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Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion (1): Chinese Science and Culture since the Sixteenth Century

by Prof Benjamin Elman, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

Date                  9 March 2017
Time                 4:30pm-6:00pm
Venue               AG710
(The talk will be conducted in English.)

Chinese revolutionaries and reformers in the early 20th century began to consider everything under Qing China (1644-1911) a failure in modern terms. Late Qing revolutionaries were increasingly looking toward Japan and elsewhere for models to transform and revolutionize China. In that context Chen Duxiu wrote a very famous essay that focused on science. He argued that democracy and science were the keys to joining the modern world. At the time, Chen was the Dean of the Liberal Arts College at Beijing University, and he personalized Mr. Democracy as “De xiansheng” 德先生 [Mr. De] and Mr. Science as “Sai xiansheng” 賽先生 [Mr. Sai]. What was interesting about this terminology is that the so-called “Sai xiansheng” in Chinese became Kexue 科學, or Kagaku from the Japanese, as if there had never been a term before in the Chinese lexicon to describe “science” in China. Kagaku was a term borrowed from Meiji Japan after the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War. Chinese youngsters still pay tribute to “De xiansheng” and “Sai xiansheng” every year on May 4th. Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science, are still considered important for the future of China. Kexue remains the Chinese term for “science.”

Biography of Speaker
Benjamin Elman is Gordon Wu ’58 Professor of Chinese Studies, professor of East Asian studies and history, and formerly chair of the Department of East Asian Studies. He works at the intersection of several fields including history, philosophy, literature, religion, economics, politics, and science. His ongoing interest is in rethinking how the history of East Asia has been told in the West as well as in China, Japan, and Korea.  He is currently studying cultural interactions in East Asia during the 18th century, in particular the impact of Chinese classical learning, medicine, and natural studies on Tokugawa, Japan, and Choson, Korea. The editor, author, or coauthor of numerous publications, Elman’s recent books include Classicism, Examinations, and Cultural History (2010); A Cultural History of  Modern Science in China (2009); and a textbook for world history, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present (2008).  Elman has also been effective in building relationships between Princeton University and institutions in East Asia, and has taught extensively at Fudan University in Shanghai and the University of Tokyo. Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania.

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