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De l'un au multiple

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Viviane Alleton
, 
Michael Lackner

IV. Les aléas des textes

On Mengxi Bitan’s world of marginalities and “south-pointing needles”. Fragment translation vs. contextual translation

À propos de monde de la marginalité dans le Mengxi Bitan et des « aiguilles pointant vers le sud »

Daiwie Fu

Résumé

Pour interpréter et traduire correctement la notice du Mengxi Bitan présentée par les historiens occidentaux des sciences comme un exposé de « la découverte de la déclinaison magnétique », il est nécessaire d’abord d’analyser la catégorie dans laquelle elle est insérée dans le texte même. Cette rubrique, Zazhi, qu’on a traduit par « notes diverses », signifie plutôt pour Shen Gua, l’auteur du Mengxi Bitan, « notes sur des faits marginaux ou anormaux » (littéralement non orthodoxes). Dans cette perspective, la notice en question concerne une curiosité naturelle (la déviation fréquente de l’aiguille vers l’est) et une technique pour obtenir la direction exacte du sud, nullement la « découverte » d’un principe fondamental. La traduction donnée ici diffère profondément de celle de Wylie, qui est citée. En outre, il n’y a aucune raison de considérer la description d’un procédé de correction comme une partie accessoire et sans importance de la note.
Cette utilisation, par Joseph Needham, de traductions fragmentaires pour démontrer des priorités chinoises – ici, la découverte par la Chine de la déclinaison magnétique avant l’Europe – illustre bien la manière dont les historiens des sciences « imposent » les taxonomies de la science moderne sur des textes dont la logique propre n’est pas prise en considération. Dans cette opération, l’intérêt réel de ces textes est complètement oblitéré : on ne fait pas l’histoire de la science chinoise telle qu’elle fut.
Cette imposition de taxonomies étrangères prend deux formes complémentaires : des récits grandioses de l’histoire de découvertes chinoises et des tableaux réorganisant des fragments d’origine et d’époques diverses. D.W. Fu présente ici une analyse critique des tableaux présentés par Wylie (1897) et Needham (1962) à l’appui de leurs interprétations de la découverte de la déclinaison magnétique en Chine.

Note de l’auteur

An early extended abstract of this paper was read as the keynote speech at the colloqium “Translation from Chinese into European Languages”, held at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris (June 1994). The title for that extended abstract was “Imposition of Taxonomy, or the Translation of ‘Scientific Fragments’ from Ancient Chinese Texts into Some European Languages in the Modem Era”. An early version of my discussion on the translations for Shen Gua’s famous jotting on “south-pointing needles” (zhinan zhen 指南針), in section II of this paper, was read and debated in the “Text Seminar” of the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge (April 1995). I am very grateful for the valuable and stimulating comments on my drafts on these two occasions. Many thanks also to Ling-fang Cheng, who helped to polish the English of this paper.

Texte intégral

  • 1 . The interesting part of this “priority” is that usually the more we think of the “scientific valu (...)

1There is a peculiar tradition of translation in Chinese history of science, which we might call the tradition of fragment translation. Translations are often made by a highly selective process wherein fragments deemed “scientific” are selected from ancient texts, usually with no regard for the wider textual unity, context, and taxonomy in which those fragments are embedded. The fragment translations are then reorganized and reinterpreted in a new, Western taxonomy and narrative. Thus, the process of fragment translation plus the additional reorganization and reinterpretation constitute a social process of translation prevalent in the traditional field of Chinese history of science. In contrast to fragment translation, I propose a different kind of translation which we might call contextual translation. The basic unit of text for contextual translation should be a certain meaning unit, rather than a meaning fragment, from the original ancient text. A single jotting is naturally the basic kind of meaning unit in an ordinary historical text. The process of translating a text can begin only after we have become very familiar with the historical context of the text in question. The (modern) “scientific” value of the text has only a secondary place. The historical context of a text takes priority, in translation, over the modem scientific value of that text.1 Finally, the various results of the translation process should be organized and distributed strictly according to the historical taxonomy (historical “order of things”) in which the original texts are situated. The disciplinary boundaries of modem science have no place in contextual translation. Usually, we say serious translation creates deeper under-standing, but it is through contextual translation only that we can begin the process of understanding.

  • 2 . I have made a similar study on two other catagories of Mengxi Bitan, see Daiwie Fu 1993-1994. In (...)

2On the surface, this paper is about an interpretation and translation of Shen Gua’s so-called “discovery of magnetic declination” in his renowned Mengxi Bitan 夢溪筆談 (Mengxi, or 夢溪 hereafter). But when we probe into the whole process of contextual translation, the surface purpose is transformed into a deeper intention to understand the historical context of Shen Gua’s writing (jotting 437) about south-pointing needles. Specifically, this historical context is a special category, Zazhi 雜誌, in the seventeen categories of Mengxi Bitan. Taking the categories in Mengxi Bitan seriously, I look for the similarity among jottings within a certain category, then use this similarity as an important guide to re-interpret and shed new light on some jottings of that category. As a further step, I pay special attention to the “taxonomy” or “classification of knowledge” of Mengxi, and consequently to the structured world of knowledge of Shen Gua.2 Following the process of contextual translation, the logic of this paper is the following: In the first section, I shall study the category of 雜誌 and make some comparisons with other categories in Mengxi. Then, in the second section, armed with understanding of the historical context of jotting 437, I shall present a new interpretation and translation of Shen Gua’s discussion of south-pointing needles. Finally, in the third section, I shall consider a wider area of problems which, although still concentrating on the south-pointing needle, briefly covers a history of sinological research on this topic and also a reflection on some sinological practices in the translation and interpretation of Chinese history of science.

In studying the similarity among many jottings of Zazhi, I come to a tentative conclusion that 雜誌 cannot be understood as “miscellaneous notes”, which is the ususal understanding, but rather as “notes on marginalities or unorthodoxies”. The Chinese za should be understood here as traditionally used in the contrast between zhengshi Image 100000000000003F0000001D4D83353BEB5BF129.jpgand zashi Image 10000000000000420000001B108A476AC45FC41D.jpg(orthodox history vs. unorthodox or marginal history). As a second step, by locating in this historical context Shen Gua’s famous jotting on the so-called “magnetic declination”, I intend to make a case for a quite different reading of this jotting.

Shen Gua did not “discover” the magnetic declination in the modern sense. What he found was an “anomaly” of the south-pointing needle, and the point of this interesting jotting was that he wished to report a new technique of “suspending the needle by a silk fibre” (lüxuan zhifa Image 10000000000000710000001D36BD3BAC6F37BCC6.jpg) to resolve this anomaly – at least to his own satisfaction. He did not pretend to know the ultimate reason for the “south-pointing” property of the needle, but considered his new technique as useful (for geomancers perhaps?), and worthy of a mention in his notes on margin-alities. Had Shen Gua believed that he had discovered some phenomenal/numerological regularities or even laws of magnetic declination, he would have placed this jotting in more “noble” categories like xiangshu Image 1000000000000038000000199A3A24D2097C6455.jpgor qiyong Image 10000000000000380000001B9B686C1B1A1FE0F1.jpg. In the process of this reinterpretation, a number of translations of this jotting by past sinologists are considered and dis-cussed. Further reflections on some important aspects of the Western sinological tradition in tracking down or “hunting” and interpreting the “forgotten science” in ancient Chinese texts are also made.

I

  • 3 . The edition I used for this study is based on Hu Daojing’s (...)
  • 4 . As mentioned above, Zazhi is not the final category of Mengxi; it is the 16th. However, in a care (...)

Shen Gua’s Mengxi Bitan3 contains 609 jottings with an internal conceptual structure of seventeen categories (men Image 10000000000000200000001E8654F059597F135C.jpg). The position of the category of Zazhi is located almost at the end (the 16th) of a series of the seventeen categories: before the category “Deliberations on Materia Medica” (yaoyi Image 100000000000003D00000018468947026F19FF79.jpg), and after the category “Wit and Satire” (jixue Image 100000000000001B0000001EC4B481FC9E3297BE.jpgImage 10000000000000200000001DB806F7520A3907DF.jpg). The position itself is not special, as in many other similar medieval Chinese jottings. But what is the meaning of Zazhi? Traditionally we understand it as “miscellaneous notes” – a group of notes very different from each other, or notes of mixed or various kinds. If we break the internal structure of the seventeen categories of Mengxi and randomly redistribute the 609 jottings, we can rightly call Mengxi a work of “miscellaneous notes”. If, on the other hand, we look into the similarity among the jottings within the category of Zazhi and compare this similarity with the internal similarities of other categories in Mengxi, we can hardly justify translating Zazhi as “miscellaneous notes”. In Chinese dictionaries, one important meaning of the character Za Image 100000000000001B000000201E95CDC0D93431F5.jpgis certainly “mixture” or “miscellany”, which is frequently used throughout ancient Chinese texts. There is, however, another sense of this word, especially when used as zazhuan Image 100000000000003D0000001601A1F9BFB27EB649.jpgor Image 100000000000003D0000001D76A468A3A535F5B7.jpgin contrast with Image 1000000000000040000000208FE4E457F5C26D2F.jpg. This familiar contrast indicates a contrast in terms of “margins vs. the center”, “ille-gitimate vs. legitimate”, “residual vs. categorical” or “unorthodox vs. orthodox”. In this sense, the focus is not on a neutral or innocent “mixture”, but on a clearly unbalanced power relationship. In contrast with zheng Image 10000000000000220000001EC47BC4C85C66DB0C.jpg, zhong Image 100000000000001D0000002093B5A4F50C8F5A98.jpgand chun Image 10000000000000250000001DA25E5C36E6147510.jpg, the word za Image 10000000000000220000001D2C3BDBB6CF4483F5.jpgin this sense denotes an immense marginal space of residuals, things forgotten, illegitimate, unorthodox, and, in general, things hidden in shadow and darkness. Although Zazhi formally is a category at the end4 of Mengxi, it is actually a residual category, the category of marginality.

