From Philosophy to Philology is an indispensable work on the intellectual life of China’s literati in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While there was not a scientific revolution in China, there was an intellectual one. The shock of the Manchu conquest and the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644 led to a rejection of the moral self-cultivation that dominated intellectual life under the Ming. China’s scholars, particularly in the Yangzi River Basin, sought to restore China’s greatness by recapturing the wisdom of the ancients from the Warring States period (403–221 B.C.) and the Former Han dynasty (202 B.C.–9 A.D.), much as Renaissance Europe rediscovered the Greeks and Romans. But in China scholars faced the daunting task of determining which of many editions of the Classics were the true originals and which were forged additions of later centuries.
The ensuing search for authentic texts led to the founding of academies and libraries, the compiling of bibliographies, the rise of printing of editions of the Classics and Histories and commentaries on their components, the study of ancient inscriptions, and a two-hundred-year effort to discover and discard forged texts. In the process rigorous standards of scholarly training were adopted, and scholarship became a full-time profession distinct from gentry farmers or imperial officials.