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From "Dragonology" to Meteorology: Aristotelian Natural Philosophy and the Beginning of the Decline of the Dragon in China

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image of Early Science and Medicine

The cult of the dragon in China, which expressed itself not only in the ritual sacrifices to the dragon kings during drought and floods but also in the rationalization of the dragon's power to make rain by many serious thinkers from diverse intellectual persuasions, was first subjected to sustained criticism during the early modern era as part of an "enlightenment" drive against popular cults and "superstitions" led by some of the Jesuit-inspired Chinese scholars. This paper examines how these critics drew on Aristotelian conceptions of nature and meteorological theories introduced by the Jesuit missionaries to attack the core ideas of the traditional dragon lore and their underlying cosmology. It argues that the de-animated and rigidly stratified view of nature articulated by this small but clearly discernable group of Chinese critics can be seen as marking the beginning of the decline of the dragon, the allegedly semi-divine aquatic animal which swims, walks, flies, and makes rain.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Wake Forest University, P.O. Box 7806, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, U.S.A.


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