  • 5 . In the total 71 jottings of Zazhi (including those in the Supplement Bu Bitan(...)
  • 6 . In jotting 581, Shen admired Yangzhou (...)

Let me now provide reasons why we should understand the category Zazhi as “notes on marginalities and unorthodoxies”. First, there is the main theme of geographical (hence often political) marginality in Zazhi. The events and things described in the great majority of jottings of Zazhi happened and were located in the geographical margins of Northern Song. The places often mentioned (in the total of 71 jottings) such as Image 100000000000001E0000001DBDC6543A4DC4AB28.jpg
Image 10000000000003A0000000660904C00781703D6D.jpgImage 10000000000001280000001D97B9EF867AFE9A9A.jpg were usually marginal or actually barbarous foreign lands with respect to the political center.5 In general, things or events in Zazhi are from the margins, the outside, the “other” of the orthodox Northern Song. An interesting problem of this theme is that Zazhi contains jottings about some important cities in the traditional “south of the river” (Jiangnan Image 100000000000003D0000001EF97303A9DA91CCC9.jpg) or around the canal Bian Image 1000000000000020000000221CD853AF5B6B0457.jpg. They are not clearly “marginal” in Northern Song territory, and a small number of jottings are about things which happened there. However, I find the things described there (old monuments, Tang customs, tombs) are all of a reminiscent nature,6 especially with respect to the long past high culture of Tang Image 1000000000000020000000180737AF876C137972.jpg. Shen Gua did not really pay attention to Northern Song Jiangnan. If we furthermore compare the cultural significance of Jiangnan in Northern Song with that Jiangnan in Tang or in Southern Song, the answer is also clear. Northern Song Jiangnan was not very attractive. Therefore, the cultural (geographical) meaning of them in Zazhi can be considered as somewhat “marginal”.

  • 7 . For a more systematic discussion of Shen Gua’s “gaze” from the center, see my previous study on t (...)

Secondly, there is also the related theme of cultural marginality here. If we consider the main themes noted and discussed in Shen Gua’s Mengxi, many “important” subjects were distributed in other, more noble categories, such as philological criticism (bianzheng Image 100000000000003D0000001D75F1FF34093DD735.jpg), music and mathematical harmonics (yuelü Image 100000000000003F000000227CB302E11C4CB5FC.jpg), numerological regularities underlying phenomena (xiangshu Image 100000000000003D0000001B2FE6151684DE3814.jpg), literati affairs (renshi Image 10000000000000400000001B2FF3986189BACB54.jpg), civil service (guanzheng Image 100000000000003F000000205FA2898DA5FFA4DA.jpg), and literature, calligraphy, painting and the like. Although some military and map-making techniques are discussed in Zazhi, they are basically concerned with how the power center can effec-tively deal with the troubles emerging in the margins. Topics in Zazhi, often of great interest to modern science, like “stone oil” (shiyou Image 100000000000003D0000001E2D1B43B33E3EFC5B.jpg), strong wind, astonishing barbarians, “jumping rabbits” (tiaotu Image 100000000000003D0000001D3A30014EC0C56FDB.jpg), or other curious birds, bugs, teas, vegetables, fish, snakes, stretches of water, plants, or the many strange/unheard of geological formations, needle deviations, odd diseases, folk techniques/medicine dealing with things from the outside world, were really topics culturally marginal to the center of Northern Song. With an astute and systematic gaze7 from the power center, Shen Gua nevertheless made excellent observation on them.

  • 8 . Some ideas here come from a manuscript by Zhang Zhaowei (...)
  • 9 . (...)
  • 10 . In jotting 470, Shen Gua writes about those people in Jiangzhou (...)
  • 11 . Generally speaking, “servants” (shiren (...)
  • 12 . See jotting 478, about an old prostitute who helped to defend the Song from the barbarians Xiawei (...)

A third related theme of human marginality in Zazhi can also be briefly discussed here.8 In general, the people and the stories told about them here are usually about marginal people in a marginal place. Although some anecdotes on literati were included in Zazhi, these were typically officers of lower rank, who were often former rebels, thieves, or barbarians that had been tamed and assimilated into the bureaucracy; or they were decadent or idiosyncratic literati,9 or people who refused to submit to the imperial order10 (Image 1000000000000074000000221799BC8D802C5AF0.jpg), or others such as a greedy apprentice (Image 100000000000005A0000001EE543F9AA6C4FC976.jpg), a mean servant (Image 10000000000000380000001B318F2C4E4AFA9BAB.jpg), an obscure local monk doctor (Image 10000000000000730000001B53276ED221C8D69E.jpg), a nameless alchemist who made a “water-pellet” (Image 10000000000000380000001E8C18999B64AACEA2.jpg), “boat merchants” who knew the winds (Image 10000000000000730000001E506CD3C4FE8A9671.jpg), mystical geomancers and their needle secrets (Image 10000000000000700000001966C1FD7E57AD5FCE.jpg), a good rebel loved by the local people (Image 10000000000000730000001B6CF5E30BE39F19F4.jpg), an old prostitute who helped to defend Song territory (Image 10000000000000220000001BB2C89AB416CC682A.jpgImage 10000000000000580000001D63DE4B7DA843BBF2.jpg), or even a lost ghost who, as a man, failed in the official examinations but now, as a ghost, is eager to serve the emperor (Image 10000000000000420000001E35DA2C9D11628950.jpg). All these marginal people,11 though sometimes ridiculous and not approvable, were nonetheless tame and occasionally were of some service to the Song, and thus deserve mention or can serve as a lesson here. Sometimes they are simply the kind of small thieves who do things by mimicking cock-crowing and dog-barking (Image 10000000000000BA0000001D43D6CC021D3AF99A.jpg).12 On the other hand, Shen Gua’s marginal world in Zazhi teems with monstrous, blood-thirsty, lustful barbarians wandering outside, and penetrating into the territory of the orthodox Northern Song. These barbarian taies, however, usually end on a triumphant note when the Song army finally defeats the barbarous invasions, conquers and takes the foreign lands. Although the jottings in Zazhi concerning these barbarous affairs need further analysis, a general picture seems to emerge. While the marginal Song people were tame or could be tamed, the barbarous marginal people should be defeated, conquered, and then finally be tamed. Therefore, as I stated above, the category Zazhi refers to a marginal and unorthodox world dominated by a clearly unbalanced power relationship.

II

  • 13 . Klaproth 1834; Wylie 1897; Edkins 1877; 123 ff; Hirth 1908; Moule 1924: 83 ff; Wang Zhenduo 1950, (...)

As emphasized by Needham (1962: 250), jotting 437 of Image 10000000000000420000002231C060FE05493A3D.jpg“has not only the undeniably earliest clear description of the magnetic needle compass in any language, but also a clear statement of the magnetic declination”. Needham also recalled, in a footnote on the same page: “I shall never forget the excitement which I experienced when I first read these words. If any one text stimulated the writing of this book more than any other, this was it.” A typical modem “stimulation” for writing Chinese history of science, perhaps. But behind the sinological history of jotting 437, there is a genealogy of sinologists and Chinese historians of science who tell (and debate) the stories of “the Chinese priority in discovering south-pointing needles and magnetic declination”: from Klaproth’s original story (Klaproth 1834), Wylie’s summary (1859, 1897) of Chinese records of magnetic declination, especially on the mysterious record in the 8th century by the monk Yixing Image 10000000000000380000001BE6FB2D215B4A02D6.jpg, Edkins’ interpretation (Edkins 1877) of the structure of the geomantic compass (Image 100000000000004400000020FD83A3C7368D793D.jpg) as knowledge of magnetic declination in its fossile form, to Hirth’s wonderful story of the “Origin of the Mariner’s Compass in China” in his Ancient History of China (1908), Moule’s definite separation (1924) of “south-pointing carriage” (Image 10000000000000600000002214E90F572366FD79.jpg) from south-pointing needles, Mitchell’s challenge (Mitchell 1937) of the standard interpretation of jotting 437 in Image 100000000000003F000000205030EFBFA86006CF.jpg, via Wang Zhenduo’s Image 100000000000005A0000001E5ECAE51FADD03E37.jpgestablishment of the connection between the magnetic compass and the diviner’s board of the Han people (Wang Zhenduo 1948), Li Shuhua’s Image 10000000000000550000001DD9153366DDE2D20F.jpgexcellent Chinese summary (Li Shuhua 1953) of the current state of the art reclaiming the Chinese prior discovery on the mariner’s compass, to Need-ham’s grand summary (1962)13 of the current state of the field with important further studies on the relevance of geomantic literatures.

