China's Transition to Modernity

The New Classical Vision of Dai Zhen

Minghui Hu

  • Published: 2015. Paperback February 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; History
  • Bibliographic information: 298 pp., 10 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

The figure of Dai Zhen (1724-1777) looms large in modern Chinese intellectual history. Dai was a mathematical astronomer and influential polymath who, along with like-minded scholars, sought to balance understandings of science, technology, and history within the framework of classical Chinese writings. Exploring ideas in fields as broad-ranging as astronomy, geography, governance, phonology, and etymology, Dai grappled with Western ideas and philosophies, including Jesuit conceptions of cosmology, which were so important to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court's need for calendrical precision.

Minghui Hu tells the story of China's transition into modernity from the perspective of 18th-century Chinese scholars dedicated to examining the present and past with the tools of evidential analysis. Using Dai as the centering point, Hu shows how the tongru ("broadly learned scholars") of this era navigated Confucian, Jesuit, and other worldviews during a dynamic period, connecting ancient theories to new knowledge in the process.

Scholars and students of early modern Chinese history, and those examining science, religious, and intellectual history more broadly, will find China's Transition to Modernity inspiring and helpful for their research and teaching.
Minghui Hu is associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"Those who read this book will hasten to change their lecture notes, filling in examples, and in some cases changing the generalizations. It represents an immense contribution to the field."
-R. Kent Guy, author of Qing Governors and Their Provinces: The Evolution of Territorial Administration in China, 1644-1796

1. The Man and His Times
2. How Jesuit Science Conquered the Kangxi Court
3. Searching for Truth in the Origins of Civilizations
4. How to Build a Coalition around Science
5. An Outsider Enters the Mainstream
6. How to Dethrone Jesuit Science
7. Bringing It Home to the Palace of LightMonumenta Serica
8. Legibility of Visionary Scholars


"This book invites us to a deeper reflection on the split between the humanities and the sciences. . . .This highly erudite book will surely reach a broad audience among historians of science and philosophy in China."
-Thierry Meynard, Journal of Jesuit Studies

"This admirable book casts new light on an 18th-century Chinese intellectual giant and on the complex interplay within and between politics and ideas during that time of dynastic vigor and cultural self-confidence. . . . [It] belongs on the short must-read list of all advanced students of 'early modern' Chinese history. Essential."

"Hu's book offers the reader a treasure trove of diverse stories from 17th and 18th century Chinese intellectual history that are important to understand the genesis and legacy of Dai's thought."
-Manuel Sassmann, Monumenta Serica

"Anyone interested in eighteenth-century Chinese intellectual history should be grateful to Minghui Hu. . . . Hu's revisionist study sheds new light on the innovativeness of Dai Zhen's learning and thinking, enriching our understanding of the scientific and technical dimensions of kaozheng scholarship."
-On-cho Ng, Journal of Asian Studies