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By W. W. Rouse Ball

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6 By contrast, the Handbook of Christianity in China, which both reflects and epitomizes the situation after the paradigm shift, is a purely academic product which resists the temptations of teleological narratives, using instead a synoptic approach that tries to include all views and issues (dispersed among the three overarching sections “Sources”, “Scene”, and “Themes”) of direct relevance for understanding this specific historical context. Besides holism, one main consequence of this both panoramic and pluralist approach has been the quasi explosive emergence of new research literature in terms of quantity, which is also related to the fact that the field has become truly global, encompassing scholars and institutions from all around the world, who are often working together in transnational and transdisciplinary projects.

In other words, “narrative history” is decisive for selecting the research results that will be presented as the most important and solid ‘facts’ that non-experts should know about a specific expert topic. Conversely, in their function as public face of the field, they are indispensable in the sense that they tend to direct and shape the expert discourse they emerged from. 15 Another obviously more successful yet arguably less sophisticated variation of this positive narrative is to focus exclusively on the scientific aspects of the China mission, or rather to treat the Jesuit and other China missionaries as minor protagonists in the universal history of science, in an attempt to find the factors that could explain the unique turn that the evolution of science and technology took in the West.

Based on this core curriculum, those recruited for the China mission could expand their knowledge according to what was needed on site. 33 Despite its solid and clearly useful character, this kind of long-term training turned out to be a drawback vis-à-vis the overwhelming success that the Jesuit mission was having in China in the second half of the 17th century. Its output was too meager to adequately cope with the sheer number of Chinese converts, and its quality was too elementary for the scientific needs required from the missionaries at the imperial court in Peking.

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A short account of the history of mathematics by W. W. Rouse Ball


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