Address at the Inauguration of the Partner Group of Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science at Institute for the History of Natural Sciences

Liu Dun
held on 4. September 2001

Dear Prof. Dr. Renn, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my special honor to welcome you, our distinguished guests, to be here for attending the inauguration of the Partner Group of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China is a country with its particular tradition of historiography. Since Si-ma Qian (ca. 145 BC- ), the father of Chinese historiography and the author of Shi Ji (Historical Records), some particular subjects can be compared with the modern concept "science and technology", had been included in all books of the official history of dynasties. Following this tradition, some scholars had paid attention to the history of science during the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, compared with the situation in European countries and the United States at the same time, the studies on history of science in China were just in its initial stage.

1949 is the year when the People‘s Republic of China was founded. Soon after that the same year in November, the CAS was established. In the meantime, two projects that the CAS was going to carry forward were: (1) to collect and start out the reference materials about the history of Chinese science and technology; (2) to introduce, translate and publish the works of modern science from advanced countries. This started the process of institutionalization of history of science in China.

1956 was a significant year for this institutionalization. First of all, in January, a 12-year Program for Developing Science and Technology was approved by the central government, and fortunately the history of science was listed in it as one of important items. Half a year later, the First National Symposium of History of Natural Science was held by the CAS in Beijing. One proposal raised in this symposium was to organize a delegation for attending the 8th International Congress on History of Science which would take place in Italy in September. Another was set up, as soon as possible, a professional institution for the studies on history of science. However, the Office of History of Natural Science, the predecessor of our Institute was eventually founded on January 1st 1957.

However, comparing with the study of general history, the history of science is a quite young discipline. When George Sarton (1880-1956) first dedicated himself to the cause of the history of science at the beginning of the 20th century, he sought to create a new research revealing a most exciting chapter in the history of human civilization, and thus bringing to light the tremendous effects of science, technology, and medicine on the social progress of mankind and the course of cultural evolution. A number of decades later, the ideality of George Sarton is still far away to be realized.

Chinese scholars who study the history of science are faced with yet more challenges. Simply speaking, the central task at present is to carry forward the reinstitutionalization and internationalization of the history of science in China. This is why we are very enthusiastic to establish the Partner Group here in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Herewith I promise, I will encourage my colleagues involving in the project to work hard and make all their efforts to develop the cooperation between the two Institutes.

Let me say a few words about the theme of the project, Development of Mechanical Knowledge in China and its Interaction with Other Cultural Traditions. In 1975, Istvan Szabo, a physics professor at the Technical University of Berlin, published a book with the title History of Mechanical Principles, in which he argues that "Nothing prior to Galileo was sufficiently scientific to qualify as part of the TRUE history of mechanics," therefore his history of mechanics starts only with Galileo.

This, of course, is unfair and even incorrect from a point of view of a true history. The triumph of modern science initiated in the seventeenth century Europe has caused a widely disseminated mythology: science is the a heritage that only came from the Western civilization, the civilization that was held to have originated from ancient Greece and to have been rediscovered in the Renaissance Europe. Szabo‘s history is an example of this kind mythology.

On the other hand, diversity is a topic in great demand in today's world. No matter whether it refers to the life diversity embodying embodied in the natural world, or is to cultural one diversity in human society, the principle of the diversity is a like a song of to the riches of the material world and the variety of humankind. In terms of cultural diversity, the project that the Partner Group carries out should be highly admired.

So, I look forward to the further development of this project, and I am sure it will be a productive and successful one.

Thank you very much!