Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Writings on China Translated, with an Introduction, Notes, and Commentaries by

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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Writings on China

Translated, with an Introduction, Notes, and Commentaries by
Daniel J. Cook and Henry Rosemont Jr.


Chicago and La Salle, Illinois


Map of Asia from Guillaume Delisle: L' Asie. Paris, 1700.

OPEN COURT and the above logo are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

An earlier edition of a part of this book was published in 1977 by the University Press of Hawaii under the title: Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese.

© 1994 by Open Court Publishing Company

First printing 1994

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher, Open Court Publishing Company, P.O. Box 599, 315 Fifth Street, Peru, Illinois 61354.

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Freiherr von, 1646-1716.

[Selections. English. 1994]

Writings on China / translated, with an introduction, notes, and commentaries by Daniel J. Cook and Henry Rosemont, Jr.

p. cm.

A collection of four pieces originally written in Latin and French.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8126-9250-0.-- ISBN 0-8126-9251-9 (pbk.)

1. Philosophy, Chinese. 2. Confucianism. I. Cook, Daniel J.

II. Rosemont, Henry, 1934- . III. Title.

B2599.C5L45213 1994

181′. 11--dc20 94-29940




List of Illustrations








I. The Background of Leibniz's China Writings


II. Sources of Leibniz's Knowledge of China


III. The Chinese Intellectual Tradition


IV. The Manuscripts and Their Translations


Preface to the NOVISSIMA SINICA (1697/99)


On the Civil Cult of Confucius (1700)


Remarks on Chinese Rites and Religion (1708)


Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese (1716)


Appendix: Transcription Conversion Table




Name Index


Subject Index




Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz


The Emperor Kang Xi


Map of Asia, 1700

xviii , xix

Ricci, Schall, and Verbiest




The 64 Hexagrams of the Yi Jing


Page 1, verso, of the Leibniz autograph of the Discourse facing page


Zhu Xi, self-portrait facing page




Although Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is best known as a metaphysician, mathematician, and logician, he arguably used the word "China" in his voluminous writings and correspondence more often than those terms usually associated with him: "entelechies," "monads," "pre-established harmony," and so forth. If so, then his sustained writings on things Chinese--especially on Chinese philosophy and religion--should take their place alongside his other major works such as the Theodicy, Discourse on Metaphysics, Monadology, and the New Essays Concerning Human Understanding. 1

His more detailed writings on China (as opposed to brief references to it, which he regularly made in his correspondence) can be roughly divided into two categories. The first is the letters he wrote to European--usually Jesuit--missionaries in China, or their peers in Europe. Especially is this true of his correspondence with Joachim Bouvet, one of the first French Jesuits to live in China, and whose letters to Leibniz clearly influenced the philosopher. (For more on Bouvet, see below, p. 16 ). All of these letters have now been published--although not translated--by Dr. Rita Widmaier in Leibniz Korrespondiert mit China, 2 and it is our hope that this entire correspondence will soon be presented in an English edition (particularly the Leibniz-Bouvet letters, which are philosophically the most significant).

The second category of Leibniz's sustained writings on sinological topics are the four texts presented herein. The first was written expressly for publication, which Leibniz seldom did; the second and third were written as brief essays on Chinese thought, and then sent as appendices to letters to a few among his numerous correspondents. And the fourth is a lengthy treatise on Chinese natural theology, which he wrote the year he died, to be sent as a letter to the same correspondent to whom he had addressed the Monadology two years earlier.

Thus, while these four texts are by no means a complete inventory of


Leibniz's China writings, we do believe that collectively they provide a fairly comprehensive view of what he had to say about things Chinese, and that they provide a number of insights into Leibniz's own philosophy as well.

We have attempted to provide enough introductory materials for readers to both situate themselves in the Europe of Leibniz's day, and to understand the Chinese history, beliefs, and terms that Leibniz describes, analyzes, and evaluates in his writings. These introductory materials have been supplemented at length by references and commentaries footnoted in the translations themselves.

