Picturing Technology in China

From Earliest Times to the Nineteenth Century


Peter J. Golas

ISBN : 978-988-8208-15-9


January 2015

252 pages, 6″ x 9″, 18 color and 92 b&w illus.

  • HK$430.00

Although the history of technological and scientific illustrations is a well-established field in the West, scholarship on the much longer Chinese experience is still undeveloped. This work by Peter Golas is a short, illustrated overview tracing the subject to pre-Han inscriptions but focusing mainly on the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. His main theme is that technological drawings developed in a different way in China from in the West largely because they were made by artists rather than by specialist illustrators or practitioners of technology. He examines the techniques of these artists, their use of painting, woodblock prints and the book, and what their drawings reveal about changing technology in agriculture, industry, architecture, astronomical, military, and other spheres. The text is elegantly written, and the images, about 100 in all, are carefully chosen. This is likely to appeal to both scholars and general readers.

Peter J. Golas is professor emeritus at the University of Denver and the author of the volume on the history of Chinese mining in Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China.

Picturing Technology develops a rich and convincing analysis of technology’s place in the material, intellectual and aesthetic traditions of Chinese civilisation. This pathbreaking work by one of the leading historians of technology in China also challenges us to rethink a key question about the rise of the modern world: how closely do skills in technological illustration relate to mechanical understanding, invention or technological achievement?” —Francesca Bray, University of Edinburgh

“Providing a comprehensive and splendidly illustrated survey of premodern China’s tradition of picturing technology, Peter J. Golas excels in carefully exploring and weighing all of its aspects and avoids anachronistic pitfalls as well as Western-centric condescension or Sino-centric glorification.” —Wolfgang Lefèvre, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

“This is the first monograph dealing critically with the depiction of technology throughout China’s long history. Based on wide reading in primary sources as well as secondary literature in major Western and Eastern languages, Golas’s analysis gives due consideration to such disparate yet interrelated factors as technology, society, economics, politics, philosophy, and art, thereby revealing the complex inner mechanisms of China’s developments.” —Hans Ulrich Vogel, University of Tübingen