Collaborative Group

Dr. Leah Ya Zuo

Project

A New Way of Knowing in Middle-Period China: Shen Gua (1031 to 1095) and the Birth of Empiricism

Project

Reading Biji: Randomness, Fluidity, Materiality, and Emotionality

Department

History and Asian Studies

A New Way of Knowing in Middle-Period China: Shen Gua (1031 to 1095) and the Birth of Empiricism

This project makes the case for Shen Gua (1031-1095) as China's first empiricist. A renowned polymath and "precocious scientist," Shen presented a strikingly new empirical stance in his famous _Brush Talks from Dream Brook_. An emphasis on sensory perception as source of belief distinguished his stance from contemporaneous mainstream systems, which related things to a unifying cosmos and relied on the cosmic order for meanings. In his writings, Shen presented his stance through a gamut of experiential examples ranging from classical exegesis to studies of seas, stars, and living creatures. I argue that this is the first attempt by a Chinese scholar to introduce a kind of empiricism to the intellectual world and present it as a worthy way of seeking knowledge.

Reading Biji: Randomness, Fluidity, Materiality, and Emotionality

This workshop aims to assess biji (notebooks) as a genre of writing and as sources for scholars who study the society, culture, and literature of Song China (960-1279). The discussion will consist of four themes. The first group of scholars look into the unique epistemology of “randomness” embodied in the often unsystematic appearance of biji. The second group of readers address biji as a genre and examine the often-fluid boundaries that distinguished biji from other types of texts. The third group explores biji as an important source for studies of material culture and everyday life. And the fourth group draws on biji as a source for understanding how Song people addressed interpersonal relationships and feelings.