Tag Archives: China

Seminar “Types of text” in relation with the question “Text as document”

The seminar  “Types of text” in relation with the question “Text as document” will take place on Thursday 10 January 2013, from 9:30 to 17:30, in room 366A-Klimt of the Bâtiment Condorcet. Maps and directions can be found here. The seminar forms part of the seminar series  History of Science, History of Text.


Bob Middeke-Conlin (SAW, SPHERE) and Cécile Michel (CNRS (HAROC) & SAW)
Classifying texts in Ancient Mesopotamia: Some definitions

Michael Friedrich (Universität Hamburg, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures)
What to do with non-documentary manuscripts found in late pre-imperial and early imperial Chinese tombs (3rd – 2nd centuries BCE)?

Three questions to Michael Loewe

This is the second interview in a new series, entitled Three questions, in which scholars,  invited to participate in the SAW events, answer three questions about their research.

It is my honour to introduce Michael Loewe, who will give a talk on Wang Mang’s bronze vessel for the system of capacity units of measurement at the workshop Cultures of Computation and Quantification (session of 29 January 2013).

Michael Loewe (born 1922) was appointed Lecturer in the History of the Far East at the University of London in 1963, and Lecturer in Chinese Studies in Cambridge in 1963 until his retirement in 1990. His research has been concentrated on the history of China’s early empires (221 BCE to 220 CE) with attention to religious, intellectual, and institutional developments and with account of both literary and material evidence.  His principal publications include Records of Han Administration (1967); A Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Dynasties (2000) and Dong Zhongshu, a ‘Confucian’ heritage and the Chunqiu fanlu (2011); and as co-editor The Cambridge History of China volume I (1986) and The Cambridge History of Ancient China (1999).

Natalie Cernecka: How did you become interested in Chinese studies?
Michael Loewe: In 1942 I was trained in certain aspects of Japanese and thereafter in contemporary Chinese.  During a six months’ stay in  Pei-ping in 1947, I acquired a deep interest in China’s traditional culture and on return to England I was able to pursue this interest while working for a degree in Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Continue reading

Three questions to Howard Goodman

This is  the first interview in a new series, entitled Three questions, in which scholars, invited to participate in the SAW project seminars, answer three questions about their research.

It is an honour to introduce Howard L. Goodman, who will give several talks at three one-day workshops on Li Chunfeng, and on the treatises in the official histories written in Tang China, which will take place at the end of November – beginning of December 2012.

Howard Goodman became interested in Chinese, as well as Russian and music, at a young age.  He received a PhD. in early Chinese intellectual history at Princeton and taught at several universities. His research interests are varied, as reflected in his papers on such subjects as Wei-Jin music, careers of local families, harmonics vis-a-vis musical scales, factionalism, poetry, the nature of mortuary rites and commemoration, institutions of scientific thought.  He is the author of two books: Xun Xu and the Politics of Precision in Third-Century AD China, covering such issues as musicology, poetics, metrology, and archeology in the career of Xun Xu (d. 289) and his peers, and the role of factions and scholarly groups; and Ts’ao P’i Transcendent: The Political Culture of Dynasty-Founding in China at the End of the Han, dealing with exacting arts, mantic ideas, notions of revelation, etc., that lay behind Cao Pi’s decision to install a new dynasty in 220. In 2013, Howard Goodman will be a Visiting Associate Professor of Chinese history at the University of Chicago.

Natalie Cernecka: Why did you become interested in Li Chunfeng?

Howard Goodman: I became interested in the 7th century Li Chunfeng during research into scholars of the 2d-3d centuries, especially Xun Xu (d. 289). In the process, the third century’s approach to precision in ritual knowledge and ritual arts seemed like a fascinating set of intellectual-scientific tools — tools that came from China’s long traditions, including mathematics, harmonics, astronomy, mechanical engineering, etc. I sensed that certain 2d-3d century scholars thought of themselves as workers in technical fields (not just social groups of writers and political operatives); they applied recent contributions in the exacting arts and in classical commentaries, as well as findings in archeology. I understood that we need to learn about Li Chunfeng, who was in fact making his own, much more mathematically-oriented, judgments on earlier judgments. Li may be seen as a back-looking mirror on post-Han scientific thinking.

