here’s a quote from Needham’s Science and Civilization in China (Vol 7):
Marcel Granet asks rhetorically:
This (Chinese) thought which seems in essence picturesque and musical and which expresses itself in any case through rhythm and concrete symbols, what can it achieve when applied to a domain where precise and distinct formulations as well as explicit judgments are required? What kind of sincerity can there be in a kind of thought which takes not lived experience but tradition as a point of departure?..What power would the principles of contradiction and of causality have – without which scientific thought can hardly proceed or be expressed? (Quelques particularités de la langue et de la pensée chinoises)
Marcel Granet…brings out with admirable verve and eloquence some profound doubts concerning the adequacy of the Chinese language as a medium of science. As a highly intelligent and thoughtful observer of Chinese thought he deserves to be taken seriously. His challenge needs to be answered in philological detail. It would not do summarily to dismiss Granet’s intuitions. These intuitions have, in any case, been profoundly influential ever since they were published.
The negative perception of the Chinese language is graphically brought out by J.E. Renan (1923 to 1982):
Is not the Chinese language with its inorganic and imperfect structure, the reflection of the aridity of genius and heart which characterizes the Chinese race? Sufficing for the wants of life, for the technicalities of the manual arts, for a light literature of low standard, for a philosophy which is only the expression, often fine but never elevated, of common sense, the Chinese language excluded all philosophy, all science, in the sense in which we understand these words. God has no name in it, and metaphysical matters are expressed in it only by round-about forms of speech. (Renan, 1889)
However, one point must be added at this stage in order to avoid all misunderstandings. To the extent that the preceding volumes of Science and Civilization in China have shown that the Chinese were rather good at some parts of science, they have also shown that one can use Literary Chinese to do science. If Marcel Granet had known more about the Chinese scientific tradition he would, I like to think, have expressed himself in a different, less abrasive way. I also believe that if he had known more about the precise syntactic structure of Classical Chinese and the very subtle semantic and syntactic rules governing the use of Classical Chinese grammatical particles, he might have shown a little more respect for the articulatory power of that language.
There still remains a crucial philosophical point which is not answered so simply. In this case, the issue has been raised more forcefully by Georg Freidrich Wilhelm Hegel:
When we speak of the Chinese sciences…we see that they enjoy very great public admiration and support from the government…Thus on the one hand the sciences are highly honored and cultivated, but on the other hand these sciences lack the free space of inner reflection and the properly scientific interest that would make it into a scientific endeavour. A free and ideal realm of the spirit has no place here, and what is called scientific here is of an empirical nature and is essentially in the service of what is useful for the state and for the needs of the state and the individuals. The nature of the written language in itself is a great hindrance for the development of the sciences; or rather vice versa since the true scientific interest is lacking, the Chinese have no better instrument for the articulation and communication of thoughts (Hegel, where?)
Hegel may have been wrong. His doubts may not have been very well-informed. But I think Hegel’s doubts were profound and significant … none of the achievements affect the crucial observation that the ‘Chinese had sciences but no science, no single conception or word for the overarching sum of them all,’ as nathan Sivin (1982) put it in this admirably clear paper ‘Why the scientific revolution did not take place in China – or didn’t it?’ …
From the early 20th century onwards there have been a number of studies that have a bearing on this subject. Juen Hung-Chun’s ‘The reason for China’s lack of science’ (1915) was the first important paper. … In 1922 there followed Feng Yu-lan Why China has no Science - An Interpretation of the History and Consequences of Chinese Philosophy. Then there was Homer H Dubs’ ‘The Failure of the Chinese to Produce Philosophical Systems’ (1929) and Derk Bodde’s ‘The Attitude towards Science and Scientific Method in Ancient China’ (1936).
then he goes on to say he’ll deal with these concerns.
I’m kind of on the side of Hegel and Granet. I don’t doubt that some form of science (and the sciences) did develop in China. Yet I think tradition has done a great deal to hinder it’s development.
How kids are raised in schools? Ever see Chinese in the workplace? How much has tradition hindered the ability of Chinese to think?