China's Philological Turn

Scholars, Textualism, and the Dao in the Eighteenth Century

Ori Sela

Columbia University Press

China's Philological Turn

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Pub Date: April 2018

ISBN: 9780231183826

328 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£50.00

Pub Date: April 2018

ISBN: 9780231545174

328 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£50.00

China's Philological Turn

Scholars, Textualism, and the Dao in the Eighteenth Century

Ori Sela

Columbia University Press

In eighteenth-century China, a remarkable intellectual transformation took place, centered on the ascendance of philology. Its practitioners were preoccupied with the reliability of sources as evidence for restoring ancient texts and meanings and with the centrality of facts and truth to their scholarship and identity. With the power to construct the textual past, philology has the potential to shape both individual and collective identities, and its rise to prominence consequently deeply affected contemporaneous political, social, and cultural agendas.

Ori Sela foregrounds the polymath Qian Daxin (1728–1804), one of the most distinguished scholars of the Qing dynasty, to tell this story. China’s Philological Turn traces scholars’ social networks and the production of knowledge, considering the texts they studied along with their reading practices and the assumptions about knowledge, facts, and truth that came with them. The book considers fundamental issues of eighteenth-century intellectual life: the tension between antiquity’s elevated status and the question of what antiquity actually was; the status of scientific knowledge, especially astronomy, mathematics, and calendrical studies; and the relationship between learned debates and cultural anxieties, especially scholars’ self-characterization and collective identity. Sela brings to light manuscripts, biographies, letters, handwritten notes, epitaphs, and more to highlight the creativity and openness of his subjects. A pioneering book in the cultural history of intellectuals across disciplinary boundaries, China’s Philological Turn reconstructs the history of eighteenth-century Chinese learning and its long-lasting consequences.
Ori Sela clearly and persuasively argues for the importance of the philological turn in the late eighteenth century, explaining fully the larger moral and intellectual justification for the turn and its significance for the whole course of Chinese intellectual history. This book also treats an extremely important figure in the history of Chinese scholarship, Qian Daxin. Sela makes clear both the remarkable range and depth of Qian’s philological scholarship and the crucial moral and ethical importance that Qian saw in what has often been dismissed as dry pedantry. Cynthia Brokaw, Brown University
In China’s Philological Turn, Sela explicates the superlative classical scholarship championed by the literatus Qian Daxin (1728–1804). Among the leading classicists in Qing China, Qian and his students and colleagues were forgotten after the Opium War. Overlapping the prisms of society, ideas, and science, Sela reexamines China’s eighteenth-century philological revolution and convincingly shows that modern historians have generally overlooked the ‘philological turn’ from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Benjamin A. Elman, Princeton University
In this rich and lucidly argued account of the mid-Qing revolution in Chinese intellectual thought and identity, presented on its own terms and within the contexts of social history and the history of science, Ori Sela definitively lays to rest outdated understandings of China's relation to the modern world. It is a timely reminder of the contemporary resonance of historical understanding. Joanna Waley-Cohen, Julius Silver Professor of History, New York University and Provost, NYU Shanghai
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Way and Its Crossroads
Part I. The Way of Man: Scholarly Networks and the Social History of Scholarship
1. Learning to Be a Scholar
2. Official Scholars and the Growing Philologists’ Networks
3. Private Scholars, Private Academies, and the Community of Knowledge
Part II. The Way of Antiquity: Searching for the True Way in the Past
4. The Way of Ancient Learning: Philology, Antiquity, and Ru Identity
5. Philology and the Message of the Sages: The Classics and the Four Books
6. Historical Philology: Navigating the Sources
Part III. The Way of Heaven and Earth: The Mandate of Scholarship and the Search for Order
7. Astronomy, Mathematics, and Calendar: Historical Perspective
8. Ancient Learning Encounters Western Learning: Scientific Knowledge and Its Cultural Baggage
9. Fate, Ritual, and Ordering All Under Heaven
Conclusion: The Consequences of the Eighteenth-Century Intellectual Turns
Appendix A: Selections from Qian Daxin’s 1754 Palace Examination Answer
Appendix B: Major Shuowen and Erya Studies of the Qian-Jia Period (and Related Works)
Appendix C: Qian Daxin’s Letter to Dai Zhen
Appendix D: Questions and Answers About Astronomy
Appendix E: Essay on the Value of Pi Π
Appendix F: Qian Daxin’s Writings on Mathematics, Astronomy, and Divination
Appendix G: On Saṃsāra
Appendix H: Sources for the Works of Qian Daxin
Note on Abbreviations and Citations
Notes
Selected Bibliography of Chinese and Japanese Titles
Index

About the Author

Ori Sela is an associate professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University.