The Interpretations of “Heaven”: Encounter, Conflict and Accommodation between Chinese Literati and European Jesuits in late Ming China

Visiting Scholar Talks

Mar 4, 2022 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

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Cancan Liao | Associate Professor, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2021-22


Peter Bol | Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Held via Zoom – registration required:

Late Ming and Early Qing was a period during which China underwent a transformation both on intellectual thoughts and society life, influenced with Western natural science (more precisely, natural philosophy) and Catholicism transmitted by European Jesuits. In the course of cultural exchange, the interpretations of “heaven” were manifested in different intellectual levels, including philosophy, theology and astronomical calendar.

This talk focuses on Xu Guangqi and Fang Yizhi, two representative figures of cultural exchange but with different attitudes towards western learning in late Ming China, and presents how they confronted the conflict and competition in discourse between Neo-Confucianism and Western learning, how both sides tried to find an accommodation. The presentation particularly introduces image-numerology in study on The Book of Change which became an important medium of integration between Confucianism and western natural philosophy, and shows traditional Chinese science has its thought resources in philosophy. If this is the case, beyond the usual perspectives of responding to the “Needham Problem” from history of science and intellectual history, the philosophical perspective on this issue actually reflects the complexity of universality and diversity in science as well as in culture.