The communal search for truth in concrete facts: The social infrastructure of philology in eighteenth-century China

Ori Sela*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

One of Benjamin Elman’s most significant contributions to Chinese intellectual history in general, and to Qing intellectual history in particular, has been his indepth exploration of the “revolution”-“revolution in discourse,” “epistemological revolution,” “philological revolution,” or, more generally, the “intellectual revolution”-that took place during the eighteenth century. Elman has also demonstrated how the “professionalization of academics,” the “shared epistemological perspective,” and the “consensus of ideas about how to find and verify knowledge” had been intertwined with the changing social and institutional context wherein individual scholars operated. In this article, I take this social context one step further, to emphasize how developing social networks were critical for the revolution in knowledge, and in particular to examine how reading practices, letters, and paratext writing have been much more communal than intimate. The development of such social networks and the epistemological paradigm shifts they advanced consisted of the social infrastructure that was to underlie the far-reaching implications of the philological turn in eighteenth-century China. These social networks and communal practices were thus tightly connected to the new philological zeitgeist of the eighteenth century and enabled it to become, as Elman put it, “a consensus” that spanned well into the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-57
Number of pages17
JournalChinese Historical Review
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2017

Keywords

  • Eighteenth-century china
  • History of reading
  • Letters
  • Paratext
  • Philology
  • Social networks

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