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China and the West: Complementarity in Contrast

Chen Cheng-Yih (University of California, La Jolla)

History provides ample examples of cultural diversities in man's assimilation of knowledge. Such diversities produced a rich global variation in man's quest for knowledge among early civilizations. This paper examines certain aspects of such variations in the cultivation of scientific and technologial knowledge between the early Chinese and the early Western civilizations. The cultural diversities here were well manifested by the contrasts in their approaches to science and technology. However, this paper demonstrates that in this case the contrasts in approach have led to complementarity in the discovery of scientific knowledge and in the innovation of technology. Explicit examples are found in all early major fields such as acoustics, alchemy, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.

This paper views that diversity in approach facilitates and accelerates man's understanding of nature. It is important not only to recognize such diversities but also to cultivate some of the diversities in our approach to science and technology. This paper also maintains that a better appreciation of such diversities helps one to avoid the imposition of the tradition and value judgement of one civilization upon others and to provide a better evaluation of the multicultural roots of science and technology.

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