Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/533

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SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE

tains the possibility of preventing their dissolution by a course of physical discipline—a seed-thought which led the disciples of Laotze to investigate the specific properties of matter in the two-fold search for long life and riches. In studying both the vegetable and mineral kingdoms Chinese alchemists were guided by the supposed analogy of man to material nature, which led them to ascribe an essence or spirit not only to animals and plants, but to minerals as well, so that in their view matter itself was constantly passing the limits of sense and assuming the character of conscious spirit. Thus was the world filled with fairies and genii.

We need not discuss in detail the characteristic ideas of Chinese alchemy, but merely note that it had full vigor six centuries prior to western alchemy, which did not appear till A.D. 400 when intercourse was quite frequent between China and Byzantium, Alexandria and Bagdad. The two schools had much in common: same aims, closely corresponding properties ascribed to the two elixirs in each; principles, means, mystical character of nomenclature, and extravagant style of alchemic writings, all practically identical. So that, although it may be granted that the leading objects of alchemical pursuit might have occurred to men in any country as they felt their way towards a knowledge of nature, yet an independent origin seems unlikely, and it is almost certain that alchemy had its birth in the far east, yea in China, since the claims of India seem excluded by the abundant proof that the alchemy of China is not an exotic, but an indigenous product, the earliest forms of which are found in the "Book of Changes," a significant title, whose diagrams date back to 2800 B.C., the text to 1150 b.c., and the Confucian commentary thereon to 500 B.C. It is a striking fact that this book, chief in the canon of Taoism, was spared from the flames of the Tyrant of Ch'in to which all other writings of Confucius and his disciples were consigned.

8. General Cosmological Ideas.—Contrast the modern ideas of the age and origin of the earth and of the extent of the universe in time with the following conceptions of Chu Hi (Chu Fu Tsz), the most famous of the eleventh-century philosophers:

In the beginning heaven and earth were just the light and a dark air. This one air revolved, grinding around and around. When it ground quickly much sediment was compressed, which, having no means of exit, coagulated and formed the earth in the center. The subtle portion of the air then became heaven and the sun, moon and stars, which unceasingly revolve on the outside. The earth is in the center; it is not below the center.

Heaven revolving without ceasing, day and night also revolve, and hence the earth is exactly in the center. If heaven should stand still for one moment, then the earth must fall down; but heaven revolves quickly, and hence much sediment is coagulated in the center. The earth is in the sediment of the air; and hence it is said, the light, pure air became heaven, the heavy, muddy air became earth.