The Role of Science in Western Chinese Jade Collection and Knowledge Creation: A Case Study

By Meili Yang.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Science and technology were often regarded as a superior or an intensifying reciprocal means by the West when encountering Oriental civilizations beginning in, or before, the nineteenth century. However, they also provided a fresh impetus for Westerners to explore ancient civilization and establish additional knowledge systems. The present article focuses on two scientific fields related to Chinese jade collection and research, mineralogy and archaeology, to understand the role science played in the art collecting process, how it influenced collection configurations and trends, and expanded knowledge systems in pre- and post-war western society. The research results generated a completely different perspective for understanding Chinese jade collection in western society from earlier prevalent research oriented by artistic or historical fields. In terms of jade collecting and research, as Berthold Laufer questioned: “… the idea of searching for jade, working it and valuing it so highly,… as the agency in the search for the prized material” (1912, 4–5), In the present article a similar question is asked: Is modern science the agency in the construct for unique Chinese jade collection and knowledge systems in Western society? In fact, in addition to using in classification to establish systematic knowledge related to collecting culture, science also potentially influenced collection configurations and trends, as well as additional knowledge establishment.

Keywords: Science, Chinese Jade Collection, Western Society, Mineralogy, Archaeology

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.17-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.324MB).

Prof. Meili Yang

Professor, Center for General Education and Core Curriculum, Tamkang University, Taipei, Taiwan

Meili Yang served as a senior curator in the Department of Antiquities in the National Palace Museum at Taipei from 1983–2006, and is a professor teaching Chinese art history and science and art in Tamkang University in Taiwan. She received her MA in Chinese art history from the National Taiwan University at Taiwan in 1983. Since 2007, she has been studying conservation science and archaeology in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA, where she received a MS in conservation science in 2010. She is always interested in using scientific methods to advance aiding Chinese art history, archaeology, and ancient society studies, as well as museum conservation.