Instead of continuing this tradition of “priority disputes” among historians of science over when and who first discovered what in the scientific properties of magnetism, I wish to understand the historical meaning of jotting 437 in the context and categories of Image 1000000000000040000000227DE0B6420A0CDFC4.jpgitself. I shall do this in light of my discussion, in the first section, of the meaning of the category Zazhi in which jotting 437 is situated.

  • 14 . Although Shen Gua was well known as a polymath who specialized in many esoteric learnings, he tal (...)
  • 15 . The making of this map was based on a set of fixed directions and distances between any two geogr (...)

Let us now concentrate on the historical meaning of jotting 437 of Image 100000000000001E00000020D1D7AD8B92B48CBC.jpgImage 10000000000000220000001D18D20AEFD48E923A.jpgas a case in point. As we know, Mengxi’s category Zazhi “Notes on Marginalities and Unorthodoxies” forms the wider context of jotting 437, which contains discussions of things and events of various kinds usually having occurred, with respect to the Song dynasty, in the marginal areas or the barbarous foreign lands: natural curiosities, geological pecularities, strange birds or beasts from far away, ancient or foreign customs, particular local methods of preparing tea or fruit, and so on. Also in the first section, I have used three kinds of marginality to characterize this category: geographical, cultural, and human. One implication of these can be that, unlike some other categories in Image 1000000000000044000000205A9E4B7848186577.jpg, this category does not include “knowledge or principles” of fundamental importance. Thus I am inclined to interpret the nature of jotting 437 as something like a natural curiosity for a special technique of inducing the needle to point due south. Moreover, it is a natural curiosity stemming from the mystical geomancers of whom Shen Gua had no high opinion or in whom he showed little interest.14 This reaffirms the nature of marginal curiosity of jotting 437. As for the uses of south-pointing needles and their “deviations”, I suspect they are not important for Shen Gua at all. Well versed in the arts of astronomy, he did not need the needles to determine precise directions. Not to mention the fact that he knew needles often behaved anomalously (see below my interpretation of jotting 437). True, he proudly made a national map (Shoulingtu Image 100000000000003A000000201CE8B80EE036E5B3.jpgImage 100000000000001D00000027AB825D0C2E494D0D.jpg) in the true spirit of feiniao Image 100000000000003A0000001E5F9DB9AED4496D5B.jpg15(bird eyes?) (in jotting 575). But I have yet to see convincing evidence that Shen Gua depended on his knowledge of “magnetic declination” to make that marvelous map (cf. e.g. Cao Wanru 1980). There are indeed ways to understand how Shen Gua made that map, as vaguely described in jotting 575, without resorting to magnetic declination. Interpreted in this way, it is consistent with the theme of cultural marginality in the category Zazhi.

Before going into the text itself, let me say something about the immediate context of jotting 437. In other categories of Mengxi, the theme of a jotting usually has strong connections or similarities with the themes of its neighboring jottings. I found these connections even in the categories of “Divine Marvels and Strange Occurrences”, not to mention those of “Literati Affairs”, “Calligraphy and Painting” and others. But when we come to the neighboring jottings of 437, what is the similarity among their themes? Jotting 433 is a famous geological discussion of Mt. Yandang, jotting 434 is a short note on a certain imperial architecture (mutian Image 100000000000003B0000001E780AD9199CD84A0A.jpg), jotting 435 is a story of shipwrecked sailors and the seeds they brought with them from a remote eastern island of Dongyi Image 10000000000000400000001E38A8F9EBDE8E795B.jpg, jotting 436 is a slightly condescend-ing remark on a foreign custom called sandian Image 100000000000003D000000224115A6D47BC9EEA0.jpg, then we have jotting 437, which is followed by jotting 438, a short philological comment about the name Image 10000000000000400000001D2AA80F7AAA23A5C0.jpgon a stone monument from a newly opened ancient tomb, jotting 439, a story about a very mean servant (lusheng Image 1000000000000040000000209D6E2EF626B8CB20.jpg) who mistreated and abandoned his pregnant wife, and jotting 440, a relatively long historical criticism of the tradition of social fractions in connection with family genealogy (yi shizu xianggao Image 100000000000009B0000001EA0A637A54401E92C.jpg), a tradition stemming from the barbarous Siyi Image 10000000000000440000001DF5E58F9AF4D02880.jpg. Now, if we emphasize the “scientific value” of jotting 437, its immediate context is indeed odd and inconsistent. If, on the other hand, we approach jotting 437 from the perspective of marginality discussed in the previous section, it is at home with its neighboring jottings.

3Finally, here is the text of jotting 437:

Image 10000000000003A2000000785E234FCBA2B24F04.jpg

4Compare Wylie’s translation (Wylie 1859):

Scientific people rub the point of a needle with load-stone, which imparts to it the property of pointing to the south, but it always declines slightly to the east, and is not direct south. When it floats on the surface of water, there is too much oscillation. The finger nail or the rim of a cup may be used to balance it on, when it will turn more freely; but being hard and smooth, it is liable to fall. The best plan is to suspend it by a silk fibre, thus – take a single-cocoon fibre of new silk, and attach it to the centre of the needle by a piece of wax the size of a mustard seed; then suspend it free from any current of air, then the needle will always point southward. Some are magnetized so as to point to the north. I have in my possession, both north and south pointing needles. The southern direction of the load-stone, like the Western direction of the cypress tree, is a principle hitherto unexplained.

  • 16 . One significant difference between Wylie’s and Needham’s translations is that the term fangjia (...)

5and Needham’s translation16 (1962):

Magicians rub the point of a needle with the lodestone; then it is able to point to the south. But it always inclines slightly to the east, and does not point directly at the south. (It may be made to) float on the surface of water, but it is then rather unsteady. It may be balanced on the finger-nail, or on the rim of a cup, where it can be made to turn more easily, but these supports being hard and smooth, it is liable to fall off. It is best to suspend it by a single cocoon fibre of new silk attached to the centre of the needle by a piece of wax the size of a mustard-seed – then, hanging in a windless place, it will always point to the south. Among such needles there are some which, after being rubbed, point to the north. I have needles of both kinds by me. The south-pointing property of the lodestone is like the habit of cypress-trees of always pointing to the west. No one can explain the principles of these things.

6with my own translation from a different perspective (italics are mine):

  • 17 . I translate the adverb chang (...)
  • 18 . (...)
  • 19 . I use this transitional “doubt” in parentheses to somewhat smooth the flow of Shen Gua’s sentence (...)
  • 20 . The phrase (...)
  • 21 . It is important to appreciate the natural flow of writing to this point: (...)

Geomancers rub the point of a needle with a lodestone; then it is able to point to the south. But it oftenlusually17 deviates slightly to the east and not always to the south [or: not show due south]18. (Could it be the following reasons which cause the problem of deviation?)19 When it floats on the surface of water, it is rather unsteady. The finger-nail or the rim of a cup may be used to balance it on, where it will turn more easily, but these supports being hard and smooth, it is liable to fall off. It is best to suspend it by a silk fibre. Its method is20: to suspend it by a single cocoon fibre of new silk attached to the centre of the needle by a piece of wax the size of a mustard-seed, hanging in a windless place. Then the needle would most often point to the south.21 Among such needles there are some which, after being rubbed, point to the north. I have needles of both kinds by me. The south-pointing property of the lodestone is like that of cypress-trees of pointing to the west. No one can understand these things.

  • 22 . Many make the taxonomy or conceptual grid of modem Western science the basis from which to approa (...)
  • 23 . For the distinctions among “regularity”, “anomaly” and “accident”, it is easy to draw up a series (...)
  • 24 . The italics are mine. See Mitchell 1937. As to Needham’s interesting arguments against Mitchell’s (...)
  • 25 . Later, in section III, I will introduce a Southern Song reading (hence with no conception of “mag (...)

