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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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Professional study of China, especially of language,
literature, and history, made rapid progress in the early
nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century a few
compendia, grammars, and dictionaries had been pro-


duced, such as G. S. Bayer's Museum Sinicum (St.
Petersburg, 1730) and Étienne Fourmont's Grammaire
(Paris, 1742). The Society of Jesus, which was
revived in 1815, continued to provide the scholars of
Europe with raw materials from the field. The Jesuits
issued translations as well as essays on Chinese and its
relation to other Asian tongues. J. P. Abel Rémusat,
who in 1814 became professor of Chinese at the Col-
lège de France, inaugurated serious study of Taoism
and Chinese medicine, and translated novels of ro-
mance and family life. He also participated in the
organization of the Société asiatique in 1822. J. H.
Klaproth, an associate of Rémusat, published the Asia
(1823) in which he divided Asian languages
into twenty-three groups and indicated how compara-
tive studies might be undertaken. Sir William Jones,
the father of modern Sanskrit studies in the West,
studied Chinese language and history in his efforts to
understand India's early relations with China.

The Protestant missionaries, who started evangeliz-
ing China in 1807, compiled dictionaries in English,
studied dialects seriously, and established educational
institutions and printing presses in southeast Asia and
China. Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary
in China (1807), published between 1815 and 1823 a
six-volume Dictionary of the Chinese Language. W. H.
Medhurst published between 1832 and 1837 his Dic-
tionary of the Hok-kien Dialect of the Chinese Lan-
Both of these early dictionaries were published
at Macao as were other early vocabularies and ency-
clopedias designed for the use of missionaries. The
Chinese themselves began around 1875 to prepare
dictionaries for the use of Westerners. But the English-
speaking world owes its greatest debt to the British
scholar Herbert A. Giles who published at Shanghai
in 1892 his Chinese-English Dictionary, designed for
merchants and missionaries. He provided as well a
system of transliteration which Western students still
depend upon in working with the Chinese language.
In the nineteenth century Chinese dictionaries were
also prepared for Portuguese, French, German, and
Russian users.

As comprehension of Chinese improved, translations
of popular literature, classics, histories, and documents
became more numerous. Dramas, poems, and short
stories were translated into English and French. As the
Protestant pastors and their families steadily grew in
number, they came to exercise an enormous influence
upon the growth of scholarly knowledge and upon the
formation of public opinion and policy in their home-
lands. Elijah C. Bridgman the first American missionary
to China, launched a periodical called the Chinese
published in China from 1832 through
1851, which was designed to inform foreigners about
China's past and present. Bridgman also translated the
Bible into Chinese (with M. S. Culbertson), published
in 1862. S. Wells Williams, an American mission-
ary-scholar, lectured on China and compiled an ency-
clopedic two-volume study, The Middle Kingdom
(1848), which remained a standard reference work until
the end of the nineteenth century. Many of the mis-
sionaries or their children acted as interpreters in
diplomatic negotiations with China or returned home
to teach in the universities, advise the government, or
work in export businesses. In the learned societies
devoted to the investigation of Chinese affairs the
views of the missionaries commanded respect.

Knowledge of China produced a practical impact
upon the agriculture and administration of the enter-
prising West. Serious projects were undertaken in the
United States during the mid-nineteenth century to
compete with China in raising silk and tea, and experi-
ments were performed to adapt Chinese plants and
animals to the needs of American agriculture. T. T.
Meadows, a British diplomat, published Desultory
Notes on the Government and People of China
in which he described the civil service system of China
and urged the institution in Britain of a comparable
examination system for the recruitment, rating, and
advancement of civil servants. Through his statement
the problem was aired, and in 1855 Britain created
its first civil service commission. Most of the civil
service systems now in existence, including those
started before the British system, owe an incalculable
debt to the Chinese example.

James Legge, in the 1850's, undertook the translation
into English of the Confucian and Taoist texts, and
became the first professor of Chinese at Oxford. His
pioneer translations, worked out with the aid of a
Chinese assistant, have been criticized by modern
scholars as being ethnocentric and inaccurate. None-
theless, they still remain the standard English versions.
In France the Marquis d'Hervey Saint-Denys published
a valuable anthology of T'ang poetry in 1852 that was
influential among the literati of Europe. The Berlin
Orientalist, Karl Arendt, rendered into German in the
1870's a number of selections from Ming novels the
themes of which inspired poets and dramatists of the
following generation. Continental Sinologists also
wrote at length on Chinese administration and inter-
national affairs with increasing reliance on Chinese
sources. H. B. Morse in the early twentieth century
organized for the English-speaking world the interna-
tional relations and commercial administration of the
Chinese empire, mainly on the basis of Western

The study of China in relation to its continental
neighbors was given its present structure in the works


of Sir Henry Yule. In 1871 he published The Book of
Ser Marco Polo the Venetian
with a complete scholarly
apparatus. His documentation, drawn from his personal
travel experiences as well as from the best available
literary sources, set a new standard for Eurasian studies.
He also edited the works of other medieval travelers
and his studies were continued and augmented by
Henri Cordier, a French diplomat and scholar. It was
Cordier who compiled the Bibliotheca Sinica (1904-08)
which remains the standard bibliography of Western
works on China. Paul Pelliot, the founder of the lead-
ing scholarly journal T'oung Pao (1890-), continued
the Yule tradition but with a greater attention to
monographic research. René Grousset, a French popu-
larizer of Asian studies, sought more self-consciously
than his colleagues to reinforce the literary sources
with materials derived from study of the visual arts.

The Protestants, originally hostile to Buddhism for
its outward resemblances to Catholicism, began seri-
ously by the end of the century to translate and study
its texts. Much of the growing interest in the study
of Asian religions historically and on their own terms
was due to the inspiration of Max Müller, the editor
of the Sacred Books of the East (1875-1900). In this
collection he presents, side by side with other Oriental
books, most of the Chinese philosophical and religious
texts in careful translations. The availability in English
of this repository of material inspired serious historical
and comparative studies of world religions.

Max Weber in his lengthy essays on Confucianism
and Taoism,
first published in 1916, brought China into
his sociology of religion and more specifically into his
theoretical considerations about the relationship be-
tween the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
These essays, which consider the social and economic
as well as the religious foundations of Chinese society,
constitute one part of a series of comparative studies
designed to throw light on the general question as to
why rational bourgeois capitalism became a dominant
phenomenon only in the West. In China, as in other
Asian societies, Weber concludes that the dominant
religious traditions did not possess an “economic ethic”
compatible with capitalistic growth. He concedes that
traditional China possessed the materialistic potential
for capitalistic development, but contends that Confu-
cianism lacked the dynamism of ascetic Protestantism
since it stressed rational adjustment to the world as
given rather than rational mastery of it. Taoism he sees
as a conservative and negative force which stressed
passive acceptance rather than innovation and activ-
ism. In his analysis of the structure and function of
Chinese society, Weber provides startling insights into
the roles of the bureaucracy, literati, and the kinship
system, which have inspired numerous recent investi
gations in depth by specialists in social history. For
comparative religion, his examinations of Confucianism
and Taoism still constitute empirical starting-points for
generalized typological concepts.