Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
devoted their lives to reconstructing ancient pronunciations or pin-
pointing ancient place-names. All of this work was done with the faith
that, in the end, the texts now carefully understood would reveal the
authentic Confucian moral vision. Implicit in all this careful textual
scholarship, which the Chinese called kaozheng, was the assumption
that Confucius was indeed correct about Chinese antiquity. It was the
understanding of Confucianism, and not authentic Confucianism
itself, that was the problem. Large numbers of Chinese intellectuals
did not begin questioning the appropriateness and applicability of
Confucianism itself in the modern world until the early decades of
the twentieth century.
Qing scholarship was not all a matter of hairsplitting textual
research. Many Qing scholars continued to think in cosmological
terms, and some of them mounted sustained criticisms of kaozheng
scholarship, which seemed at times to miss the philosophical forest
for the philological trees.
Chinese technological prowess and inventive genius seem to have
tapered off after the Mongol conquest. The Tang and Song periods,
however, saw some extraordinarily important technological innova-
tions that changed the course of world history.
Everyone knows that the Chinese invented gunpowder, but many
people are surprised to learn that Chinese alchemists were seeking
an elixir of immortality when they discovered the formula for gun-
powder. (The Chinese term for gunpowder is huoyao, literally “fire
medicine.”) Chinese alchemists as far back as Han times had experi-
mented with sulfur and were appalled by its toxic and volatile nature
when heated. To “subdue” or tame the sulfur before heating they
added other substances (often saltpeter) to it. Later, during Tang times,
alchemists discovered that adding charcoal to unheated mixtures of
sulfur and saltpeter yielded a compound that was instantaneously
combustible, even explosive, when heated. The formula for gun-
powder was perfected during subsequent centuries, and during the
eleventh century the Song scholar Zeng Gongliang published this for-
mula for the first time in world history. In the West today, conventional
wisdom holds that, although the Chinese invented gunpowder, they
never applied it effectively in military technology. This, however, is
untrue. During Song and Yuan times, the Chinese invented and used
grenades, land mines, flamethrowers, and bombs in warfare. Rockets
were invented in Song China during the eleventh century, and the
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