The point of my new translation is this: Shen Gua experienced the deviation of the needle as an anomaly, thus he prepared a contrivance (Image 100000000000004200000022EF4798698DD001AA.jpg “its method is:”) to set the needle right into the southern direction. Historians of science used to take this contrivance as a way to resolve only the problems of its being “unsteady” (in water) or “liable to fall off” (of the finger-nail or the rim of a cup). They divided jotting 437 into two unrelated parts: (1) Shen’s “discovery” of magnetic declination (Image 10000000000000D50000001DCBE758A933E5EF51.jpg), and (2) his method for solving other minor problems. I disagree with this practice of dividing a jotting by way of what is or is not important to modem science,22 and I would like to stress the importance of reading the historical meaning of a jotting as a single, indivisible unit, very similar to the way Shen Gua himself treated it. As I indicated above in my translation and the detailed notes to it, we must bear in mind that Shen Gua had no modem conception of “magnetic declination”. Therefore, due to the crude apparatus used by Shen, the presumed maginalities in the category of Zazhi and the geographical variations of the actual magnetic field which effected his needles, it is probable that he noted this strange phenomenon from time to time and saw it more or less in terms of “frequency”, that is how often he saw or did not see clear deviations, at this place or that place, how much it deviated this time or that time, and so on. Obviously he did not know or see it as some kind of natural regularity,23 but, being an astute natural observer, Shen Gua had to notice it from time to time and thus had to consider it as an anomaly, not merely as an accident. This interpretation is not the same as Mitchell’s famous blunt comment in 1937, that “the deviation from the meridian is not regarded as a separate physical phenomenon but [as believed by Shen] as an accidental resuit due to imperfect support or suspension of the magnetised needle.”24 Although Mitchell saw clearly that the deviation must not be regarded as a separate phenomenon, his use of “imperfect support or suspension” as the definite cause to explain the often anomalous deviations only to the east (why not sometimes to the west?) is not convincing. True, Shen Gua wondered about possible causes such as “imperfect supports”; these no doubt interfere with the needle, but it is unlikely that he would consider them the definite causes of deviation to the east. As far as I can see, Shen must have felt the anomalous (not accidental) nature of this deviation to the east as something strange that he did not understand, but he provided a method (partly according to his common sense as hinted by Mitchell) anyway and corrected or greatly reduced the deviations, at least to his own satisfaction.25 Thus, if Shen found a problem in the frequency of “60%” of the cases of slight deviation to the east, then he might have felt self-satisfied with the much lower frequency of only “30%” of anomalous cases after applying his method to the needle (“Then the needle would most often point to the south!”).

The related jotting 588, also concerning lodestone and needles, is situated in the category of Yaoyi. It may be noted that most ancient Chinese conceptions of “lodestone” (cishi Image 100000000000004200000020A7DA305DDF19A00A.jpg) have no connection with modem “magnetism”. It is primarily a medical concept. In jotting 588, Shen Gua was actually conceiving two possibly different medical uses of two kinds of lodestone:

Image 100000000000039B0000003855B8BB87F068253A.jpg

  • 26 . This is an adapted translation from Needham’s (Needham 1962: 250), with an important difference, (...)

When the point of a needle is rubbed with the lodestone, then the sharp end often26 points south, but some needles point to the north. I suppose that the nature of the stones is different. Likewise, at the summer solstice the deer shed their horns, and at the winter solstice the elks do so. Since the south and the north are opposites, there must be a fundamental difference between them. This has not yet been investigated deeply enough.

  • 27 . When it comes to Kou Zongshi’s Bencao yanyi (...)

7Here, Shen Gua is dealing with the two opposites “the south and the north” and their Chinese medical analogies with two other opposites “the summer and winter solstices”, but he does not mention at all his famous remark on “deviations to the east”, as he does in jotting 437. Implicitely, this significant absence has some implications: (1) that the anomalous “deviations” were not medically important to Shen, not to mention that they must have seemed somehow correctable to him through his “method” proposed in jotting 437, and (2) that a more theoretical explanation of these unstable, anomalous “deviations” in terms of medical theories/resources was not really necessary for Shen Gua.27

  • 28 . I agree with Needham (1962) that there is a westward-deviation of south-pointing needles in 9th- (...)
  • 29 . See (...)

Furthermore, we should also note that, in China, eastward-deviation (declination to the west) was in Shen Gua’s time a completely new phenomenon even for many exoteric Chinese geomancers (see table 2). On the other hand, westward-deviation (declination to the east) was relatively common to some geomancers in 9th- and 10th-century China,28 a time before the end of westward-deviation and the begining of east-ward-deviation. Therefore the deviation of the south-pointing needle from the true south (about the end of tenth century?) to slightly east (11th century) must have been a most puzzling anomaly, not only to Shen Gua, who is not known in Image 10000000000000380000002521EFCFF20EDA787D.jpgto have studied Chinese geomancy, but also to the tradition of geomancy itself. I have some further evidence in terms of puzzles and anxieties from an important geomantic document (“Guanshi dili zhimeng” Image 10000000000000A9000000223812AC2C5CABF5C8.jpg29; Guanshi Image 10000000000000380000002035BFE0F2E7D0CC24.jpghere-after), discussed rather briefly in Needham (1962). When Shen Gua writes Image 100000000000009300000020E094261DF9C1221B.jpgin jotting 437, perhaps we should try to feel the emotion involved in mentioning a most anomalous and unheard of phenomenon coming from the mystical geomancers Image 10000000000000400000001E01FD02758C28C4E6.jpg even granted that Shen Gua might have heard of the phenomenon of “westward-deviation” which occurred in the distant past.

III

8In this section, I shall start considering a wider area of problems which, although still concentrating on the south-pointing needle, will briefly cover a history of sinological research on this topic. I will also reflect upon some sinological practices in the translation and interpretation of Chinese history of science. As I indicated before, we have a history of “south-pointing needles in China” by way of fragment translation — especially concerning the property of “magnetic declination”, when and where it was “discovered” in China, and how many years earlier than in Europe. Now let us get into some of its details.

9Firstly I quote here some interesting statements on translation by Needham, in a reflective mood, in some prefaces to his famous Science and Civilization in China.

Though all translators may be traitors, the duty of translation has at least the merit that it forces decisions about meanings, provisional though they may have to be (Needham 1959: xiv).

China to Europeans has been like the moon, always showing the same face – a myriad of peasant-farmers, a scattering of artists and recluses, an urban minority of scholars, mandarins and shopkeepers. Thus do civilizations acquire “stereotypes” of one another. Now, raised upon the wings of the space-ship of linguistic resource and riding the rocket of technical understanding (to use an Arabie trope), we intend to see what is on the other side of the dise, and to meet the physicists and engineers, the shipwrights and the metallurgists of China’s three-thousand-year-old culture. (Needham 1962: xxviii-xxix.)

10Very vividly pictured indeed. But, even as an historian of science most sympathetic to China, Needham is still willing to use the metaphor of the “moon” to characterize the cultural subject (China) in his own work. Actually, whether stereotypes such as this or other, truer faces of China, all these are faces of a European satellite. Needham thus inevitably held a Eurocentric viewpoint, with its entire conceptual apparatus and vehicles used to see the “physicists and engineers” on the other side of the three-thousand-year-old satellite of Europe.

11Secondly, there are two important characteristics of fragment translation. The first is the imposition of taxonomy. The taxonomy or the conceptual grid of modem Western science is often taken as the basis from which to approach ancient Chinese texts. Usually it is the imposed foreign taxonomy itself that dictates where, when, which fragments in the texts are translated, and even how. After the first step of fragment translation, all these translated fragments will be reorganized and placed into the proper boxes within the imposed foreign taxonomy. The process of reorganization is further mediated by a special kind of narrative in order to tell “a great story” of a certain Chinese discovery, usually in a form such as: some passages in some ancient text were found and after painstaking readings these show that a certain Chinese already discovered something which is actually a certain scientific fact, law, or theory (through a direct translation in terms of the Western modem science terminology).

  • 30 . When later modem Chinese historians of science learned enough from these Western hunters, they be (...)
  • 31 . This is a typical metaphor used by F. Hirth in the construction of his table (or “abstract of dat (...)
  • 32 . In a process of contextual translation, this is precisely what I am trying to do: to recover or r (...)

12The second characteristic of fragment translation might be called looking for gold or treasure hunting. Usually the narrator is clearly a Western prospector30 in the (adventurous?) field of ancient Chinese texts. The story often begins with a clue, a legend or a surprise in which an important “scientific” secret might be buried or hidden. Some books or maps leading to that secret, seen or described by a certain eminent sinologist in the past, but apparently now “lost”, may also increase the attraction of the original legend and constitute further objects to “hunt down”.31 The narrator is not interested so much in the subjectivity of Chinese cultural taxonomy or the historical context of the clue (e.g., geomancy), as in the instrumental value of geomantic fragments for digging up evidence for magnetic declination in China. Through care-fully selected geomantic fragments, we may see Chinese “references” to magnetic declination, but the “meaning” of Chinese geomancy and the “context” of those geomantic fragments is not made any clearer,32 and so they can simply be dismissed in passing as “pseudo-sciences”. The hunt usually ends with a constructed table showing as evidence fragment translations collected from various times and places among the vast field of ancient Chinese texts. Regardless of the drastic cultural and historical differences by which those fragments are actually divided, “evidence” thus collected is treated as coherent and homogeneous. Together the fragments constitute the proof of the existence of “knowledge of magnetic declination” in China. Whereas tables of “declination observed” were enthusiastically constructed by A. Wylie (1897: 157), F. Hirth (1908: 135), Wang Zhenduo (1950: 212), and J. Needham (1962: 310), I shall now address the question of whether these are really historical tables or instead the “imaginings” of modern science’s own history? (For Wylie and Needham’s tables, see tables 1 and 2.)

