Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/26

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE. II
By Dr. C. K. EDMUNDS

PRESIDENT OF CANTON CHRISTIAN COLLEGE

III. Alleged Anticipations of Modern Science

1. Introductory.—Some intimate students of Chinese literature and life, notably Dr. W. A. P. Martin, claim that in many cases Chinese philosophy has anticipated the doctrines of modern science. The same may be said of the ancient Greek thinkers, whose speculations have had a direct and large influence in the development of modern thought, such as the Chinese philosophers have not had. For it seems likely that the physical speculations of the Greeks, from which European science started, were a true native growth of the Greek mind and owed nothing to the lore of Egypt or of the east. (This is the opinion of Whewell as expressed in his "History of the Inductive Sciences.")

It is doubtless true that several of the guesses made by the ancients are in general accord with present theories as developed and supported by a wealth of observation, experimentation and inference. And it is true that the honors, if there be any, of having made such guesses, must be awarded in part to the Chinese as well as to the Greeks with this great difference, that in many cases the Greeks were true students of nature and checked their speculations by observation—a course which, though entertained by some Chinese philosophers, was not sufficiently appreciated by either them or their disciples to be put into practise.

The speculations to which we refer were developed during the glorious Sung dynasty, in the century a.d. 1020-1120, which stands preeminent among the forty centuries of Chinese recorded history as the age of philosophy. At the time when Europe was in darkness and the crusades were in full swing, the five famous philosophers—Chou, Chang, Cheng (two brothers) and Chu—were constructing the castle of faith and knowledge for their successors. It is from the writings of the last of these, the most famous of the five, that the foregoing quotations have been taken.

All five were Confucian scholars, but it seems likely that their mental activity was stimulated and directed by the speculations of Buddhist and Taoist writers. Their works derive importance from the fact that for 500 years, since the publication by imperial authority of the great "Encyclopædia of Philosophy," they have been the government standard, to which all aspirants for honors in the civil service examinations had to conform. They therefore represent the views of the educated men of