Probably the most influential modern book on Leibniz's views has been Bertrand Russell A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, 3 in which Russell charges Leibniz with "insincerity" because of the seeming (to Russell) chasm separating Leibniz's logic and metaphysics from his theology. More recently, however, this view of Leibniz has been called into question. In concluding his The Philosophy of Leibniz (which does not mention China at all), Nicholas Rescher says:

Leibniz eagerly wanted to persuade his readers (usually his correspondents), not in order to win personal disciples in high places, but to secure effective adherents to implement a vision of truths which he felt capable of healing the theological strifes and political discords in Europe of his day. Had fame been his prime goal he would have written more books and fewer letters. What Leibniz wanted was not public acclaim, but influential converts who could implement in the sphere of action his reconciling insights in the sphere of thought. It is always risky to speculate on motives, but in my own mind there is no doubt that the aspirations which actuated him were, in the main, not those of selfishness but of public spirit. 4

We believe that after going through Leibniz's China writings, readers will appreciate that Rescher, not Russell, has taken the more accurate measure of one of the greatest thinkers of Western civilization, and one of the very few among those greats who attempted to see beyond its confines.



A full reference for each of these--and other works of Leibniz--is given in the Bibliography.



Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1990.


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1900.


Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 160.



The scope of Leibniz's knowledge, interests and ideas expressed in his writings on China is intellectually forbidding. Virtually no one scholar--or even two--trained today could comment intelligently on everything in this corpus. We therefore had to request and secure a good deal of assistance.

Our greatest debt is to Donald F. Lach, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Chicago, whose work in this field is invaluable. We are grateful for his permission to republish, with only minor changes, his long out-of-print The Preface to NOVISSIMA SINICA.

Dr. Rita Widmaier of the Leibniz Archives of the Lower Saxony State Library in Hannover, Germany has (1) provided us with drafts of her unpublished German translations of De cultu Confucii civili and what we have entitled Remarks on Chinese Rites and Religion; (2) answered a number of textual and factual questions; and (3) published two scholarly volumes in German on Leibniz's writings about China, from which we have drawn with profit. We also wish to thank the late Director of the Leibniz Archives, Professor Albert Heinekamp, as well as the present one, Dr. Herbert Breger, for their on-going support and assistance. Ms. Anke Hoelzer of the Manuscripts Section of the Library supplied us with needed copies of many original editions and documents of Leibniz.

Although Professor David Mungello of Coe College did not see the present work in draft form, he did comment in detail on our earlier translation of the Discourse, and his recent work, Curious Land, as well as his earlier book, Leibniz and Confucianism, are probably the most frequently cited secondary sources we have used.

We are also grateful to Ms. Claudia von Collani of Wuerzburg, Germany, for kindly assisting us with several historical details. We have profited from her meticulous research during the period dealt with in the book.

At St. Mary's College of Maryland, we owe a great debt to Ms. Gail Dean for her beautifully typed manuscript of our Introduction and to Ms.


Linda Vallandingham for her masterful transcription of our translations of the Leibniz texts. Both have been a joy to work with throughout. We give special thanks to Constance Rosemont, who prepared the index in a thorough and wide-ranging manner.

We are also grateful to the editorial staff of Open Court, particularly David Ramsay Steele, Kerri Mommer and Edward Roberts, for their support, assistance, and encouragement. We owe a special thanks to our copy editor, Richard Weisenseel, who worked well with a manuscript containing materials in six languages. We also salute the memory of the founder of Open Court, Paul Carus, who, like a latter-day Leibniz, devoted much of his life to promoting cross-cultural philosophical understanding.

We are deeply thankful to all these people; much that may be good or useful in this book is due to them. For what is less good and useful, readers should not fear that each of us will attempt to blame the other: the bonds of respect and affection that have matured over our many years of collaboration insure that we will jointly accept responsibility for all shortcomings.

We completed the final draft of this work while at opposite ends of the Asian continent, living in the lands which are physically and spiritually the birthplaces of the two traditions--the Judeo-Christian and the Confucian --which Leibniz worked so hard to reconcile.

Tel Aviv/ Shanghai D.J.C.
May, 1994 H.R.



