Database

Monumentalized or Marginalized, Writings about Technology in Chinese History: A Database

Dagmar Schäfer, Martina Siebert, Cathleen Paethe

Technological issues and practical know-how are recurring themes in the premodern Chinese written tradition, addressed in various literary genres for varying purposes. Although monographs concentrating exclusively on technology are exceptional in Chinese history, numerous scholarly elaborations relevant to technology are dispersed among essayistic writings, poetry, entries in Chinese encyclopedic reference books (leishu) etc. demonstrating a keen interest of scholars in practical issues. The database is designed to outline the technological knowledge contained in all these different sources and to disclose the contextual embedding of technological content by locating technological knowledge within its written and biographical framework. Following the idea of technology as an “object of knowledge,” its integration into the framework of writing becomes the major focus of study, while each writing in turn is positioned within its publication history and within the career and biography of the author. This information helps develop a new trajectory of knowledge classification in premodern China, evaluating in which nexus practical issues were considered worth knowing and how this changed in the period of the tenth to eighteenth century.

The database brings attention to genres less immediately identifiable as technical writing and to the mode in which authors dressed up technology in these texts. It illuminates the re-uses and subtle changes of these texts in different publishing contexts. It is a guide through the monumental and the apparently marginal remnants of Chinese technological documentation and facilitates research in the field by providing a bibliographical and biographical reference tool for specialists and a broader audience in English. It aims to establish a platform for the future exchange of expertise and analysis concerning writing on technology in Chinese history and to benefit interdisciplinary research.

The database is initially based on a collection of Chinese historical texts on science and technology in the facsimile, the Zhongguo kexue jishu shi tonghui 中國科學技術史通匯 (Zhengzhou 1993–96), and the source texts in focus of the Independent Research Group members. The project was designed to encourage and enable researchers from the fields of Chinese Studies and History of Technology to expand these entries with their annotations and add new ones.