China and the Enlightenment
"For the National Museum of China, on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the topic [of its first international exhibition] is the European Enlightenment," reports András Szántó, noting the "passionate interest in the Far East around the time of the Enlightenment" — China’s new Age of Enlightenment:
- The porcelain factories of Meissen, up the river Elbe from Dresden, were copying Chinese technology with the same competitive brio that Chinese companies today bring to the manufacture of electronics. Seminal continental thinkers were influenced by China. Leibniz, the German rationalist, corresponded with missionaries and advocated learning from Confucian traditions. Voltaire saw in Confucianism a weapon against religious intolerance and hung a picture of the Chinese moralist on his wall. Chinese approaches to agriculture and public administration were revered in Enlightenment-age Europe.
A couple of miles from the National Museum, inside Beijing’s historic Confucius Temple, atmospheric galleries proudly display placards about Chinese influence on the Enlightenment and, by extension, the great 18th-century Atlantic revolutions. The Confucian principle, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself,” for example, was absorbed, via Robespierre, the Jacobin leader, into the Declaration of the Rights of Man during the 1789 French Revolution.