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Heidegger’s critique of modern technology and its relation to metaphysics has been widely accepted in the East. Yet the conception that there is only one—originally Greek—type of technics has been an obstacle to any original critical thinking of technology in modern Chinese thought.

Yuk Hui argues for the urgency of imagining a specifically Chinese philosophy of technology capable of responding to Heidegger’s challenge, while problematizing the affirmation of technics and technologies as anthropologically universal.

This investigation of the historical-metaphysical question of technology, drawing on Lyotard, Simondon, and Stiegler, and introducing a history of modern Eastern philosophical thinking largely unknown to Western readers, including philosophers such as Feng Youlan, Mou Zongsan, and Keiji Nishitani, sheds new light on the obscurity of the question of technology in China. Why was technics never thematized in Chinese thought? Why has time never been a real question for Chinese philosophy? How was the traditional concept of Qi transformed in its relation to Dao as China welcomed technological modernity and westernization?

In The Question Concerning Technology in China, a systematic historical survey of the major concepts of traditional Chinese thinking is followed by a startlingly original investigation of these questions, in order to ask how Chinese thought might today contribute to a renewed, cosmotechnical questioning of globalized technics.
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MONO 003

The Question Concerning
Technology In China
An Essay in



>n Essay in Cosmotechnics


When I hear modern people complain o f being lonely then I know

what has happened. They have lost the cosmos.

D.H. Lawrence. Apocalypse

If communism in China should come to rule, one can assume that
only in this way will China become 'free' for technology. What is
this process?
M. Heidegger. GA97 Anmerkungen 1-V

For Bernard

Published in 2016 by

China Institute for Visual Studies

This book is supported by the China Institute for Visual Studies,
China Academy of Art.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying. recording or
any other information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in
writing from the publisher.


A full catalogue record of this book is available
from the British Library


Type by Norm, Zurich
Printed and bound in the UK by
TJ International, Padstow

w w w .u rb a n o m ic .c o m


Timeline o f Thinkers

In tro d u c tio n



§1 The Becoming Of Prometheus. 7 ; § 2 Cosmos, Cosmology, And
Cosmotechnics. 18; § 3 Technological Rupture And Metaphysical Unity,

33 ; §4 Modernity, Modernisation. And Technicity, 39; § 5 What Is The
'Ontological Turn1 For? 45; §6 Some Notes On Method, 53
Part 1. In Search o f T echnological T h o u g h t in China


§ 7 Dao And Cosmos: The Principle Of The Moral, 61; § 8 Techne As
Violence. 69; §g Harmony And The Heaven, 80; §10 Dao And Qi:
Virtue Contra Freedom, 89; § 10.1 Qi And Dao In Daoism: Pao Ding's
Knife, 101; § 10.2 Qi And Dao In Confucianism: Restoring The Li, 108;
§ 10.3 Remarks On Stoic And Daoist;  Cosmotechnics, 116; §n Qi-Dao
As Resistance: The Gu Wen Movement In The Tang Period. 129; §12
The Materialist Theory Of Ch'i In Early Neo-Confucianism, 134; §13 QiDao In Song Yingxing's Encyclopaedia During The Ming Dynasty, 138;

§14 Zhang Xuecheng And The Historicisation Of Dao, 147; §15 The Rup­
ture Of Qi And Dao After The Opium Wars. 151; §16 The Collapse Of QiDao. 158; § 16.1 Carsun Chang: Science And The Problem Of Life. 159;
§ 16.2 The Manifesto For A China-Oriented Cultural Development. And Its
Critics. 162; §17 Needham's Question. 165; § 17.1 The Organic Mode Of
Thought And The Laws Of Nature. 168; §18 Mou Zongsan's Response.