1. Wylie’s Table

Image 10000000000004AC0000021C92047528A6276255.jpg

  • 1 This allows 100 minutes to the degree.

Note *1

Wylie 1897, III: 157.

2. Needham’s Table

Image 10000000000004D00000027663D85F009C1897A2.jpg

Needham 1962: 310. The last lines of the table, not being relevant for the present discussion, have not been reproduced.

  • 33 . I exclude the observation (“c. +720”) allegedly made by the famous monk Yi-xing, since there is n (...)
  • 34 . We might ask, why “compass observations” by Western Jesuits in China should be considered “Chines (...)

13Let me give a detailed example about imaginings of this modem science of its own history. As an example, I take a table constructed by the best and most respected historian of Chinese science in the long tradition of, if I may say, fragment translation. Let us consider the underlying drastic differences in cultural and historical context of the many entries in Needham’s constructed table of Chinese compass observations (Needham 1962: 310) (fig. 2). The title of this table reads “Details on Chinese compass observations including magnetic declination, mainly before +1500”. This is a carefully chosen, interesting title. In the sixteen real entries33 (or observations) of this table, only the last six observations were made by people who knew anything about “magnetic declination”, and these were mostly European Jesuits. The remaining ten were made by people who can socially be divided into two groups: geomancers and literati. None of them knew anything of magnetic declination in the modem sense. Moreover, in most cases, these observers (geomancers, literati, Jesuits) did not communicate with each other, did not share the same conceptions of “deviations”, or live in the same historical period. In fact, many of them were puzzled and had expressed anxiety about these anomalous marginal events, and often did not consider these events as constant and regular phenomena. What sort of “table” is it then, that groups together these radically heterogeneous events and observations? In Needham’s title, “including”, I think, indicates a sub-set of all “Chinese compass observations”,34 which specifically mentioned or at least referred to magnetic declination. Thus, only an outside “other”, who has little historical interest in the Chinese meaning and context of these observations but who knows (from the Western scientific perspective) what these observations were “really about”, made the construction of this table possible. Following this tradition of table constructions by Wylie, Hirth, Wang, and Needham, treasure-hunting sinologists would continue the expansion of this very table, insert confirmed new entries, delete confirmed mistakes, and so on. But does this whole process help us understand more of the history of Chinese science (not the Chinese history of science)?

Let me now go into some of the entries themselves. First, in the entry dated “Mid +9th”, the various passages on “needles” in Image 100000000000003B00000024A3BEC85D2A32149C.jpgare rather tricky, conflicting, and puzzling to geomancers themselves (though the lodestone and different accounts of needle deviations were definitely mentioned),35 they are by no means so clear or unproblematic as is indicated in the table. It seems to me that the author(s) of Image 100000000000003D000000205807261E5C6AF489.jpghad also experienced the unprecedented anomalous “eastward-deviation” of the needles and were even more disturbed by it than Shen Gua. Next, in the entry dated “c. +900”, Needham actually refers to the diagram Fuzhen fangqi Image 100000000000007D0000001DD746A134FE42345D.jpg(“The directions and qi of the floating needle”) in the Jiutian xuannu qingnang haijuejing Image 10000000000001140000001EE3E8D71D44BFDEA9.jpg. But the diagram is embedded in a grand narrative of cosmological unfolding at the beginning of the book. The cultural context of this cosmological unfolding, though unclear, must be quite different from many other entries in the table. Furthermore, it is not clear that this diagram was ever used in later discussions of that book; hence the significance of the diagram to the book as a whole may be only ceremonial.

  • 36 . See (...)
  • 37 . Based on a slightly different edition, Needham’s translation (1962: 251) contains the same proble (...)

In “c. +1030”, Needham’s interpretation of Wang Ji’s Image 100000000000003F0000001E8424D26B0948F1B1.jpgpoem is not very convincing; at least this is not what the commentator of Image 100000000000003F0000001D887199F974813784.jpgintended when he quoted Wang’s poem.36 In “+1115”, the entry for “lodestone” in Bencao Yanyi Image 10000000000000780000001BE46DD3164F48BAE2.jpg(The Meaning of the Pharmacopoeia Elucidated) by Kou Zongshi Image 100000000000005B0000001E56B2AE1B44582DE6.jpg, indeed provides a connection between lodestone and needles deviating toward the east. Let us first read the text of this important medical entry37 (italics indicating a partial quotation from Mengxi’s jotting 437) :

Image 10000000000003A20000009C6B4C5214CBBE0CDE.jpg

We should note here that, around early 12th century, the deviation toward the east was probably greater and more familiar than at Shen Gua’s time,38 and hence less anomalous and more regular. Therefore, an explanation in terms of the logic and regularity of the “rive phases” Image 10000000000000390000002230BF505C9245B2CC.jpgwas given to deal with this deviation, an explanation not likely for the anomalous deviations in Shen Gua’s era. It is the “metal nature” Image 100000000000001E0000001EB1FE89C882EF1606.jpgof the needle that is to be blamed. But this ad hoc explanation was interestingly juxtaposed by Kou with some direct quotations of Shen Gua’s “special technique of inducing needles”, from jotting 437 of Image 100000000000003D00000020A0FF5461B588FE3F.jpgdiscussed in the previous section. What is the meaning of this juxtaposition? In addition to solving Shen Gua’s problems, maybe this technique could also remedy the problematic nature of “metal” in needles? In short, Kou’s actual “observation” was is not clear at all: did he fully agree with Shen and his effective technique, or did he imply that, when “one pierces a small piece of wick (pith or rush) transversely with the needle and floats it on water”, then the situation becomes different and a “five phases” theory was therefore called for to explain it? We should also note here that Kou’s special way of quoting Shen’s jotting 437 (hence Kou’s own reading of the jotting) inadvertently indicates something very important about the key issue of this paper. After roughly quoting the first sentence of jotting 437 (Image 10000000000000F30000001E1F8557FCD9B5D77D.jpg), Kou skips some sentences of minor importance (i.e., Image 100000000000017B00000020ECCE9F957A4F3BFF.jpgImage 10000000000000B50000001E1483DAD1AA85D53A.jpg– the issues of its being unsteady on the surface of water and liable to fall off the rim of a cup) and goes directly to Shen’s key method (“Image 1000000000000044000000200989D217EFADB823.jpg”) of resolving the problems. These significant omissions in his quotation,39 to me, confirm what I have argued in the previous section about the unity of jotting 437. Kou actually hightlights Shen’s logic by shortening the “reading distance” between the problem of “not always to the south” (Image 10000000000000730000001D181364E11100006F.jpg) and the method of resolving it (Image 100000000000003D000000209FCE8B55C0174CF8.jpg). Without any modem conception of magnetic declination, Kou’s reading is thus particularly revealing.

  • 40 . Shen Gua was well versed in the arts of the “five phases”, as amply demonstrated in his Mengxi, b (...)

Later, the fact that Kou did add a theoretical explanation in terms of the “five phases” was used by Needham (Needham 1962: 252c) in an attempt to refute Mitchell’s different reading (Mitchell 1937) of jotting 437 in Image 100000000000003B0000001E4D5E5E128BD8777C.jpg, namely, that “deviation toward the east” (to Shen Gua) was due to accident. However, as I have noted in the previous section when discussing Mitchell and also just noted above, a historical distinction between the times of Shen and Kou is sufficient to refute Needham’s refutation. The “regularity” Kou somehow perceived in “deviations toward the east” and hence tried to explain by the theory of the five phases does not automatically lead to the conclusion that Shen Gua also perceived such a regularity.40 Moreover, we can even doubt whether Kou himself clearly perceived such a regularity, for the five-phases theory is quite “capable” of explaining many historical singularities. The things to be explained by this theory do not have to be “constant and distinct” (Needham 1962: 252c) phenomena.

  • 41 . Presumably, the object to be explained by a cosmographical theory in terms of the “incline” on a (...)

As to Zeng Sanyi’s Image 10000000000000600000001E2FF3992CB5D315E8.jpgdiscussion of ziwu zhen Image 10000000000000560000001D032EEE80481F3B34.jpg(“North-South Needle”?), dated “c. +1174” in the table, from Tonghua lu Image 10000000000000550000001B9720B083475BCDBC.jpg(“Mutual Discussions”?), which is a short collection of jottings on miscellaneous subjects, he briefly discusses the needle’s deviation without any reference to the lodestone, and he re-associates it with ancient cosmographical discussions about the centeredness of the earth. Needham (1962: 306) actually praises Zeng’s cosmographical explanation of the needle deviations, which he takes to be “more sophisticated” than Kou’s five-phases theory.41 The discussion of the “North-South Needle”, however, is confusing in regard to some crucial conceptions. Apparently, Zeng misused the term fengzhen Image 1000000000000038000000201A023FB874A7E2E9.jpg(a technical term to accomodate the much older westward-deviation in the geomantic compass) for east-ward-deviation, and he himself was also puzzled about the different uses of zhengzhen Image 1000000000000036000000190022D8EAD47B58DB.jpgfengzhen Image 100000000000003B0000001D10493849B1AE701F.jpg. Moreover, though this jotting may include “references” to magnetic declination, the conceptions structuring it were confused and of a nature of mere natural curiosity – like other random topics around it. The invocation of cosmography to understand the needle deviations is at most an “inspired guess”, admitted by Needham (1962: 306), but it is still far remote from anything like an “explanation” as we know it.

