chapter  22
14 Pages

Cosmos and Humanity in Traditional Chinese Thought

Around the time of the Jesuits’ arrival in China in the late 16th century, the Chinese saw and knew more or less as much about the world as the Europeans did (Peterson, 1973; Elman, 2005, pp. 24-149). To be sure, there were differences in their views about some key aspects of the natural world. Most notably, they had different views about “heaven” and “earth”: for example, whether the earth was spherical or ¬at, whether heaven was œlled with solid spheres or with qi ( ), and so on. There also were differences in their views as to whether the basic elements constituting the world were material substances or “phases” (xing ) and, related to this, whether the essential aspects of the human body were the anatomical organs or the physiological functions. Yet, the Europeans and the Chinese of the time were able to note, observe, and explain nearly all the important phenomena and objects. The difference, then, was in their attitudes toward those phenomena and objects. Europeans’ responses to Galileo’s telescopic observations highlight some such differences between the two traditional cultures’ attitudes toward the natural world.