I. The Background of Leibniz's China Writings

If Erasmus of Rotterdam was the "Universal Man" of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a major candidate for the title two hundred years later. He not only studied, but wrote original works on subjects as diverse as geometry and biology, geology and theology, and metaphysics and statistics; he was one of the foremost mathematicians of his time, and a famous philosopher whose fame has endured; and he was all of these while engaged in a long and active public career. 1

Born in Leipzig in 1646, Leibniz entered the university there fifteen years later, then studied at Jena, and then at the University of Altdorf, where he received his doctorate in law. After a succession of posts, and years in Paris ( 1672-1676), Leibniz became a councillor and librarian to the Duke of Hanover, the position he held until his death in 1716. His proximity to an important German court gave Leibniz a certain amount of political influence which, when coupled with his manifold intellectual achievements--the infinitesimal calculus, binary arithmetic, philosophical writings--made him one of the most important and well-known intellectuals of his time, seen clearly by the very large number of people eager, pleased, and flattered to meet him, and to engage him in correspondence.

And Leibniz was a prolific correspondent: to this day there is no complete inventory of all his writings. Among his more well-known regular correspondents were Antoine Arnauld, Samuel Clarke, Christian Wolff, Christian Huygens, Nicolas Malebranche--among the intelligentsia--and a fairly large and diverse group of councillors and diplomats, kings and queens, emperors and empresses. 2

In addition, Leibniz engaged in lengthy correspondence with a


number of clergymen, especially Jesuits, and a common topic in their exchanges of letters was China. It is well known that things Chinese interested Leibniz throughout his life, and a number of his clerical correspondents were missionaries to the "Middle Kingdom," among them probably the most knowledgeable Europeans of their day on China. He was keenly interested in virtually everything about China: history, geography, language, flora and fauna, technology, and of course philosophy and religion; at the time of his death, he probably knew as much about the country and its people as anyone who had not actually been there.

This dimension of Leibniz's intellectual life has been investigated by a number of historians and sinologists, but has been almost totally neglected by later philosophers, who have focused instead (and almost solely) on his work in logic, mathematics, and ontology. 3 But his Chinese writings must be addressed by all serious Leibnizians, and scholars of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, because the bibliographic evidence indicates that he mentions China more often in his writings than all other non-Western cultures combined. Why China? Why not Muslim culture(s) to which he refers on occasion? Or India? Or the "Indians" of the New World about whom books were being written and circulated in Europe while Leibniz was still a relatively young man? 4

To answer these questions we must first appreciate Leibniz's central metaphysical vision. Rejecting the dualism of Descartes and the monism of Spinoza, Leibniz instead stressed plurality, diversity, harmony, and a higher-order unity that could be grasped by reason, and expressed in a logically perfect language purged of all ambiguities. Like Spinoza, Leibniz held that substances could not interact. The former concluded that there could therefore be only a single substance, but the latter instead argued for an indefinitely large number of them. These substances, which Leibniz late in his life called "monads," were self-contained, and while they could not causally affect others of their kind, they could all dance to the same tune played in a pre-established harmony composed by God.

This metaphysical vision has often been referred to as an organic philosophy, 5 in contrast to the mechanistic views of Descartes and Galileo. It is original with Leibniz--although parts of it can be traced to Giordano Bruno and Nicholas Cusanus, and through them (plus others) to the Hermetic tradition--and because it bears a close resemblance to the Chinese metaphysical view of the world, it has been claimed that Leibniz's philosophy was deeply indebted to Chinese thought. 6 This claim does not withstand close scrutiny; the textual evidence suggests strongly that


Chinese thought did not influence directly Leibniz's metaphysical vision. Nevertheless, in finding views approximating his own in a culture 3,000 years and 8,000 miles distant from him, Leibniz could not but be interested in, stimulated by, and sympathetic to early Chinese thought as he had come to understand it. 7

At the same time, Leibniz's public life was a political one. He wished to reconcile Catholics and Protestants, and to halt the internecine strife plaguing the European states of his day. He believed that China could assist in achieving this goal, his writings displaying the following pattern of reasoning: my philosophy is fully compatible with those elements of Christian theology on which there is a large measure of agreement between Catholics and Protestants; my philosophy is fully compatible with (early) basic beliefs of the Chinese; therefore Chinese basic beliefs are fully compatible with those basic beliefs shared by Catholic and Protestants, and therefore in turn those Christian doctrines in dispute between Catholics and Protestants should be seen as relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things, and can be adjudicated to the satisfaction of all on the basis of reason--with a resultant international peace and harmony among and between all of the world's peoples.

