China Table of Contents
Until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), China was a world leader in technology and scientific discovery. Many Chinese inventions--paper and printing, gunpowder, porcelain, the magnetic compass, the sternpost rudder, and the lift lock for canals--made major contributions to economic growth in the Middle East and Europe. The outside world remained uninformed about Chinese work in agronomy, pharmacology, mathematics, and optics. Scientific and technological activity in China dwindled, however, after the fourteenth century. It became increasingly confined to little-known and marginal individuals who differed from Western scientists such as Galileo or Newton in two primary ways: they did not attempt to reduce the regularities of nature to mathematical form, and they did not constitute a community of scholars, criticizing each others' work and contributing to an ongoing program of research. Under the last two dynasties, the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911), China's ruling elite intensified its humanistic concentration on literature, the arts, and public administration and regarded science and technology as either trivial or narrowly utilitarian (see The Confucian Legacy , ch. 3).
Data as of July 1987