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"A Great And Civilized People": Locke, China And Materialism

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Chapter Summary

Locke's interest in China and other Far Eastern societies was expressed in the Essay, in which he maintained that highly civilized societies as well as those that were illiterate and lacked an advanced material culture could be atheistic. While in Buddhist Siam all religions were permitted to practise their worship, in France religious orthodoxy was imposed by royal fiat. De Bourges recognised that the Buddhists believed in an after-life, but they did not seem to conceive of it in the same way that the Christians. Choisy, whose own life was somewhat less than exemplary, arrived in Siam with high hopes of King Narai's conversion. Navarrete brought the Longobardi's thesis back to Europe and used in the Controversias, the book he published against the Jesuits, approach to the question of the Confucian rites fuelling the flames of the conflict. Leibniz, whose Novissima Sinica Locke also owned, was deeply interested in China.

Keywords: Buddhist Siam; China; De Bourges; Jesuits; Leibniz; Locke's Essay; Longobardi; material culture; Navarrete; Timoleon de Choisy



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