But harmony was not even to be found in Europe during Leibniz's time, and China was a major focus of dispute, both theological and political.

Theologically there were two burning questions which divided the missionaries to China, and the divisions quickly spread back to Europe. The first of these was whether the Chinese language did or did not contain a close lexical equivalent for the Christian "God." If not, it must follow that the Chinese were all atheists. The Jesuit founder of the mission in China, Matteo Ricci, allowed two terms from the Chinese: Shang Di--"Supreme Ancestor"--and Tian--"Heaven" --as equivalents for "God," and himself used another, Tian Zhu, "Heaven's Lord." 8 Many later missionaries, however, disputed Shang Di and Tian as translations for "God," claiming that the Chinese terms had connotations inconsistent with the Christian concept of deity. (And these latter missionaries later carried the day, with Tian Zhu becoming the official Catholic term for "God" in Chinese.)

This controversy paralleled another, even more intense one--the so-called "Rites Controversy." In this case the question was whether the rites carried out by all Chinese to their ancestors, and by many Chinese to Confucius, were basically civic and secular in nature, or idolatrous and superstition-ridden. If the former ( Ricci's view), then there was no harm


done in permitting their continuance among Christian converts. But if the latter, then of course the Chinese would have to abandon these rituals altogether as a precondition for baptism into the true faith.

Most (but not all) Jesuits adopted Ricci's conciliatory stance toward Chinese ritual practices, while the great majority of the Franciscans and Dominicans who followed the Jesuits to China did not. In the strict theological sense--with respect to the Chinese--the Friars' arguments are now seen to have been the better ones: there is nothing remotely resembling Genesis in Chinese texts, there is no conception of a divine lawgiver, and the Passion of Christ had to strike virtually every educated Chinese as incredible, repugnant, or both. On the other hand, it can now equally be seen that the Fathers (Jesuits) were certainly correct to resist insisting that candidates for conversion give up cultural practices over three millennia old; without accommodation, China would remain forever "heathen."

Complicating these religious controversies were political ones, as budding nation states sought empire. The Jesuits came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds but worked in China under the general jurisdiction of the Portuguese, entering the Middle Kingdom via Goa and Macao. Dominicans and Franciscans, however, were under the patronage of the Spanish crown, and endeavored to enter the country from the Philippines. China thus became contested territory for evangelical efforts, because where missionaries go, merchants will follow and colonies can be established, all of which can enlarge the coffers of the imperial court.

Against this brief metaphysical, theological, and political background we may now place the writings of Leibniz on China gathered together in this volume. One of the relatively few of his works on any subject published during his lifetime was his Preface to the NOVISSIMA SINICA (Recent News from China), issued in 1697, and, slightly revised, again in 1699--hereafter referred to as the Preface. It is a diverse body of writings, largely by missionaries to China, that Leibniz gathered together, editing some and translating others, basically to serve his ecumenical interests. Given his great reluctance to publish anything, Leibniz's presentation of this book and Preface indicates that those ecumenical interests were very important to him.

The work deals largely with the Rites Controversy, the role of Muscovy ( Russia) as an intermediary between China and Europe, and the


consequent need for a land route through Russia between the former and the latter. It also gives information about missionary diplomatic missions, activities, and travels, and stresses as well the need for Protestant missions in China. Although Leibniz evinces clear sympathies with Jesuit views on these matters, he is always the discreet diplomat himself, finding something good to say about almost everyone mentioned in the text, and at all times stressing the need to seek harmony between competing European groups, and between all Europeans and the Russians, and the Chinese. 9

A year after the publication of the second edition of NOVISSIMA SINICA Leibniz wrote an addendum to a letter to Father Antoine Verjus ( 1632-1706), procurator of the missions to India and China. He entitled the addendum De cultu Confucii civili (On the Civil Cult of Confucius; hereafter De cultu). Here again he sides with the Jesuits on the Rites Controversy, and comments as well on the other theological dispute, the "Terms Controversy."

