The 81st George E. Morrison Lecture: The Role of Shanghai in Building Modern Science in China in the 19th Century

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Historians of “Chinese science” until recently have spent much of their time researching issues in pre-modern natural studies and trying to explain why modern science, technology, and medicine arrived so late in China. The “Needham Question”—Why did a divided Europe, and not imperial China, develop modern science first?—until recently remained preeminent.

Increasingly, we are able to address modern science in Chinese cities from a comparative point of view and include it in the story of global science. This lecture explores the driving factors of modern scientific development in Shanghai post-Taiping Rebellion (1850-1867), which led to an increase in job opportunities in public and private industries in the early twentieth century.

Benjamin Elman is the Princeton University Gordon Wu ’58 Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies, Professor of East Asian Studies and History, and former Chair of the Department of East Asian Studies at Princeton. He works at the intersection of several fields including history, philosophy, literature, religion, economics, politics, and science. His ongoing interest is in rethinking how the history of East Asia has been told in the West as well as in China, Japan, and Korea.

Elman’s recent books include Classicism, Examinations, and Cultural History (2010); A Cultural History of Modern Science in China (2009); Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present (2018). He is the co-editor of What China and India Once Were. The Pasts That May Shape the Global Future (2018).

The George Ernest Morrison Lecture Series was founded by Chinese residents in Australia and others in honour of the late Dr G. E. Morrison (1862-1920), a native of Geelong, Victoria, Australia. The objects of the foundation of the lectureship were to honour for all time the memory of a great Australian who rendered valuable services to China and to improve cultural relations between China and Australia. The annual Morrison Lecture is organised by a committee of ANU colleagues from the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific.

The 81st George E. Morrison Lecture is jointly presented by the Australian Centre on China in the World and the ANU Taiwan Studies Program.