  • 42 . Take the case of Chu Yong’s (...)

Finally, because of the constraints of space, I shall leave other controversial entries undiscussed.42 Let us now return to the entire table itself. Some moments ago, when we began considering this table, I asked what sort of “table” would group together these radically heterogeneous observations? Then I answered: only an outside “other”, who has little historical interest in the Chinese meaning and context of these observations, but knows (from the Western scientific perspective) what these observations were “really” about, could have constructed such a table. Whenever I think of this outside other who “knows”, a picture inevitably springs to my mind about the whole situation involved, and that is a picture of the Chinese tale about “a group of blind people trying to figure out what an elephant is like” (xiazi moxiang Image 10000000000000700000001EB1B222FBCE6CF287.jpg). The phenomenon of magnetic declination is the elusive elephant that many Chinese geomancers and literati tried to figure out and of which some formed their own conception. Unfortunately, none of their respective conceptions, though historically interesting, captures the universal “truth” of this particular elephant. The tradition of fragment translation, in short, is interested in the truth of a universal science which only happens to be confirmed in Chinese history. Contextual translation, on the other hand, is interested in the historical meanings and conceptions of the people who, though believed to be blind by the outside others, were the brave protagonists of the history of Chinese science.

Bibliographie

Bibliography

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Edkins, Joseph. 1877. “Chinese Names for Boats and Boat Gear; with Remarks on the Chinese Use of the Mariner’s Compass”, Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 11: 123-142.

Fu Daiwie Image 100000000000005F0000001DFDF109F12ADFD1FD.jpg. 1993-94. “A Contextual and Taxonomic Study of the ‘Divine Marvels’ and ‘Strange Occurrences’ in the Mengxi Bitan”, Chinese Science, 11: 3-35.

– 1995a. “Higher Taxonomy and Higher Incommensurability”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 26, 2: 273-294.

– 1995b. “The Needle Deviation (‘Magnetic Declination’): Looking for its Possible Influences in Some Early Medieval Texts of Geomancy.” (Lecture delivered at the College de France, Paris.)

“Guanshi dili zhimeng” Image 10000000000000A60000001BCEE9CC72D37901F2.jpg, in Gujin tushu jicheng Image 10000000000000A60000001B008A5F30B3C68D74.jpg, Yishu dian Image 10000000000000550000001ED0940C2C2671FDDC.jpg, juan 655. Taipei, Ding-wen Publishing Company.

Guo Wenhua Image 100000000000005A0000001B1BF8945ACA2ABA54.jpg. 1996. “Shen Gua ‘yixue’ yanjiu ji ‘yaoxing’ chutan” Image 10000000000001B400000020F20527C7BF4FAAD0.jpg. (Manuscript written in Daiwie Fu’s seminar on Mengxi Bitan at Tsing-Hua University.)

Hirth, Friedrich. 1908. Ancient History of China; to the End of the Chou Dynasty. New York, AMS Press.

Klaproth, Julius. 1834. Lettre à M. le Baron A. de Humboldt, sur l’invention de la boussole. Paris, Dondey-Dupré.

Kou Zongshi Image 100000000000005F0000001B3509FAFAEBCF05AA.jpg. 1115. Bencao yanyi Image 10000000000000780000001B1C6256EA73C7A838.jpg(Southern Song Edition). Taibei, Yi-wen Publishing Company. (From Baibu congshu jicheng Image 10000000000000AB0000001DEBFAEFB1CA2318DC.jpg; reprinted Taibei, Shijie shuju, 1962.)

Lei Hsianglin Image 100000000000005A000000202FDCEED9FD259E3D.jpgand Daiwie Fu. 1993. “Language and Similarity in the Dream Brook – A Study of Prognostication, Divine Oddities, and Strange Events in Mengxi Bitan”, Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, 23, 1.

Li Shuhua Image 100000000000005D0000001DA7F0667AA557809C.jpg. 1953. “Zhinan zhen de qiyuan” Image 10000000000000AE000000208EAB57613BE3C88B.jpg[Parts 1 and 2], Dalu zazhi Image 100000000000006F0000001DA648AE1586640903.jpg, 7, 9: 1-7 and 7, 10: 1-10.

Mitchell, A. Crichton. 1937. “Chapters in the History of Terrestrial Magnetism”, chapter II: “The Discovery of Declination”, Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity, 42: 241-280.

Moule, A.C. 1924. “The Chinese South-Pointing Carriage”, T’oung Pao, 23: 83-98.

Needham, Joseph. 1959. Science and Civilization in China [SCC], vol.3: Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

– 1962. Science and Civilization in China [SCC], vol.4, part I: Physics, section 26. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Shen Gua Image 100000000000004000000022A086DE947782C5F7.jpg. 1962. Mengxi Bitan jiaozheng Image 10000000000000B70000001EEAEF3620FC57FA2B.jpg. Shanghai, Zhonghua shuju. 2 vols. (Edited by Hu Daojing Image 100000000000005D0000001DCF09AFDA8C2679EF.jpgon the basis of the Northern Song standard edition of 1166, with the standard numerical ordering of the total 609 jottings.)

Wang Zhenduo Image 10000000000000560000001B1BF81DDFC192F1EC.jpg. 1948/50. “Sinan zhinan zhen yu luopan jing” Image 10000000000000380000001E2E5E4E51A8161BCA.jpgImage 10000000000000D40000001D1B512C81816348B4.jpg[part I] (The lodestone Spoon of the Han) and [part II] (The ‘Fish’ Compass, the Needle Compass, and the Early Work on Deviation), Zhongguo kaoguxue bao, 1948, 3: 119 ff. and 1950, 4: 185 ff.

Wylie, Arthur. 1859. “The Magnetic Compass in China”, North-China Herald, March 15, 1859. (Included in Wylie 1897, III: 155-157.)

– 1897. Chinese Researches. Shanghai/Taipei, Chengwen Publishing Company.

Zhang Zhaowei Image 10000000000000550000001D2B12C1ACE4412B96.jpg. 1990. “Mengxi bitan ‘zazhi’ lei chutanImage 10000000000000780000001D49C957DC1A01CA67.jpgImage 10000000000000BC0000001EAE9B73AC9DBB6041.jpg(Manuscript written in Daiwie Fu’s seminar on Mengxi Bitan at Tsing-Hua University.)

Notes

1 . The interesting part of this “priority” is that usually the more we think of the “scientific value” of a certain ancient passage, the more likely we are to mistranslate that passage.

2 . I have made a similar study on two other catagories of Mengxi Bitan, see Daiwie Fu 1993-1994. In a similar spirit, Lei Hsianglin Image 100000000000007500000027C35E6CA98E0A7F5C.jpgand I published another paper entitled “Language and Similarity in the Dream Brook – A Study of Prognostication, Divine Oddities, and Strange Events in Mengxi Bitan” (Lei Hsianglin and Fu Dawei 1993). For a further theoretical elaboration of this key concept of “taxonomy” in connection with the late professor Kuhn’s ideas on taxonomy, see Daiwie Fu 1995a. In the appendix of my article in Chinese Science just cited (Daiwie Fu 1993-1994), I have argued that the 17 categories of Mengxi were really Shen Gua’s own taxonomy.

3 . The edition I used for this study is based on Hu Daojing’s Image 100000000000007000000028480DC86D88DC259C.jpgcritical edition of Mengxi Bitan Image 10000000000000E200000025E1EC243E292426DE.jpg(Mengxi Bitan jiaozheng), with the standard numerical ordering of 609 jottings in total.

4 . As mentioned above, Zazhi is not the final category of Mengxi; it is the 16th. However, in a careful study of the 17th category, Yaoyi, we find that this category is probably not in the conceptual structure of Mengxi but appended, as it were, from the outside. This idea comes from a manuscript “Shen Gua ‘Yixue’ yanjiu ji ‘Yaoxing’ chutan” Image 10000000000000900000002949A1204694A90D0C.jpgImage 100000000000019C0000002EAD7B51EB7028BBFB.jpgby Guo Wenhua Image 10000000000000730000002735E5AE3874B69776.jpg, written in my seminar of Mengxi Bitan in Tsing-Hua University (Guo Wenhua 1996). This finding provides strong evidence for us to say that Zazhi is conceptually a final, residual (dis-)category of Mengxi.

5 . In the total 71 jottings of Zazhi (including those in the Supplement Bu BitanImage 100000000000004F0000002736A21B4F351FD5BD.jpgImage 10000000000000280000002882B92C7D68959A1D.jpg), I can find only two jottings concerning events that happened in the capital of Northern Song. One is jotting 466, the other is jotting 572. The interesting thing about jotting 572 is that it involves the son Mo Zhan Image 10000000000000510000002877897502CF073F12.jpgof the former king of the barbarous Xiqiang Image 100000000000004F00000029ADCFCD5E5208DBBC.jpg, thus this story is indirectly connected to the barbarous foreign lands. Jotting 466, although it concerns an anecdote about one Song emperor, is very unconventional or even unorthodox. As to some other possible “exceptions”, three jottings are about military exercises (475, 578, 579) and two about the (borders) maps made for the dynasty (472,575). They are all related to the issues of how the political center is to deal with the troubles in the marginal or foreign lands.