173; § 18.1 Mou Zongsan's Appropriation Of Kant's Intellectual Intuition,
173; § 18.2 The Self-Negation Of Liangzhi In Mou Zongsan. 184; §19
The Dialectics Of Nature And The End Of Xing Er Shang Xue. 190

P a rt 2. M o d e rn ity and T echnological Consciousness


§20 Geometry And Time, 201; §20.1 The Absence Of Geometry In Ancient
China. 203; §20.2 Geometrisation And Temporalisation, 209; §20.3
Geometry And Cosmological Specificity, 216; §21 Modernity And Tech­
nological Consciousness, 223; §22 The Memory Of Modernity, 231;
§23 Nihilism And Modernity, 241; §24 Overcoming Modernity, 249; §25
Anamnesis Of The Postmodern, 269; §26 The Dilemma Of Homecoming,
282; §27 Sinofuturism In The Anthropocene, 290; §28 For Another
World History, 301

Index o f Names


Index o f Subjects



Q uite a fe w o f th e notes to w hich I returned in w ritin g this
book date from my teenage years, when I was fascinated both


by the cosmogony o f Neo-Confucianism and by contemporary
astrophysics. I remember how, over several summers, I w ent
regularly every week to the central library in Kowloon w ith
my bro th er Ben, and brought home piles o f books on physics
and metaphysics, spending all day reading things th a t were
beyond me and w hich a t the tim e I didn 't know how to use.
Luckily, I profited fro m many discussions w ith my literature
and calligraphy teacher Dr. Lai Kwong Pang, w ho introduced
me to th e thought o f the New C onfucian philosopher Mou
Zongsan ( 1909 - 1995 )— his PhD supervisor at th a t time. When
I started studying W estern philosophy, especially contem po「
y thought. I con fro nted th e great difficu lty o f integrating it
w ith w h at I had learned in th e past w ith o u t falling prey to a
superficial and exotic comparison. In 2009 , an encounter w ith
th e w o rk o f Keiji Nishitani and Bernard S tiegler on Heidegger
suggested to me a w ay to approach the different philosophical
system s from th e perspective o f th e question o f time; more
recently, while reading th e w orks o f anthropologist Philippe
Descola and Chinese philosopher Li Sanhu, I began to fo rm u ­
late a concrete question: If one adm its th a t there are multiple
natures, is it possible to th in k o f m ultiple technics. w h ich
are d iffe re n t fro m each o th e r n o t sim ply fu n c tio n a lly and
aesthetically, b u t also ontologically and cosmologically? This
is th e principal question o f th e current w o rk. I propose w h a t I
call cosm otechnics as an a tte m p t to open up th e question of
technology and its history, w hich fo r various reasons has been
closed dow n over the last century.
There are many people to w h om I would like to express my
gratitude: m em bers o f th e Deutsch Forschungsgem einschaft
research group Mediale Teilhabe, P rof.巳eate Ochsner, Prof. Urs



Staheli, Prof. Elke 巳ippus, Prof. Isabell O tto, M arkus Spohrer,


Robert Stock, Sebastian Dieterich, Milan Sturmer, and espe­
cially Prof. Erich Hori fo r generously hosting this project and


fo r th e discussions; th e China Academy o f A rt fo r supporting
th e production o f th is book. and fordiscussions w ith Prof. Gao
Shiming, Prof. Guan Huaibin, Prof. Huang Sunquan, Johnson
Chang, Lu Ruiyang, Wei Shan, Jiang Jun, Yao Yuchen, Zhang
Shunren, Zhou Jing; m em bers o f th e Pharmakon Philosophy
School, Anne Alombert, Sara 巳aranzoni, Ana'is Nony, Paolo
Vignola, Paul-Emile Geoffroy, Michael Crevoisier, Frangois Corbisier, Axel Andersson, Caroline Stiegler, Elsa Stiegler, Augustin
Stiegler, Paul Willemarck (also f o r his introduction to th e w ork
o f Rudolf 巳ohme); colleagues and friends w ith whom I have
had inspiring discussions, Howard Caygill, S co tt Lash, JeanHugues 巳arthelemy, V incent 巳ontems, Louis Morelle, Louise
Piguet, Tristan Garcia, V incent Normand, Adeena Mey, Regula
巳Ghrer, Nathalie Scattolon, Geo S cattolon, Alexandre Monnin,
Pieter Lemmens, Armin 巳曰乂6 「
」09 曰0, Marcel Mars, M artina
Leeker, Andreas 巳roeckmann, Holger Fath, Cecile Dupaquier,
Jeffrey Shaw, H e cto r Rodriguez, Linda Lai, Prof. Zhang Yibin,
Eiko Honda.
I w o uld also like to thank Robin Mackay and Damian Veal
fo r th e ir great editorial w o rk, critical com m ents, and invaluable
suggestions. Lastly, I w a nt to thank Bernard Stiegler fo r the
generous discussions and inspirations o v e r th e past years.

