An Early Modern Epistemological Turn? Natural Knowledge Production in the East Asian Cultural Sphere
4: Translating Rice: Scholarly Efforts to Merge Vietnamese Natural Knowledge with Early Modern Science in East Asia
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Michigan, United States
As the study of Vietnamese history has focused on the transition from the pre-colonial to colonial times in the late nineteenth century, little has been done to characterize intellectual developments accompanying the transition from the medieval to the early modern period. This paper explores the shifting patterns of ecological thinking in Vietnam prior to the nineteenth century, focusing on the knowledge production about agricultural products, such as rice grain and rice-based food and drink. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Vietnamese intellectuals were increasingly interested in gathering information by categories. The resultant knowledge fundamentally differed from the information collected in traditional local gazetteers, a literary genre that the Vietnamese had adopted since the fourteenth century. At first glance, early modern cataloged treatises in Vietnam emulated the structure of their Chinese counterparts, especially the Ming dynasty leishu or encyclopedia-style compendiums. However, to gain knowledge of the natural and built environments of Vietnam, Vietnamese intellectuals attempted to present terminologies in both classical Chinese and the demotic Vietnamese Nôm script. They also cited Chinese sources extensively to trace the origins of received information. This methodology enabled them to explore source information that only originated in Vietnam.