:30 pm to 6:00 pm

April 10, 4:30-6 p.m. Lecture

In the last few decades much research has been devoted to the interaction of European and Chinese science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Scholars have begun to consider social and political factors in their studies of Chinese mathematics. This approach, however desirable, needs more systematic exploration. Drawing on research findings in social and political history, I will analyse why the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) began to be interested in European mathematics and how he used his newly acquired mathematical knowledge as a tool to control and impress Chinese official scholars and so consolidate his power. In addition, I will point out the reasons why he changed his attitude toward Western learning and established an Academy of Mathematics in 1713. Then I explore how European mathematical books were introduced and circulated in the Kangxi reign (1662-1722). Further I discuss why the Kangxi Emperor became interested in traditional Chinese mathematics.

April 11, 12-2 p.m. Lunch Workshop (a knowledge of classical Chinese will be necessary):

Between the Kangxi Emperor (r.1662-1722) and Leibniz--Joachim Bouvet’s Study of the Yijing at the Imperial Court

Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730), one of the King’s Mathematicians, was sent to China by the French King Louis XIV. He arrived in Beijing in 1688 and soon became a mathematics tutor of the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722). During his stay in Beijing, together with other Jesuits, he taught the Emperor Elemens de Geometrie written by the French Jesuit Ignace Gaston Pardies (1636-1673) and also translated European books on anatomy into Manchu. In addition to propagating Christian doctrines, he also brought with him the task of studying Chinese traditional medicine. In addition, he wrote the Gujin jingtian jian (古今敬天鉴) in 1707, using Chinese ancient classics to confirm Christian doctrines. Because of the Emperor's interest in the Yijing (易经,Book of Changes), Bouvet was ordered to study it carefully. Many of his manuscripts on the Yijing, in Chinese and Latin, are still preserved in Europe. What was Bouvet's purpose? Why did the Emperor ask Bouvet to study the Yijing? Based on the official documents and his manuscripts found in Europe, I will analyse Bouvet’s contact with the German philosopher Leibniz and his study of the Yijing within its social context.

This talk and accompanying workshop is co-sponsored by Professor Benjamin Elman's Mellon Achievement Grant and the Program of History of Science at Princeton University.

202 Jones

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