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In: Cultures of Knowledge
Author: Francesca Bray

Abstract

This chapter analyzes the role of technology in shaping Chinese material resources, society and governance over the longue durée. What place did technology occupy in Chinese experience and thought before the debacle of the Opium Wars, when there was no concept in the language that corresponded to our modern understanding of technology as sophisticated machinery, or as an irresistible force for progress? What role was attributed to technology during China’s subsequent struggles for survival and recognition as its technological landscapes were repeatedly and dramatically transformed: first, through the final years of the Qing when reformers turned to technological innovation as a way to stave off disaster, then through the Republican period as the government strove to build a modern infrastructure, through the years of war and revolution, during successive Maoist campaigns and finally into the current post-Reform era? How is technology understood and viewed in China today, now that the nation has transcended earlier stigmatization as an inherently non-creative culture capable only of copying Western innovations, to emerge as an acknowledged global leader in high-tech fields like biotechnology? I propose the paired concepts of technological landscape and technological culture as analytical tools for interweaving transformations and continuities in Chinese views and uses of technology between the late nineteenth century and today.

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