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Conference | Workshop

Curious and Scientific Things – Seeing and Knowing in Early Modern East Asia (1700-1900)

Friday 26 October 2018 - Saturday 27 October 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

This workshop seeks to revisit the notion that the increasingly practical use of pictures to capture the world and to represent the real in early modern East Asia was caused simply by the introduction of Western learning and Western things. Things, such as clocks, maps, botanical and anatomical drawings, pictures of city views, generally associated with nascent scientific learning in Western history, were initially considered curious collectibles in seventeenth-century East Asia. By the nineteenth century, ruling elites and learned people in Qing China, Joseon Korea and Tokugawa Japan were applying techniques such as perspective and sketching from nature innovatively to produce knowledge for practical purposes. In current scholarly discourse, these techniques might still be called “Western,” but they had already been assimilated in local contexts to such a degree that we can no longer simply call them “Western.”

This workshop aims to trace the developing practices and thoughts that contributed to epistemological shifts at the cusp of modernity in East Asia. At the centre of these epistemological shifts were changing notions of vision and visuality and of their capacity for producing knowledge about the world. These epistemological shifts were not simply stimulated by Western techniques, but they were also innovative appropriations based on existing practices of producing knowledge. In addition, these epistemological shifts followed multiple routes, centers, and networks within East Asia between 1700 and 1900. By putting an emphasis on these interconnections within East Asia as a system of knowledge-production, this workshop seeks to take account of the complexity of the gradual and complex process of epistemological shifts in East Asia.

In this workshop, we consider the following, but not limited to, aspects:

  • routes of the empirical techniques including their concepts, practices, and products (painting, illustrated manuals, prints);
  • centers of knowledge production, such as Suzhou, Nagasaki, etc. and the possible connections among these;
  •  agents and objects produced by the court, intelligentsia, wealthy merchants, and increasingly commoners;   
  • practice and practical use of visual techniques and sketches of nature;
  • case studies and theoretical considerations problematizing positivist narrative of the direction West-East transmission.

This workshop is sponsored by Leiden University Asian Modernities and Traditions (AMT) Research Funding.


Friday, 26 October


9.00 - 9.15


9.15 – 11.15

Panel 1: Techniques, Practices and Knowledge

  • Jing Hu, Shifting from the Mainland to the West: The Import of Chinese Books in late Chosŏn Korea
  • Sunglim Kim, When Korea met the West: The Influence of Western art and objects on Chaekgeori Screens, Portraits, and Landscape Paintings
  • Matthi Forrer, Handling Foreign Perspective in 18th and 19th Centuries Japan
  • Mio Wakita-Elis, TBC
  • Discussant: Timon Screech, Eleanor Hyun
11.15-11.30 Break
11.30-13.00 Ethnology Museum, Special Collections (presenters and discussants only)
  • Viewing of Joseon Chaekgeori screens and Korean exhibition
13.00-14.00 Lunch
14.00-16.00 Panel 2: Picturing Space and Knowledge
  • Radu Leca, Fleshing Out Knowledge of the World in Early Modern Japan
  • Gyewon Kim, Image for Tracing the Shadow: The Meanings of ‘Photography’ in Late Nineteenth-Century Japanese Geo-Encyclopedias
  • Fan Lin, Bifurcated Memory: Imaging the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing in Chinese Gazetteers and European Travelogues
  • Discussant: Jeong-hee Lee Kalisch

Viewing Library, Special Collections (presenters and discussants only)

  • 18th-century copy of Matteo Ricci’s world map etc.
18.00 Drinks and Dinner


Saturday, 27 October

10.00-12.00 Panel 3: Nature and Knowledge
  • Ching-Ling Wang, On a Newly Discovered Sea Fish Album (Haiyu tu, 1736) and the Formation of Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century China
  • Anne Gerritsen, How to Make a Pot: Visual and Representation and Ways of Knowing
  • Maki Fukuoka, Modes of Representing Plants in Early Meiji Japan: A Case of Wood Panels at Economic Botany Collection at the Kew Garden
  • Discussant: Shih Ching-fei
12.00-13.00 Lunch
13.00-15.00 Panel 4: Collecting, Taxonomies and Knowledge
  • Martina Siebert, Text as Image – Absence and Presence of Images in Pulu Writing
  • Timon Screech, Matsudaira Sadanobu’s Paper Archive of the Realm
  • Doreen Mueller, River Deer and Water Imps: Ordering Nature and the Strange in Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Guide Books 
  • Discussant: Lennert Gesterkamp
15.00 – 16.00 Final Discussion


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