Ma, Yuan. Shui tujuan. 1160-1225.

Ma, Yuan. Shui Tujuan. 1160–1225, The Palace Museum, Beijing,

Project (2018-2023)

Reaping the Benefits of Water: The Political Epistemologies of Water in Imperial China

The modern Chinese discipline of shuili studies(水利 lit. "water's benefits") has no direct counterpart in the Anglophone world, as is best demonstrated by the almost arbitrary English translations of the term chosen by Chinese universities, such as hydraulics or water conservancy. This suggests that the institutionalisation of shuili as a discipline indicates a strong, "indigenous" academic tradition, in which the various forms of technological expertise related to water are seen to belong to a distinctive branch of human knowledge. Addressing  how the "indigenous" body of knowledge known as shuili initially established itself as an epistemic norm during the imperial period, this project identifies the competing epistemologies of water in China, from the Warring States period to the mid-Qing, and outlines a history of how shuili, as both a political concept and a branch of statecraft-oriented scholarship, came to shape imperial Chinese efforts of water control. By regarding politics as not only the context in which knowledge of water control was produced, but also the arena in which the normative implications of such knowledge were defined and contested, the project explores how shuili became an epistemological framework in which both the means and ends of water control were understood in traditional China.

Past Events

Reinventing Disaster in Yuan China