Karine Chemla
: How does learning about Li Chunfeng help us use the evidence he gives us — and is sometimes the only one to give us– about earlier scientific activities in China?
HG: From Cai Yong’s day (not to mention Ban Gu) down to Li Chunfeng’s I see a profound evolution in the way the technical treatises on, and creative achievements in, harmonic  systems were framed. A major change from Cai to Xun Xu (who did not write treatises but did leave documents) was the refined use of antiquarian documents (esp. provenancing of objects-as-witnesses). This activity had existed in the Dongguan archives of Eastern Han dynasty, but for Xun, collecting and provenancing entirely defined his reforms in metrology and musicology. However, Xun treated his predecessors in a highly iconoclastic way: he denounced his predecessors.

Li Chunfeng was not this kind of iconoclast, instead he carefully carried forward the findings of important predecessors, without denunciation. He looked back at the history of harmonics and astronomy in two ways. First, he continued that tradition of collecting and provenancing — Li’s treatises are a veritable anthology of quoted documents (saved nowhere else) about metrology, harmonics, and physical cosmography, ranging from Xun  Xu’s own archival notes to the most advanced of the mathematical findings of especially Northern Dynasty experts. This “Li Chunfeng anthology”, so to speak, also may have included many actual devices at his disposal.

Secondly, Li wrote his treatises in a historiographical manner that installed leading figures in specific fields. He explicitly defended Xun Xu’s radical metrology and harmonics by offering hundreds more collected objects as witness-proofs and introduced mathematical explanations where Xun had not explicitly done so. Moreover, Li updated 500 years of cosmography by carefully reconstructing the theories and devices of Wang Fan (3d c.). In this way, Li Chunfeng’s work both retrieved and built up a history of achievements. Li’s own armillary sphere may be seen as a final key to his mathematico-cosmographic work, but I believe we know too little about it for anything more than suggestions to be made.

NC: What is the most exciting problem concerning Li Chunfeng’s writing that still needs to be solved?

HG: Li’s written treatise on the history and specifics of court astronomy during the Jin dynasty (266-419) was translated by Ho Peng Yoke and is a major step in studies of Li Chunfeng. To round out our view of Li’s scientific mind, we should translate his treatise on harmonic systems, Lüli zhi (a.k.a. “Treatise on Calendars and Pitch-pipes”, esp. the treatise that became part of Suishu), bringing out his view of mathematical developments. We also need an investigation of Li’s Daoist writings to see if they relate to arts, precision, and techne of the type found in Tang court ritual. For example, does the Daoist term “flowing pearls” (used in a Li Chunfeng Daoist essay) relate to mercury used in armillary drives? What would studies of Li show us about the Tang nexus of Daoism, the state-cult, and certain arts and techniques?

NC: Many thanks!

Special panel on measuring units in pre-modern China

On 8 September 2012, two SAW project members — PI Karine Chemla and post-doctoral researcher Zhu Yiwen — are presenting a special panel Meanings and uses of measuring units in pre-modern China at the 19th Biennial Conference of the European Association of Chinese Studies (EACS), held 4-8 September 2012 in Paris. Participants are our colleague Li Liang, and guest speakers Christoph Harbsmeier (University of Oslo) and Asaf Goldschmidt (Tel Aviv University). Details are on the conference website.

Doctoral and postdoctoral projects

Doctoral and postdoctoral research on topics related to the SAW project thematics is an integral part of our work.

In summer 2011, the SAW project advertised two scholarships: a doctoral scholarship in cuneiform mathematics related to administrative contexts (see call for applicationsappel d’offre) and a post-doctoral scholarship in mathematics and astronomy in  ancient China ( call for applicationsappel d’offre). Two young scholars were recruited: Robert Middeke-Conlin, who is interested in the mathematics for administrative purposes in the Old Babylonian period, and Zhu Yiwen, who works on Chinese sources.

In spring 2012, the SAW project advertised two doctoral scholarships: in history of mathematics in ancient and medieval Indic sources related to administrative contexts ( call for applicationsappel d’offre), and in history of archives, libraries, and collections linked to Mesopotamian sources and their use by historians ( call for applicationsappel d’offre).