Logic in China and Chinese Logic: The Arrival and (Re-)Discovery of Logic in China

Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 12)


The present chapter sketches the adoption of logic in late nineteenth and early twentieth century China. Addressing both conceptual and institutional aspects of this process, it contextualizes the raising interest in the discipline among Qing scholars and Republican intellectuals. Arranged largely chronologically, it delineates the successive periods in the reception of major works of and intellectual trends in the field. It introduces the most influential scholars promoting a public discourse on logic in the final years of the empire, but also the ever more professional agents who participated in the ensuing establishment of a modern institutional framework for studies in logic like universities, departments of logic, academic societies, journals etc. While at the beginning, these people were mostly no trained logicians, progress in the establishment of academic logic in the 1930s provided the conditions for the formation of the first Chinese specialists in the field who were often internationally trained and soon to engage in cutting-edge research. In some contrast, academic discourse on logic well into the 1930s was dominated by exaggerated social and political expectations, not least due to the successive influence on intellectuals of inductionist scientism in the first decades of the twentieth century, of an inflated pragmatist notion of logic in the 1920s, and of an overly simplistic “antiformalist” notion of logic propagated by (vulgar-)Marxist historical dialecticians in the 1930s. The arrival of scientific logic also went in tandem with a renewed interest in studies in the traditional Buddhist “science of reasons” (yinming, hetuvidyā, “Buddhist logic”) and spurred the search for contributions to the field of logic in the record of inherited Chinese literature, a development which soon led to the common acceptance of the existence of genuinely Chinese traditions of logic. It is eventually a peculiarity of the Chinese reception of logic that since around 1920, less than two decades after the first modern translations of textbooks on traditional syllogistics, the visit of Bertrand Russell – one of the fathers of mathematical logic – fueled the spread of this new approach to logic which has eventually changed its face for good. Designed as a historical survey, this chapter is a general account on the major contributions to the field by Chinese scholars of the time and has to forego detailed discussions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese Studies, Institute of Asian and Oriental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZürichSwitzerland

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