Yuk Hui
Berlin, Sum m er 2016

T IM E L IN E O F T H IN K E R S , E A S T A N D W E S T ,

Fu Xi (伏羲 )
Nuwa (女媧)
Shennong (神農)
(Yan Di, Lie Shan Xi)
1766-1122 BC: Shang Dynasty
1122-256 BC: Zhou Dynasty
Laozi (老子,-531 BC)
Confucius (孔子,551-479 BC)
Mozi ( 墨子,
470-391 BC)
Zhuangzi (莊子,370-287 BC)
Mencius (孟子,
372-289 BC)
Xunzi (荀子,
313-238 BC)

221-207 BC: Qin Dynasty

206 BC-220 CE: Han Dynasty
Liu An (劉安,
179-122 BC)
Dong Zhongshu
(董仲舒,179-104 BC)
Sima Qian (司馬遷,145-90 BC)
Zheng Xuan (鄭玄.127-200 CE)
220-589 CE: Six Dynasties
Three Kingdoms (220-265 CE)
Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE)
Northern and Southern Dynasties
(386-589 CE)
Wang Bi (王弼.226-249)
Guo Xiang ( 郭象,252-312)

Solon (640-558 BC)
Thales (624-546 BC)
Anaximander (610-546 BC)
Heraclitus (535-475 BC)
Parmenides (515-450 BC)
Sophocles (497/6-406/5 BC)
Socrates(470/469-399 BC)
Plato (428/427-348/347 BC)
Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Euclid (300 BC)
O Archimedes(287-212 BC)
Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC)
Cleanthes (330-230 BC)
Chrysippus of Soli (279-206 BC)

Cicero (106-43 BC)
Seneca (1-65 CE)
Claudius Ptolemy (100-170)
Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

Pappus of Alexandria (290-350)
Diogenes Laertius (3rd century)
Augustine (354-430)
Boethius (480-524)



589-618: Sui Dynasty
618-907: Tang Dynasty
Han Yu (韓愈,
Liu Zong Yuan
(柳宗元, 773-819)
Hongren ( 弘忍,601-685)
Shenxiu (神 秀 ,606-706)
Heineung (慧能.638-713)
907-960: Five Dynasties
960-1270: Song Dynasty
Northern Song (960-1127)
Southern Song (1127-1279)
Zhou Dunyi ( 周敦颐,1017-1073)
Zhang Zai ( 張載,1020-1077)
Cheng Hao (程顥.1032-1085)
Chen Yi (程頤,1033-1107)
Shao Yung (邵雍.1011-1077)
Zhu Xi (朱熹,1130-1200)

Adelard of Bath (1080-1152)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-127"1)

1279-1368: Yuan Dynasty


1368-1644: Ming Dynasty
Wang Yangming
王陽明, 1"172-1529)
Song Yingxing
宋應星, 1587-1666)


1644-1911: Qing Dynasty
Wang Fuzhi ( 王夫之,1619-1692)
Dai Zhen ( 戴震,172£1-1777)
Duan Yucai (段玉裁, 1735-1815)
Zhang Xuecheng (章學誠,1738-1801)
Gong Zizhen (龔自珍,
Wei Yuen (魏源 ,1795-1856)
Yan F u ( 嚴復. 189£1-1921)
Kang YouWei (康有為,


Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1"16"1)
Bartolomeo Zamberti (1"173-15"13)
Nicolaus Copernicus (1"173-15"13)
Tycho Brahe (15"16-1601)
Francisco Suarez (15"18-1617)
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
Isaac Newton (16"12-1727)
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16"16-1716)
Immanuel Kant (1724-180"1)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph
von Schelling (1775-185"1)

