China and Inner Asia
This panel explores new ways of studying and describing nature during the long eighteenth century. Our papers discuss the possibility of an overall rationalization of natural knowledge production in Vietnam and China prior to these countries’ embrace of Western sciences in the late nineteenth century. Combining perspectives from the history of science, linguistics, and art history, the four case studies in this panel delve into the tension between the epistemological authority of received knowledge and the emerging emphasis on first-hand observation, verifiable facts, and faithful visual representations of flora and fauna. Specifically, we employ Manchu, Vietnamese, and Chinese sources to investigate how state officials and private intellectuals observed, collected, and represented natural objects, redefining ideas about what constituted legitimate natural knowledge. Arina Mikhalevskaya looks at the Qing dynasty’s frontier expeditions during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735–1796), asking whether there was a convergence of epistemological approaches in natural history between eighteenth-century China and Western Europe. In a similar vein, Mårten Söderblom Saarela and Yu-chih Lai examine Qianlong’s efforts to standardize verbal and visual representations of the natural world in its totality through commissioning lexicographical and illustrated works in natural history. Finally, Hieu Phung focuses on agricultural products to identify novel information-gathering strategies in Vietnam before the colonial period. Together, our papers generate a conversation about commonalities and differences in China’s and Vietnam’s long eighteenth century and their repercussions for our understanding of the early modern period globally.
Virtual Paper Presenter: Arina Mikhalevskaya – Yale University
Virtual Paper Presenter: Mårten Söderblom Saarela – Academia Sinica
Virtual Paper Presenter: Yu-chih Lai – Academia Sinica
Virtual Paper Presenter: Hieu Phung – University of Michigan