6 . In jotting 581, Shen admired Yangzhou Image 100000000000004F0000002BF9D83B5EF5183AC1.jpgin the Tang dynasty. In jotting 458, he talks about an interesting Tang custom and its legacy in Liangzhi Image 10000000000000470000001FBA4BB170CCBA9D75.jpg. In jotting 438, he writes about an ancient tomb in Jinling Image 1000000000000056000000289437DCE99F111AFF.jpg. In jotting 431, he compares the traces of old canals in Jianghuai Image 1000000000000053000000215C7CB9DB0A2269EA.jpgwith those described in a Tang geography book Lainanlu Image 1000000000000074000000246268B65B653CE7E8.jpg. Jotting 429 again focuses on a Tang stone monument discovered in Suzhou Image 100000000000002B00000027996D7B2F0E9FB1E1.jpgImage 10000000000000290000002635193096A3F8A22C.jpgof the Bian canal.

7 . For a more systematic discussion of Shen Gua’s “gaze” from the center, see my previous study on two other categories of Mengxi (Fu Daiwie 1993-94, esp. pp. 24-33).

8 . Some ideas here come from a manuscript by Zhang Zhaowei Image 1000000000000074000000294E4DBB6F9EE6CB22.jpg(1990).

9 . Image 100000000000007100000026850C35275576C078.jpgin jotting 460 can be a decadent person, whereas Image 100000000000004E00000026EF0C92A62274DC8F.jpgas commented by Shen Gua in jotting 465, can be an idiosyncratic person, who regretted all his life having once bought a book, which supposedly broke his discipline of self-restraint.

10 . In jotting 470, Shen Gua writes about those people in Jiangzhou Image 100000000000004E00000027A9755DB4136FAE05.jpgwho were loyal holdouts of a former local lord and refused to submit to the Song imperial order for three years. Later, after their defenses cracked, they were massacred by a Song general despite an imperial pardon, which came too late. This is the fate of these people, Shen sighs. Although the leader of these people, Hu Ze Image 100000000000004B00000029D446B656EBBFE44D.jpg, is also mentioned in jotting 157 on “Literati Affairs”, the emphasis there is quite different. An almost opposite story is jotting 424 in Zazhi, where two local doctors want very much to become petty officials (Image 100000000000009B0000002869DCDFFA9D464D37.jpg), but both suddenly die after the good news arrives.

11 . Generally speaking, “servants” (shiren Image 100000000000004B0000002E704DAD8EA415A454.jpg) of the literati were very active in the category Zazhi. See, for example, jottings 436, 446, 458, 470.

12 . See jotting 478, about an old prostitute who helped to defend the Song from the barbarians Xiawei Image 100000000000004E0000002B0C7092C5D6FB1D45.jpgby openly shouting at the enemies the “dirty private affairs” of their mother-king who led the invasion.

13 . Klaproth 1834; Wylie 1897; Edkins 1877; 123 ff; Hirth 1908; Moule 1924: 83 ff; Wang Zhenduo 1950, 1953; Needham 1962.

14 . Although Shen Gua was well known as a polymath who specialized in many esoteric learnings, he talked surprisingly little about “geomancy” in Mengxi. Only a very small number of jottings are related to geomancy: jottings 145, 380, and 571.

15 . The making of this map was based on a set of fixed directions and distances between any two geographical points in question, similar to a bird flying directly from one place to another with a fixed direction and distance. This is different from the old method of map-making where the distance between two points is estimated by the length of the actual road from one place to another.

16 . One significant difference between Wylie’s and Needham’s translations is that the term fangjia Image 100000000000004D000000256E9AA8AD7ABDC8B9.jpgwas translated by Wylie as “scientific people”, but by Needham as “magicians”.

17 . I translate the adverb chang Image 100000000000002900000026A6F9DD816FD7B175.jpgas “usually” or “often”, not as “always”, as in almost all the old translations (including the earlier French ones). But this Image 10000000000000280000002BDFFDA3B7348A349B.jpgdoes not necessarily mean high frequency or high probability of occurrences; it usually depends on the context. For example, we have no way of telling from the sentence alone Image 100000000000006C0000002B37823FFB6381BE2A.jpgImage 10000000000000790000002306A0F15615392631.jpghow often or how many times he came in the last year. Thus, Image 100000000000002B000000244FEFF910E43796DE.jpgmay mean something much less than “often”. I have checked quite a number of uses of Image 100000000000002300000028C7D1AF4F849847AC.jpgas an adverb in Mengxi, and I found that almost all of them mean “usually”, “often” or even less, which is quite different from “always” – especially in the issues discussed in this paper. It is quite understandable why historians of science in the past liked to translate it as “always”. See further explanations in the following passages.

18 . Image 100000000000009B000000284B18A09FC755343C.jpgis an ambiguous phrase. There are two ways to parse this phrase: Image 100000000000002C0000002BB9B104E087BED0C5.jpgImage 10000000000001CD0000002AE979580949439894.jpg. The first way corresponds to the first, italic translation, the second to the alternative translation in brackets. It is more natural to use the first one, where Image 100000000000002B0000002804F1196022695A66.jpgis used in contrast to Image 100000000000002800000026DD7D8BA5AA9ED288.jpgas just discussed, and the meaning of this phrase is consistent with other passages in this jotting. Translated the second way, Image 100000000000004A0000002984364169460D083B.jpgpresumably means “due south”, but Shen Gua rarely used Image 100000000000002500000029B1531A84F2E537B1.jpgin this way. For example, in jotting 127, he did not useImage 100000000000004A00000023989DCBC61D188258.jpg, and in jotting 131, he used Image 10000000000000BC0000002B9D6183A94924AB23.jpginstead.

19 . I use this transitional “doubt” in parentheses to somewhat smooth the flow of Shen Gua’s sentences. It may reflect a hesitation, a pause, a change of tone on his part. It is also to emphasize the unity of this jotting and to avoid mutilating it into several unrelated fragments, like many translations did in the past.

20 . The phrase Image 100000000000004C0000002A867D827FB9075F27.jpgis an important marker in many of the jottings in Mengxi, which usually points to the key ideas Shen Gua wanted to express in the jotting in question. This marker also often indicates where the source or origin of that method is, and it is usually a book. Unfortunately, he did not indicate the source of “the method” in jotting 437.

21 . It is important to appreciate the natural flow of writing to this point: Image 100000000000009400000026B2113DCF9F89C818.jpg. I wish to stress the term Image 100000000000002C000000258CC7E1E881D6BCA6.jpg, which signals a turning point on the way to resolving to Shen Gua’s satisfaction at least, all the problems (especially the “deviating slightly to the east”) raised before this point in this jotting. Again, I translate Image 1000000000000027000000250F9A724E038E4DE2.jpgas “most often”, not “always”. Historians in the past saw this jotting from the perspective of modem science, thus they translated Image 1000000000000025000000278CA09E06D176CA74.jpgas “always” to observe the imperatives of magnetic declination. But Shen Gua had no such conceptions. Most likely he considered these deviations in terms of “frequency” – hence the terms “usually”, “often” and “not always”, given the crude apparatus he had at hand, the curiosity that was only marginal to his experience, and the geographical (and hence magnetic) variations by which his south-pointing needles were effected.

22 . Many make the taxonomy or conceptual grid of modem Western science the basis from which to approach ancient Chinese texts. We might call this practice an “imposition of taxonomy”, and I will focus on it in the third section of this paper.

23 . For the distinctions among “regularity”, “anomaly” and “accident”, it is easy to draw up a series of degrees or stages of epistemological status (from high to low) concerning certain units of “knowledge” or “phenomena”:
(i) knowledge and discovery (and its “normal science structure”, in the sense of Thomas Kuhn);
(ii) recurrent phenomena, a regularity, a prototype law, a building block for normal knowledge;
(iii) anomaly (acknowledged strange phenomena happen from time to time, which resist assimilation to normal knowledge and potentially challenge or conflict with the official knowledge);
(iv) aberration (strange phenomena which can be set aside or even forgotten);
(v) practical accidents (familiar phenomena which can easily be dismissed or explained as trivial).

24 . The italics are mine. See Mitchell 1937. As to Needham’s interesting arguments against Mitchell’s unconventional idea, see Needham’s footnotes (1962: 250d, 252c, 309c). In footnote p. 252c, Needham partially concedes Mitchell’s point by saying that what was in Shen Gua’s mind “is not certain”. But his strategy of using Kou Zongshi’s attempt to “explain the magnetic declination” (thus Kou presumably would recognize the phenomena to be explained as a “regularity”) in order to refute Mitchell’s point is, to me, not convincing. In the next section, I will make a very clear distinction between Shen’s and Kou’s situations; thus we cannot use Kou’s observation in the Southern Song to interpret Shen’s in the Northern Song. And the key issue here is the nature of Shen Gua’s world. In footnote p. 250d, Needham criticizes “the spirit in which some Europeans approach Chinese texts” (such as Mitchell’s), but fortunately I am not an European but a (Han) Taiwanese.