Friedrich Holderlin (1770-18"12)
Ernst Christian Kapp
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
1912-1949: Republic of China O (18"1"1-1900)
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)
Chen Duxiu ( 陳獨秀,1879-19"12)
Xiong Shili (熊十力,1885-1968)
Henri Bergson (1859-1892)
Friedrich Dessauer (1881-1963)
Chang Tungsun(張東蓀,1886-1973)
Sigmund Freud (1886-1939)
Carsun Chang (張君勒,
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Ding Wenjiang (丁文江,1887-1936)
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Hu Shi ( 胡適,1891-1962)
Xu Dishan(許地山,1893-19"11)
Andre Leroi-Gourhan
Feng Youlan (瑪有蘭,1895-1990)
Jacques 日lul (1912-199"1)
Mou Zongsan (牟宗三,1909-1995)
Jean-Pierre Vernant
Zhang Dainian (張伤年,
Yu Guang Yuan (於光遠,
Lao Szekwang (勞思光,1927-2012)
Gilbert Simondon (192"1-1989)
Jean-Franc;:ois Lyotard
Li Zehou (李澤厚,1930-)
Yu Yingshih (余英時,1930-)
Chen Changshu (陳昌曙,
JGrgen Habermas (1929-)
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Liu Shuhsien(劉述先,193"1-2016)
Tu Weiming (杜維明,19"10-)
Alain Badiou (1937-)
Peter Sloterdijk (19"17-)
Bernard Stiegler (1952-)


Tan Sitong (譚 嗣同,1865-1898)
Wu Zhihui (吳稚暉,1865-1953)
Wang Guo Wei (王國維,


In 1953 M artin Heidegger delivered his fam ous lecture *Die
Frage nach der TechnikV in w h ich he announced th a t th e


essence o f m odern technology is nothing technological, b u t
rather enfram ing (G e-ste//)— a transform ation o f th e relation


between man and th e world such th a t eve ry being is reduced


to the status o f ‘standing-reserve’ or ‘sto ck’ (Bestand), some-


thin g th a t can be measured, calculated, and exploited. Hei­
d e gg er’s critique o f m odern technology opened up a new
awareness o f technological power, which had already been
interrogated by fellow German w riters such as Ernst Junger
and Oswald Spengler. Heidegger’s w ritings following 'th e tu rn ’
(die Kehre) in his th o u g h t (usually dated around 1930), and this
te x t in particular, portray th e sh ift fro m techne as poiesis or
bringing forth (H ervorbringen) to technology as Geste//, seen
as a necessary consequence o f W estern metaphysics, and a
destiny w hich demands a new form o f thinking: th e thinking
o f th e question o f th e tru th o f Being.
Heidegger’s critique found a receptive audience among
Eastern thinkers。
一 m ost notably in the teachings o f th e Kyoto
School, as well as in the Daoist critique o f technical rationality,
w hich identifies Heidegger’s Gelassenheit w ith th e classical
Daoist c o n ce p t o f wu w e i o r 'non-action'. This rece ptivity
is understandable fo r several reasons. Firstly, H eidegger’s
pronouncem ents regarding th e power and dangers o f m o d ­
ern technology seemed to have been substantiated by the
devastations o f war, industrialisation, and mass consumerism,

M. Heidegger, 'The Question Concerning Technology’,in The Question
Concerning Technology and Other Essays, tr. W. Lovitt (New York and
London: Garland Publishing, 1977), 3-35.
In this book. by 'East',I generally mean East Asia (China, Japan, Korea,
etc., countries that were influenced by Confucianism,
Buddhism, and,
to some
degree, Daoism).

i ion a o iNl


leading to interpretations o f his th o u g h t as a kind o f existen­
tialist humanism. as in th e m id-century writings o f Jean-Paul
Sartre. Such interpretations resonated deeply w ith th e anxi­
eties and sense o f alienation aroused by th e rapid industrial
and technological transform ations in m odern China. Secondly,
Heidegger’s m editations echoed Spengler’s claim about the
decline o f W estern civilisation, th o u g h in a more profound
key— meaning th a t the y could be take n up as a pretext fo r
the affirm ation o f ‘Eastern’ values.
Such an affirm ation, however, engenders an ambiguous
and problematic understanding o f the question o f technics and
technology a n d - w it h th e arguable exception o f postcolonial
th e o rie s -h a s prevented th e emergence o f any tru ly original
thinking on th e subject in th e East. For it implies a ta c it acce pt­
ance th a t there is only one kind o f technics and technology ,3 in
th e sense th a t th e latter are deem ed to be anthropologically
universal, th a t they have th e same fu n ctio n s across cultures.
and hence m ust be explained in th e same term s. Heidegger
him self was no exception to th e ten den cy to understand
both technology and science as ‘international,, in co n tra st to
thinking w hich is not 'international,. but unique and 'homely,.
In th e recently published Black Notebooks. Heidegger wrote:

