The last decades of the Ming dynasty, though plagued by chaos and destruction, saw major advances in knowledge and technology. Among the numerous guides and reference books that appeared during this period was a series of texts by Song Yingxing (1587-1666?), a minor local official living in southern China. His "Tiangong kaiwu", the longest and most prominent of these works, documents the extraction and processing of raw materials, and the manufacture of goods essential to everyday life, from pearls and wine to boats, carts, and firearms. In "The Crafting of the 10,000 Things Dagmar Schafer" probes this fascinating text and the legacy of its author to shed new light on the development of scientific thinking in China, the purpose of technical writing, and its role in and effects on Chinese history. Meticulously unfolding the layers of Song's personal and cultural life, Schafer places the Tiangong kaiwu squarely in its original milieu - both practically and theoretically - and thus develops a new understanding of scientific and technological thinking. Even as she vividly sets the Chinese scene, Schafer offers incisive comparisons between seventeenth-century China and Europe.
Sinologists and historians of science alike will be engrossed by this book, the first to place Song's writing in a broader context.