During the same year ( 1700) the Jesuits--especially the French Jesuits who began missionary efforts in China toward the end of the 1600s--got into trouble with the Faculty of the Sorbonne, who concluded lengthy deliberations on two popular texts supportive of the Jesuit position(s) by condemning them. These two works, authored by the Fathers Louis Le Comte ( 1655-1728) 10 and Charles Le Gobien ( 1653-1708), 11 made claims that Leibniz endorsed, among them: (1) that the Chinese had knowledge of God two thousand years before the time of Christ; (2) that God had constantly favored China; (3) that the Chinese should not, therefore, view Christianity as a foreign religion. The Sorbonne Faculty, largely Jansenist, did not take kindly--at the political level--to these attacks on Eurocentrism, nor at the doctrinal level did they appreciate the anti-Augustinian implications of these views. St. Augustine saw grace as necessary for overcoming human sinfulness; most Jesuits, following Augustine's theological opponent Pelagius, saw it as sufficient but not necessary. Succinctly stated:

The Jesuits interpreted the Bible as a spiritual guide to completing God's work in the world rather than as a book which told a story of salvation whose geographical and cultural limits had already been reached. Consequently, they saw China as a part of God's plan for salvation. 12

But the Sorbonne Faculty did not. Their condemnation of the works of Le Comte and Le Gobien did not come until October 1700, which was ten


months after Leibniz dated De cultu. But it is clear both from that work and from his Preface that he knew of Le Comte and Le Gobien works, and he should have had intimations of the brewing theological and political storm and therefore perhaps composed both works to weigh in, gently but clearly, on the side that ultimately lost.

The third of Leibniz's China writings included in this volume is presented for the first time in English translation. From 1706 until his death, Leibniz corresponded with Bartholomaeus des Bosses ( 1668-1728), who taught at the Jesuit college in Hildesheim. In one of Leibniz's missives, dated 12 August 1709, 13 he said he was also including a copy of some remarks he had written a year earlier on Chinese rites and religion. This text--hereafter cited as Remarks--is relatively brief, but it is nevertheless the most sustained discussion of Chinese philosophy and religion that Leibniz had written up to that time in his life. While ecumenical and political issues can be discerned in the text, its primary thrust is philosophical and religious. In it Leibniz displays the influence of his correspondence with Jesuit missionaries in China and presents as well what he took to be the relevance of his binary arithmetic to understanding (ancient) Chinese thought.

Many of the ideas adumbrated only briefly in the Remarks receive more comprehensive treatment in a work he called a "Discours sur la Théologie naturelle des Chinois" (hereafter referred to as the Discourse). Not until the last year of his life did he set down his views on Chinese philosophy and religion systematically, in a long letter written to one of his later correspondents, Nicholas de Rémond, a French Platonist and the head of the councils of the Duke of Orleans. Along with a letter written the year before ( 1715), Rémond sent Leibniz two works on Chinese religion written by Catholic missionaries who had lived and worked there, and asked the philosopher's opinion of them. 14 Both of these works were hostile to the general Jesuit position (even though one of them was written by a Jesuit; see below, p. 14 ). Leibniz had read reviews of these two works, and mentioned them--graciously but unapprovingly--in the Remarks; 15 he must have decided, in response to Rémond's query, that it was time to take up in detail a sustained philosophical and theological defense of the dominant Jesuit views, which he saw as needed for his ecumenical concerns.

