• Two reports on conmuication of science and technology in East Asia
  • Update Time: 2019-04-26

Individual itineraries and the spatial dynamics of knowledge
in late imperial China

Catherine Jami

(CNRS, Chine, Corée, Japon – UMR 8173)


The project “Individual itineraries and the circulation of scientific and technical knowledge in China (16th–20th centuries)” has shed light on the impact of individuals’ geographic mobility on the spatial dynamics of knowledge late imperial China. During the last centuries of the empire, the bureaucratic system dictated a specific mode of mobility of the elites. A sequence of examinations led candidates from their district of origin to the provincial capital, and from there on to Beijing. Selected for their mastery of the Classics, the metropolitan graduates were assigned to positions in the provinces, changing location regularly during their career. The ways in which individual itineraries shaped knowledge has been studied not only for civil servants, but also for various socio-professional groups, including the scholars privately employed by high officials, craftsmen and medical doctors. To these groups should be added the actors of the globalisation of knowledge during this period; these include Christian missionaries, colonial doctors, and the Chinese students who returned from abroad during the last decades of the empire. Thus in order to integrate China into a global history of science, we have applied to the study of contacts between China and the rest of the world the same approach that we proposed to apply within the empire, where different local cultures met. A number of case studies have enabled us to shed light on a great variety of places, social milieus, and actors. Knowledge and practice relevant to fields such as sericulture, medicine, natural history and statistics have been analysed, so as to set the conditions of travel of technical knowledge within the broader context of the ways in which expertise such as classical scholarship — the body of knowledge sanctioned by imperial examination — circulated amongst the elite. This talk will present the main results of the project, and especially those gathered in the recent edited volume Individual itineraries and the Spatial Dynamics of Knowledge: Science, Technology and Medicine in Late Imperial China (Paris, 2017).







The Geneva sphere: a 17th century Japanese clockwork cosmic model
and its implications


Christopher Cullen

(Needham Research Institute, Cambridge)


The early modern encounter between the sciences and technologies of Europe and East Asia that began with the 16th century arrival of Jesuit missionaries in ‘the Indies‘ has been studied by many scholars. Most studies of the contacts initiated by the Jesuits have so far concentrated on the reception and appropriation of  ‘western learning‘ at the levels of East Asian elite power and specialist knowledge, particularly in China. The nature of our sources - or at least the sources that scholars have chosen to study - has not made it easy to find out what happened outside those limited circles.


The device studied in this talk opens a different perspective for scholarship.  It is a clockwork driven model of the cosmos, and appears to have been made in early Edo Japan (c. 1600 - 1650). It opens an unexpected window onto a way in which a broad East Asian public appropriated foreign technology and ‘consumed‘ astronomical knowledge with evident enthusiasm and relish, despite the disdain with which expert astronomers regarded their interests. The search for the cultural context of the sphere in Japanese texts of this period reveals that it is the sole survivor of what was once a large class of similar clockwork-driven devices.  These devices represented a non-élite hybridisation of imported western technology in the field of clockwork with East Asian astronomy, and were an expression of a widespread popular interest in ingenious mechanisms as a form of entertainment, as well as in the movements of the heavenly bodies. 


Time:14:00-17:00 , May 3, 2019 

AddressMeeting Room 209