25 . Later, in section III, I will introduce a Southern Song reading (hence with no conception of “magnetic declination”) of Mengxi’s jotting 437 to confirm my interpretation here.

26 . This is an adapted translation from Needham’s (Needham 1962: 250), with an important difference, that Image 100000000000002300000021A0C703A772670088.jpg(in Image 10000000000000B700000027DAEAEEEB144D814B.jpg) again is translated as “often”.

27 . When it comes to Kou Zongshi’s Bencao yanyi Image 10000000000000970000002733989605E4F5ED4D.jpgof the Southern Song, perhaps the phenomenon of “deviations” had become more regular and less anomalous. Kou did mention “deviations” in his medical discussions of the lodestone Image 1000000000000049000000278E7CB1CA4A2F67DE.jpgand also recorded a strange passage in which a Taoist medical concept of “five phases” (wuxingImage 100000000000004B000000255DAE69E4B72B1D66.jpg) was evoked to explain them. More on this in section III of this paper.

28 . I agree with Needham (1962) that there is a westward-deviation of south-pointing needles in 9th- and 10th-century China, but for different reasons. Needham’s evidence for this (as abstracted in table 2) is too sketchy and unreliable. What I did is a serious reading of the Qingnangxu Image 100000000000006F0000002609448C28A22B4A3C.jpgand Qingnang’aozhi Image 100000000000008B0000002E65536EEBF5709EB5.jpg, by the famous Tang geomancers Yang Yunsong Image 100000000000006A0000002672A7CA25A16C3427.jpgand Zeng Qiuji Image 10000000000000640000002BAC05B81E0AE04B8F.jpg, the Fuzhen fangqi Image 10000000000000910000002B23012C8F87C9B447.jpgdiagram in Needham (Needham 1962: 304), and the Hushou jing Image 100000000000006E00000027D8712E7D8CB24D91.jpg(found in Dili xianpo ji Image 10000000000000B60000002BE82521BF8E80569D.jpg). I found these to be consistent with some crucial passages in Chu Yong’s Image 100000000000004C00000027431C1BCA041B787F.jpgQuyi shuo Image 100000000000007B00000024867F0BEA935F106F.jpg(interpreted differently from Needham). Together, they all point to a very probable “westward-deviation” in 9th- and 10th-century China. In May 1995, I gave a talk on this subject at the Collège de France in Paris, entitled “The Needle Deviation (Magnetic Declination): Looking for its Possible Influences in Some Early Medieval Texts of Geomancy”. I would like to thank Dr. Martzloff, who made this talk possible.

29 . See Image 10000000000000DA00000024F80057F279F85916.jpgedition, Image 100000000000007B000000276C5B6A38B4A2A53D.jpg, juan 655 (Image 100000000000007000000028A38C349C10ED75C3.jpg), Image 1000000000000098000000274C0F645738D8F700.jpg: 6781-82, 6844.

30 . When later modem Chinese historians of science learned enough from these Western hunters, they became the modem “Chinese hunters”, equipped with the Western taxonomy of modem science to hunt down and at the same time defend their “national treasures”.

31 . This is a typical metaphor used by F. Hirth in the construction of his table (or “abstract of dates”) conceming the various issues of “south-pointing needles” in China (Hirth 1908: 135). The object of this “hunt down” for Hirth is the mysterious passage in a Chinese text concerning an observation of magnetic declination in the 8th century by the monk Yixing, a mysterious event first reported by the meticulous A.Wylie (1897: 157), who surprisingly did not provide any reference for the source of that report.

32 . In a process of contextual translation, this is precisely what I am trying to do: to recover or regain the meaning and context of some Tang geomantic texts which contain vague discussions of “needles”. Some preliminary ideas were presented in my talk, “The Needle Deviation” (1995b).

33 . I exclude the observation (“c. +720”) allegedly made by the famous monk Yi-xing, since there is no evidence for it. Although Needham (1962) did not uncover any evidence for Yang Yunsong’s Image 100000000000007600000027BB8B9DDE66DCC9AF.jpgdiscussion of westward-deviation (“c. +880”), I have found some. Hence, I include Yang’s observation.

34 . We might ask, why “compass observations” by Western Jesuits in China should be considered “Chinese”?

35 . See Image 10000000000000DC00000025F3DEABA599429563.jpgédition, Image 100000000000006A00000025A59AEF9BE6CF4D7B.jpg, juan 655 (Image 100000000000005600000021D26968E6BED942EF.jpg) Image 10000000000000F700000020F991DFDDB97B1AA8.jpg: 6781-82, 6844. Needham (Needham 1962: 302) translates as evidence a passage there (p. 6782), which is problematic. There is a puzzling passage on the same page: Image 1000000000000076000000283C55FD9C72BE9833.jpgImage 100000000000007D00000027AF738026A41B500E.jpg(p. 6782). A quite different passage is also in Image 10000000000001AB0000002CF416101CC95FF9F4.jpg(p. 6844), “Image 100000000000018A000000252AB0F815420228DB.jpg”, this is clearly “eastern-deviation”. See Image 10000000000000920000002311585DB08F1FD6FD.jpgImage 100000000000004C0000002599B6159DF2897D0C.jpgedition, Image 1000000000000074000000295459A40C36C96937.jpg, juan 662.

36 . See Image 10000000000000D500000026B073241314038233.jpgedition, Image 100000000000006A00000025A59AEF9BE6CF4D7B.jpg, juan 655 Image 100000000000018A00000027E9F3D72B1E22F831.jpg: 6782. The commentator is talking about the Chinese calendar and run Image 1000000000000025000000281F5DC9100B98B959.jpg ; the historical complexity involved here with regard to the history of Chinese geomancy/astronomy has yet to be studied.

37 . Based on a slightly different edition, Needham’s translation (1962: 251) contains the same problems (actually even clearer in this entry) as those in his translation of jotting 437 of Mengxi. I will not repeat them here.

38 . In Image 100000000000009500000028882CF3EC3EDC3A11.jpg, the entry Image 100000000000004B0000002673D5E2316A091012.jpgincludes the phrase: Image 10000000000000DA0000002802761ACF0D5675D8.jpg. The Image 100000000000002600000028FD9D474AA725BC38.jpgposition in the 24-directions compass indicates deviation toward the east for one full position (a 15-degree westward declination), which is probably greater than at Shen Gua’s time (thirty to forty years earlier with a deviation “slightly to the east” – hence 5-10-degree westward declination, according to Needham’s estimation) and thus more noticeable and more familiar. Another very interesting change is that, although Kou quotes some passages from jotting 437 of Mengxi, he alters the key phrase Image 10000000000000BB000000294D9F652C768D0E45.jpgto Image 10000000000000930000002A0D2C89BFF6DE5165.jpgby dropping the adverb Image 10000000000000240000002859CA015B7789A364.jpg(“slightly”). This probably also means an increase of the magnitude of the deviation in Kou’s time. By the way, we should not forget that the adverb Image 1000000000000026000000265AC3EA7B8722BAB0.jpg“often” is used again in this text.

39 . In Image 100000000000008F00000022A4FE83D74F7A5F7B.jpg, there are many quotations or paraphrases from Mengxi. In Mengxi’s category “Deliberations on Materia Medica”, for example, there are at least eight jottings which Kou had closely consulted: 490, 491, 493, 496, 498, 500, 502, 506. From these cases, we know Kou is very serious about quoting phrases. He was quite independent in judging the materials he consulted and was very organized in quoting or paraphrasing what he wanted. This shows that we should also take seriously the way Kou quotes Mengxi’s jotting 437.

40 . Shen Gua was well versed in the arts of the “five phases”, as amply demonstrated in his Mengxi, but he did not use it in jotting 437.

41 . Presumably, the object to be explained by a cosmographical theory in terms of the “incline” on a flat earth should be a much more “regular” phenomenon. But this is one hundred years after Shen Gua.

42 . Take the case of Chu Yong’s Image 100000000000007900000027BE265775E6E84EDF.jpgin the entry “c. +1230”, where Needham refers to the passage of “Distinguishing Needles” (bianzhen Image 1000000000000048000000266F3C679F388C2646.jpg) (Needham 307-308). Since I have a quite different interpretation of this passage, I do not have the space here to elaborate on it. By the way, a version of the Image 100000000000007200000027A3DFA19C1D504A2B.jpg(“Canon of the Fox Head”) mentioned in this passage was found in Image 10000000000000C8000000262CB000F38B08C663.jpg. But the date of its completion is not clear. I suspect it actually referred to the rare “westward-deviation” in the tenth chapter Qiyuan pian Image 1000000000000070000000298A0FAFE315657DBE.jpg.

Notes de fin

1 This allows 100 minutes to the degree.

Auteur

National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1999

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