Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/35

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SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE

no taste for as a people. No such instrument as modern mathematical analysis, or even their stock of algebraic notions, has ever been used by Chinese philosophers or even conceived of as an instrument of research in their attempts to solve nature's riddles.

Besides the failure to adopt an inductive method of inquiry, the spirit of inaccuracy, and the lack of mathematical genius or training, there are other potent causes of China's scientific backwardness as compared with European nations, chief among which has been the character of the language and the method of instruction.

4. The Language.—Meager as our knowledge of the language is, we have yet had sufficient direct and indirect contact with the people to be convinced that the lack of inflection which would enable number, tense, gender and mood to be briefly expressed, operates to produce ambiguity and hence inaccuracy in the very places where definiteness may be most needed. To be precise requires a clumsy use of words and thus the character of the language has inhibited precise statements and so precluded accurate thinking, without which there can be no proper science. On the other hand, the European tongues existed in a highly inflected state as derived from the more ancient Greek and Latin, and hence by their very character aided in the conquest of nature by affording clearness and precision in the expression of thought, and thus fostered the validity of the conclusions reached. But the Chinese mind has been hampered by a language the most tedious and inflexible, and has been wearied with a literature abounding in unsatisfactory theorizings.

The non-alphabetical character of the language prevents the assimilation of new terms from European tongues and makes the introduction of modern scientific terminology and thought extremely difficult. To attempt to translate even where possible means cumbersomeness and circumlocution; to try to represent the new term phonetically by using Chinese characters that sound nearly the same—means that additional characters must be added to signify that phonetic value alone is intended, otherwise the apparent "meaning will be meaningless" and even if this sign is added, there is no hint of the real meaning of the term thus represented. In many cases the best that can be done is but a rough approximation, since there are many sounds in European tongues entirely unknown to the Chinese and difficult for them to acquire. About the only safe method in many cases is to introduce the foreign word as such in its own alphabetical form in the midst of the Chinese context—and thus necessitate the learning of it as a new "character" written on an entirely strange system.

5. The System of Education.[1]—(a) The spirit of inquiry has been

  1. See "The Content of Chinese Education," The Popular Science Monthly, January, 1906, and "The Passing of China's Ancient System of Literary Examinations," The Popular Science Monthly, February, 1906.