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Problems and Possibilities in the Study of the Relation between Science and Bureaucracy in Traditional China

Yung Sik Kim (Seoul National University, Korea)

From very early in its history China has been a society dominated by bureaucracy. It had a profound effect not only upon the government but on nearly all aspects of the society and culture of traditional China. Science was no exception. Bureaucracy should rank at the top of the list of subjects to be studied for the context of Chinese science; it bears on all subjects in that list. Yet, the relation between science and bureaucracy in China has not been studied properly so far. Although the subject has been frequently discussed, what abound have been impressionistic statements concerning the stimulating or hindering (mostly hindering) effects of bureaucracy on the development of science in China. Clearly, a more nuanced approach is necessary to gain an adequate understanding of this very complex, multi-faceted relation.

In this paper I will present my thoughts about the relation of "science and bureaucracy" in traditional China, and will try to indicate what I consider to be problems and possibilities in the study of that relation. I will first look at previous discussions of the relation, note some common problems of those discussions, and will speculate about a reason why such problems came to characterize them. Next I will examine the nature of this relation more generally. And in doing so I will draw upon my reflections about a relation between science and another cultural element, religion, in traditional China.

Comparison between these two relations is interesting because religion was a dominant force in Western society (just as bureaucracy was in traditional China) and thus has been studied intensively by historians of Western science. I will then suggest some new perspectives that can be brought into the study of the relation between science and bureaucracy in China. I will also mention some topics--old and new--that can be studied fruitfully in a new light.

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