Even by Leibnizian standards (and he was a prolific correspondent) his reply to Rémond is a long one, over 14,000 words. The main topics discussed are the Chinese conceptions of God, universal principles, spiritu-


al substance(s), souls, immortality, and early Chinese ideas. In these contexts he also discusses his own famous views of pre-established harmony, entelechies, primary and secondary matter, and God. (The terminology of the monads is alone missing, which is especially odd, since the text now known as the Monadology, written in 1714, was actually another letter written to the same correspondent, Rémond.)

For the most part, Leibniz describes his position and advances his arguments in the Discourse clearly enough to be followed without undue difficulty. Nevertheless, a brief overview of the work may be useful at the outset, because the several historical, philosophical, and political issues at stake were not as clearly delimited by Leibniz as a modern reader might desire, owing in large measure to the fact that he was not only outlining his own views, but responding to the views of others.

The two missionary texts make the same arguments with respect to Chinese thought. According to their authors, resemblances between Chinese and Christian concepts were only superficial, especially on issues basic to Christian theology: (1) the nature of God, and spiritual substance(s); (2) the existence and qualities of spirits, and matter; and (3) the immortality of the human soul. In the opinion of the missionaries, the ancient Chinese thinkers were, at best, materialists; and even this much could not be said for their modern counterparts, who were simply atheists. To support their positions the missionaries cited passages from classical texts, passages from commentaries thereon, and they also quoted at length contemporary Chinese intellectuals (some of them Christian converts) with whom they had spoken. This evidence was placed (according to Leibniz) 16 in a Scholastic philosophical framework, from which their negative theological conclusions were generated. And these conclusions in turn generated a more political one, equally negative: because Christian doctrine is incompatible with Chinese thought, the conversion of the Chinese can only proceed by having them abandon altogether their intellectual and cultural heritage in favor of revealed Christian truth.

The Discourse is an attempt to counter this position philosophically and at the most general structural level should be read as an argument modus tollens. The conclusion--that conversion of the Chinese requires abandonment of a 3,000-year-old intellectual tradition--must be false; therefore the premise(s) from which the conclusion follows must also be false.

There are four sections 17 in the Discourse, the first three of which contain Leibniz's detailed replies to the missionaries' claims that Chinese


thought is fundamentally incompatible with basic Christian doctrines. He first argues (part I) that the Chinese do indeed have a close conceptual analogue to the Christian concept of God, and spiritual substance. In part II, which is almost half of the manuscript, Leibniz maintains that spirits and matter in China are considered and treated in very nearly the same way angels and matter are considered and treated in Christian Europe. Part III is devoted to making a similar case for the compatibility of the Chinese and Christian concepts of the human soul and its immortality. 18

Together the first three parts comprise over nine-tenths of the Discourse. Part IV appears to be more or less an appendix to it, the subject under discussion being an exposition of Leibniz's binary arithmetic, and an analogue with it claimed by Leibniz and his French Jesuit correspondent in China, Joachim Bouvet, to be found in the trigrams of the Yi Jing, or Book of Changes. Part IV is not, however, an appendix. On the contrary, it is an essential ingredient of Leibniz's most fundamental argument, and it must be seen as such in order to appreciate Leibniz's overall view of the nature, history, and development of Chinese thought.

He accepts, for the most part, the claims of the anti-Riccians that many educated Chinese of his own time were atheists. But, he insists, these moderns have "strayed . . . from their own antiquity" (§1). If we focus instead on the classical texts, he says, "I find [them] quite excellent, and quite in accord with natural theology. . . . It is pure Christianity, insofar as it renews the natural law inscribed in our hearts" (§31).

To be sure, there are important theological issues on which the classical texts are silent, and even the most famous of Chinese philosophers, Confucius, is occasionally in "error." 19 But this only shows, Leibniz believed, that we have not gone back far enough in the relevant cases. If we return to the era of the sage-kings, "we could uncover in the Chinese writings of the remotest antiquity many things unknown to modern Chinese and even to those commentators thought to be classical" (§68; emphasis added). The Yi Jing is one such book, according to him, and if we read it carefully, what we will uncover is the fact that "the ancient Chinese have surpassed the modern ones in the extreme, not only in piety . . . but in science as well" (§68a).

