Chinese Culture Faces Challenges
Western Culture: Its Spread and Influence Traditional Chinese Culture.
Random photo: Impressions of China
The First Opium War (1840-1842) broke out at a crucial time when China was at a transition point of development. The isolated China was invaded by Western colonialism and, from this point, China entered a period of suffering and hardships. Western aggressors forced open the door of China with gunboats to dump Opium and other commodities and this was followed by a deluge of Western culture.
The declining imperial government of the Qing Dynasty was unable to defend itself from the attack or to deter the dumping of foreign goods. Repeatedly losing wars against such aggression, China was relegated to a semi-colony and thrown into the bondage of a series of humiliating treaties. Meanwhile, the traditional Chinese culture that had always been dominant and never been Shaken in the country began to face challenges from the West that China had previously never met. Two societies and two cultures collided.
At this time, a number of progressive and sober-minded scholars began to examine the traditional culture, trying to find a new way out for it in face of the Western challenge. These enlightened Chinese intellectuals and the cultural community launched a fervent discussion about where traditional Culture should go.
From the mid-19th century, China faced what could be regarded as either a cultural crisis or a new opportunity for development. Confronting the flood of Western culture, some scholars were awakened from their dreams of blind self-complacence and pride. Facing reality, they acknowledged that China, in some areas, was not as good as its Western counterparts. By this, they meant that Western countries had better and more gunboats and better-trained armed forces than those of other countries. This became the consensus of many people at that time
Many believed that the cause of victories in the wars of aggression against China was good gunboats and well-trained armed forces. In his book Illustrated Record of Maritime Nations, the famous scholar Wei Yuan (1794-1857) proposed that China should "defeat he enemy by learning his strengths." The government attempted to follow this advice by first purchasing warships and armaments from abroad and then copying them. Soon, it became clear that this was not enough; well-trained soldiers, equipped with technical and operational skills, were essential.
Many of the warships and cannons imported from abroad at that time were worn-out products and proved useless. To make matters worse, the quality of domestically produced warships was very low, and soldiers were short of the necessary skills to operate them. As a result, accidents involving cannon explosions occurred frequently. These failures emphasized the need for education in science and technology.
From the 1870s, China began to import natural science and technology instead of weapons and ships. Eager for quick success and benefits, those who introduced Western culture at that time neglected the translation of works in the humanities, looking only to industrial and mechanical manufacturing and other practical sciences. However, many scientific disciplines were thus introduced into China, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, mineralogy, paleogeology, and medical science.
Books on science were chiefly translated and printed by the translation bureau subordinate to the head-office of the Kiangnan Machine Building Works. Over a period of some 20 years, the bureau translated a total of 163 titles of books on science. These, from today's viewpoint, were often no more than popular readers but, having such a different cultural background from the West, most Chinese intellectuals still had difficulties in reading them.
Ancient China had made many brilliant scientific and technological achievements, but modern science and technology was only introduced after the two Opium Wars. At first, when they first came in touch with modern Western mathematics, a number of conservative scholars arrogantly believed that China's achievements in the subject were greater than those of the West. They therefore refused to introduce and assimilate modern mathematics and its theories. Moreover, many scholars, who knew nothing about natural sciences, refused to learn from Western sciences
However, a number of successful Chinese scientists also emerged during this period. Scholars, such as Li Shanlan (1811-1882), XuShou (1818-1884), and Hua Hengfang (1833-1902), made great contributions to the popularization and study of natural sciences. They differed from both natural scientists in ancient times and from scholars of their own time who refused to adapt. Being equipped with a substantial traditional cultural knowledge, including natural sciences, and conscientiously assimilating and studying modern Western science and theory, they adopted an experimental scientific method using logic, inference and deduction in their studies.
As they were well informed, it was possible for them to achieve results in their research. The chemists Xu and Hua wrote monographs on natural sciences. Li studied the "derivative of the circumference" independently acquiring the fundamental idea of calculus. Li also translated analytic geometry and calculus and popularized the Copernican theory, giving Chinese people their first understanding of modern astronomy.
Another form of introduction was through the establishment of modern industrial enterprises and schools in the country, spreading modern science and knowledge over a wider area. Through this contact with new science, ideas and knowledge, the Chinese began to abandon outdated ideas and ponder over the value of science and technology. In 1862, the Institute of Diplomatic Relations was set up in Beijing, in which English, French and Russian language studies were conducted. In 1867, the Institute of Astronomy and Mathematics was established which caused a sensation in society at the time. By the time the imperial civil examination system was abolished in 1905, Chinese people had gone through a long and hard period of learning natural sciences. During this time, China began to join the outside world in the field of science and technology.
In order to inspire more Chinese people to learn and appreciate natural sciences and to instill modern science and knowledge into the minds of Chinese intellectuals, the scientists Xu Shou, Hua Hengfang and the missionary John Fryer (1839-1928) founded the Academy of Natural Sciences in Shanghai, giving lectures, exhibiting various kinds of scientific apparatus, conducting scientific experiments in the classroom and studying the history of natural sciences. This pioneering work proved a success. Many intellectuals also did mathematical exercises and physical and chemical experiments in addition to their studies of the "Four Books" and "Five Classics." Gradually, they became interested in natural sciences, thereby starting the history of modern natural sciences in China.
