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Imagined Civilizations

, 384 pages

15 halftones, 2 line drawings

July 2013



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Imagined Civilizations

China, the West, and Their First Encounter

Accounts of the seventeenth-century Jesuit Mission to China have often celebrated it as the great encounter of two civilizations. The Jesuits portrayed themselves as wise men from the West who used mathematics and science in service of their mission. Chinese literati-official Xu Guangqi (1562–1633), who collaborated with the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) to translate Euclid’s Elements into Chinese, reportedly recognized the superiority of Western mathematics and science and converted to Christianity. Most narratives relegate Xu and the Chinese to subsidiary roles as the Jesuits' translators, followers, and converts. Imagined Civilizations tells the story from the Chinese point of view.

Using Chinese primary sources, Roger Hart focuses in particular on Xu, who was in a position of considerable power over Ricci. The result is a perspective startlingly different from that found in previous studies. Hart analyzes Chinese mathematical treatises of the period, revealing that Xu and his collaborators could not have believed their declaration of the superiority of Western mathematics. Imagined Civilizations explains how Xu’s West served as a crucial resource. While the Jesuits claimed Xu as a convert, he presented the Jesuits as men from afar who had traveled from the West to China to serve the emperor.

Roger Hart is Director of the Confucius Institute and an associate professor of history at Texas Southern University. He has received fellowships from ACLS, NEH, and Mellon. Previous appointments include Seoul National University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago, Institute for Advanced Study, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Harvard. He is author of The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"Overall, this book is interesting for the analytical framework it suggests for approaching area-based global historical questions and it is very original in some of its historiographic claims..."

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