Western Learning in the Fenye Chapters of Qing Dynasty Local Gazetteer

It has been widely argued by scholars that the introduction of early modern European cosmology by Jesuit missionaries (often encapsulated under the generic term of Western Learning, or xixue 西學) at the turn of the seventeenth century signalled the demise of traditional fenye (field allocation) theory, as the concept of Earth’s sphericity and the widened sense of world geography are fundamentally at odds with the Sinocentric worldview on which rests the fenye theory. However, fenye chapters from Qing dynasty local gazetteers suggest a different story: the proportion of gazetteers containing a fenye chapter has risen, not diminished, compared to Ming gazetteers prior to the impact of Western Learning; and these chapters very rarely set themselves against Western Learning. Instead, they most often invoke Western Learning as part and parcel of the imperially sanctioned astronomy to be reckoned with, even a remedy to the existing default of traditional fenye techniques, leading to a plurality of rhetoric and discourses in which the Sino-Western relation becomes entangled with the imperial-local tension. I plan to further explore these discourses and auxiliary sources to answer the following questions:

  • What were the different agendas that Western Learning were made to serve in these gazetteers? What were the relations between these local endeavours and the better-known imperial projects?
  • Who were the authors of these chapters? Some of these chapters are signed. I plan to systematically collect such information, and to explore other parts, or later editions of the involved gazetteers to find more about them.
  • What was their source of knowledge on matters of Western Learning? These chapters often cite their textual sources, which include late Ming publications by Jesuits and Chinese literati, Qing imperial astronomy, and other gazetteers. I wish to explore ways to map these intertextual relations.
  • Can we discern any meaningful geographical pattern from the spatial distribution of these gazetteers? How does this pattern coincide with, or differ from, the geographies of other knowledge communities relevant for Western Learning during the Qing period, in particular the Catholic communities and the network of Evidential Studies (kaozheng 考證) scholars?