The crucial term in this quote is "science," which is why part IV is crucial to the Discourse: "it concerns justification of the doctrines of the ancient Chinese and their superiority over the moderns" (§69). Remember that Leibniz acknowledged the theological weaknesses of modern Chinese thinkers, but maintained that the ancient texts--some of them pre-


Confucian--strongly suggested a natural theology consonant with Christianity, and thereby worthy of European respect. What better way to establish that respect than to show that the most ancient authors of those texts not only had theological ideas similar to Christian theology but also developed pure mathematics to a point which had only been reached in Europe during his own lifetime? Leibniz believed (as did Bouvet) that while binary arithmetic was not the "universal characteristic" he had long sought, it was nevertheless the basis of natural science. 20 If he could show, therefore--to post-Galilean Europe--that his mathematical notation had been prefigured 4,500 years earlier in China, Leibniz would have a very strong case for denying the conclusion of the two missionaries and for advancing his own view of the proper method for engaging the Chinese in ecumenical dialogue: show them the truth, but not simply by quoting from the Bible and giving them telescopes; show them also how both theological and scientific truth could be read in their most ancient writings. This argument also provided Leibniz with an explanation for the silence of Confucius on some important theological issues, and his "mistakes" on others; he, too, had occasionally lost the meaning(s) of the writings of his predecessors, and therefore could not be relied upon uniformly as the ultimate authority on, of, or for Chinese thought. 21

Seen in this light, part IV of the Discourse can be read as the coup de grace to the anti-accommodationist position with respect to China. The text breaks off abruptly, and although Leibniz continued to write for the remaining months of his life, he never returned to the Discourse to finish it. The evidence suggests, however, that philosophically the manuscript may be substantively complete and that Leibniz had accomplished what he had set out to do: provide a sophisticated philosophical and theological framework in which the ecumenical movement in China could go forward.

The Discourse should thus be seen as an attempt on Leibniz's part to (1) show the universality of his philosophical views; (2) demonstrate the harmony of his views with Christian doctrine, and of both with Chinese beliefs; and (3) to defend, with all of the powerful intellectual resources he commanded, the dominant Jesuit position in the Rites Controversy and other disputes. His efforts, and those of the Jesuits, ultimately failed; the controversies were eventually settled against the Jesuits by Benedict XIV's Ex quo singulari of 1742. Thus the Jesuits lost the ideological struggle, and their opponents in turn "lost" the conversion of the Chinese, as history unfolded; how much these losses were to be of significance is still a matter of dispute both within and without the Vatican. Had he lived that long,


Leibniz would have been bitterly disappointed at the papal decision, as his China writings make clear, and as he emphasized in a letter written in 1710: "In the Chinese controversy which is raging at Rome today, I favor the Jesuits and have for a long time . . ." 22

Three centuries have passed since Leibniz began his efforts to promote greater understanding between China and the West, and it is not cynical to suggest that there has not been a great deal of progress toward the goal. The vision of Leibniz for a close understanding and communication between China and the West has not yet come to realization. The growth of knowledge of Chinese culture in the United States and Europe has not been matched by a similar growth in its dissemination, especially at the public level; and the respectability of narrow specialization in the academic disciplines provides a ready-made excuse for all but China scholars to professionally ignore the world's oldest continuous culture, inherited by one quarter of the human race. Given the economic, political, social, and philosophical crises currently facing the Western capitalist democracies, it might well be salutary to look beyond our own cultural traditions for new--or very--old intellectual horizons, as Leibniz did.

In this light we would do well to heed the prophetic remark made by Leibniz in a letter to Tsar Peter the Great in 1716, the same year he composed the Discourse. If we do not actively promote understanding, exchange, and communication between the Chinese and ourselves, he said,

It will follow that when the Chinese will have learnt from us what they wish to know they will then close their doors to us. 23

The Chinese writings of Leibniz should therefore be read by all students of his work because of what he said in them. And they deserve a wider audience as well because they represent the sustained efforts of one gifted man to bring about universal harmony between the varied peoples of this earth. Leibniz attempted to keep a Western foot in the Chinese door and to open it wider so that we might all look in.

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