Some Late Ming Western Technical Terms and Their Implications for Cultural Transformation: “Brain,” “Geometry,” “Globe,” and “Cathay”

in Frontiers of History in China
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The cluster of technical terms that the Jesuit Matteo Ricci and his Chinese partners Xu Guangqi and Li Zhizao cotranslated and introduced into Chinese in the late Ming dynasty was of significance for China’s cultural transformation. For instance, “brain” replaced “heart” as a specific term referring to the organ of consciousness and memory. The classical Chinese interrogative numeral jihe was used to represent the core mathematical term “geometry”. Diqiu, meaning “the globe of the earth” in English, was minted to amend the traditional hemispherical dome cosmology. The identification of “Cathay” with China clarified the ambiguity in the Western geographical concept of the Far East, which had existed since the Middle Ages.


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