Because of the need for China to modernize and assert its independence, science and new knowledge introduced into China through translations produced a great influence on Chinese intellectuals. The introduction of Western culture became inevitable in modern China. Along with the growth of the patriotic movement for national salvation and rejuvenation, a modern new cultural movement also began to rise and develop. Modern scientific findings were often reflected in philosophical theories and ideological concepts, and new knowledge and new doctrines became the theoretical bases for political reform.
A series of calls for national salvation through science, literature and education caused repercussions in society. Ever-increasing importance was given to the position and role of culture. Until the eve of the May 4th New Cultural Movement in 1919, people had always regarded Culture as the primary approach to solve the problems of china. No doubt, this had actively promoted the cultural development in China.
After the introduction of Western scientific knowledge, many scholars became interested in speaking out their opinions on life, society and political issues by way of propagating scientific knowledge. In his work On Benevolence (completed in 1897) Tan Sitong (1865-1898) discoursed on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and geology. He discussed the origin of the planet, its evolution, the relationship between the orbit of the earth and universal gravitation, and calculation of the earth's volume and mass.Kang Youwei (1858-1927) was deeply fascinated by physics, astronomy and paleogeology, attentively studying Copernican heliocentric theory and Isaac Newton's celestial mechanics. In his book on Celestial Bodies (finished in 1885), he explained the origin of the solar system, the relationship between the planets and the sun, eclipses, comets, meteors and sunspots, striving to integrate scientific knowledge with ideological reforms.
Some scholars began to teach that the earth is a sphere, using scientific evidence to end arrogant, ridiculous and outdated ideas that the heavenly imperial court was the center of the universe. They inspired the enthusiasm and patriotism of their compatriots with knowledge of electricity and heat, encouraging them to actively, join in the movement for national salvation. One example is Yah Fu's translation of H.E. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics (first edition published in 1895), which he hoped would shake the mind and soul of the Chinese people with the laws of nature. While the subject of the book was biological evolution, both the translator and his readers were far more interested in its social implications.
By the end of the 19th century modern Western natural sciences had become an important part of the thinking of many Chinese intellectuals. At the same time, Western philosophy and social sciences were also exerting a strong appeal Li Shanlan, XuShou and Hua Hengfang were succeeded by a new group of modem scholars represented by Yan Fu, Liang Qichao (1873-1929), and Wang Guowei (1877-1927). The introduction and promotion of Western natural sciences reached new heights. The intelligentsia was eager for further knowledge from Western culture; as well as natural sciences, they also wanted to understand Western political theories. "These are the years of academic poverty," said Liang Qichao.
To meet the needs of the intelligentsia, Yan Fu and other scholars continued' to introduce the chief academic schools of thought and their representative works, as well as biographies of some celebrated scholars and their main viewpoints. Later, the famous American scholar John Dewey and others went to China to give lectures. Western pragmatism and new realism attracted a number of Chinese supporters. Henri Bergson's life philosophy and Friedrich Nietzsche's superman philosophy also appealed to many scholars. Immanuel Kant's critical philosophy and the idealism and dialectics of G.W. Hegel all had an extensive impact on the academic community in China.
In social sciences, a number of works were published, introducing Western humanity science, its schools, and theories. Yan Fu translated many famous works on humanity science adding up to well over several million Chinese characters, including Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, J.S. Mill's On Liberty, and H. Spencer's The Prindples of Sociology. In the Xinmin Miscellany, Liang Qichao also introduced biographical and academic materials on Benedict de Spinoza, E Bacon, I. Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and C. Darwin. This produced a great impact on the academic community at the time. The pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, advocating voluntarism, had a profound influence on Wang Guowei.
In 1919, around the time of the May 4th Movement, although Chinese scholars had achieved some success in the introduction of various schools of Western philosophy and culture, some problems still remained. Western Culture covered a broad spectrum, including theories of democracy, progressive realistic social science works; advanced scientific thought, Darwinism, Christian theology, and some of the works imported were badly written. Generally speaking, the import of Western thought was unsystematic, superficial and heterogeneous.
Another problem was that different scholars had very different understandings of Western ideas. For example, Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), Liang Qichao and Yan Fu each had their own interpretation of the concepts of freedom and democracy. Their tendencies differed in their assimilation of Western ideas and, to varying degrees, mixed These ideas with traditional Chinese culture. These differences influenced further theoretical explorations.
The introduction of Western natural sciences by the Chinese intelligentsia proved to be very difficult. The introduction of Western humanities took an even longer time. It was only a hard struggle that minds could be changed. Despite this, many scholars eventually discovered the truth of Western democracy and science. Using ideological weapons such as "The theory of the inalienable rights of man," they sharply criticized the- monarchical power and the feudal ethical code and cried out for democracy, equality and freedom for all. The spread of such thinking subdued and weakened the dominance of feudal ethics and laid the foundations for the 1911 Revolution, led by the revolutionary pioneer Sun Yat-sen, which overthrew the feudal Qing government. After the revolution, such advanced thoughts exerted an increasingly profound influence on the development of the nation.
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