Location: Bowdoin / History / Activity / 2014 / The Spear and Shield of Knowledge: Scientific Transference and Cultural Obstruction between China and the West

History

The Spear and Shield of Knowledge: Scientific Transference and Cultural Obstruction between China and the West

Story posted February 20, 2014

Examples of the transference of science and technology that have occurred in the long history of contact between China and the West are abundant, momentous, and memorable. However, whether we are considering the ancient transmission of sericulture from China westward or early modern astronomical methods from the West eastward, we err gravely if we assume that such transfers always occurred freely, smoothly, and easily. On the contrary, attending each instance of transference is a contested history involving intense competition and even adversarial struggle over the possession, safeguarding, and retention of one’s own scientific and technological knowledge. This talk illustrates how certain early proprietary conflicts between the West and China for advantage in the sphere of science arose and ensued, and why these events have continued to contribute so profoundly to the mixed attitudes of mutual attraction and distrust that pervade contemporary Sino-Western relations.

Don WyattKeynote speaker DON J. WYATT is John M. McCardell, Jr. Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College. His scholarship includes the history of Chinese intellectualism, and especially that of the development of Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism. He has also published on customary Chinese ideas about war and warfare and on the historical and political dimensions of the early construction of Chinese cultural identity. His most recent book is The Blacks of Premodern China (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). Among his forthcoming publications is the “China” chapter essay in the volume The Image of the Black in African and Asian Art in the renowned series The Image of the Black in Western Art, edited by David Bindman, Suzanne Blier, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which is scheduled to appear in 2015.