The ‘sciences’, like technology and like the technical schools (Techniken). are necessarily hternational. An internatiorial thinking does
not exist, only the universal thinking. coming from one source.

make a distinction between the use of the words technics. techne, and
technology: technics refers to the general category of all forms of making
and practice; techne refers to the Greek conception of it. which Heidegger
understands as poiesis or bringing forth; and technology refers to a radical turn
which took place during European modernity, and developed in the direction
of ever-increasing automation, leading consequently to what Heidegger calls
the Gestell.

H ow ever, if it is to rem ain close to th e origin, it requires a fa te fu l


[geschicklich] dwelling in a unique home [1-leimat] and the unique
people [Volk], so that it is not the folkish purpose of thinking and


the mere ‘expression’ of people [des Vo/kes]- ; the respective


only fateful [geschicklich] home [Heimattum] of the down-to-


earthness is the rooting, which alone can enable growth into


the universal.4
This statem ent demands fu rth e r analysis: firstly, the relation
be tw ee n thinking and technics in Heidegger’s ow n tho u g h t
needs to be elucidated (see § 7 and § 8 , below), and secondly,
th e problematic o f th e ‘hom ecom ing’ o f philosophy as a tu rn ­
ing against technology needs to be examined. However, it
is clear here th a t Heidegger sees technology as som ething
detachable from its cultural source, already 'international,, and
w hich therefore has to be overcom e by 'th inking’.
In th e same Black Notebook, Heidegger com m ented on
technological developm ent in China, anticipating th e victory o f
th e Com m unist Party ,5 in a remark th a t seems to hint a t the
failure to address th e question concerning technology in China
in th e decades th a t w ould follow th e P arty’s rise to power:

'»Wissenschaften« sind, wie die Technik und als Techniken, notwendig
htemational. Ein intematiornls Denken gibt es nicht, sondem nu「
das im Einen
Einzigen entsprin gende universale Denken. Dieses abe「ist. um nahe am
ung bleiben zu konnen. notwendig ein geschickliches Wohnen in ein zige「
Heimat und einzigem Volk, de「
gestalt. daf3 nicht dieses de「volkische Zweck
des Denkens und dieses nu「》Ausd「
uck《des Volkes—; das jeweilig einzige
geschickliche Heimattum de「Bodenstandigkeit ist die Ve「
zelung, die allein
das Wachstum in das Unive「
sale gewah「
t.’ M. Heidegge「
, GA 97 Anmerkungen
1-V (Schwarze Hefte 1942-1948) (F「
t Am Main: Vitto「
io Kloste「
2015), 59-60, ‘Denken und Dichten’.
GA 97 was w「
itten between 1942 and 1948; the Chinese Communist
ty came to powe「in 1949.


If communism in China should come to rule, then one can


nology. What is this process? 6

assume that only in this way does China become ‘free’ for tech­


W hat does becom ing 'free' fo r technology mean here, if not


to fall prey to an inability to reflect upon it and to transform
it? And indeed, a lack o f re fle ctio n upon the question o f
technology in the East has prevented the emergence o f any
genuine critique originating fro m its ow n cultures: something
tru ly sym ptom atic o f a detachm ent betw een thinking and
technology similar to th a t w hich Heidegger described during
th e 19L0
1 S in Europe. And y e t if China, in addressing this ques­
tion. relies on Heidegger's fundam entally Occidental analysis
o f th e history o f technics, w e will reach an impasse— and
this, unfortunately, is where we stand today. So w h a t is the
question concerning technology fo r non-European cultures
prior to modernization? Is it the same question as th a t o f the
W est prior to m odernization, th e question o f Greek techne?
Furthermore, if Heidegger was able to retrieve the question
o f Being fro m th e Seinsvergessenheit o f W estern m etaphys­
ics, and if tod ay Bernard Stiegler can retrieve th e question
o f time fro m th e long oubli de la technique in W estern phi­
losophy, w h a t m ig h t Non-Europeans aspire to ? If these ques­
tion s are n o t even posed, then Philosophy o f Technology
in China will con tinu e to be entirely de pendent upon the
w o rk o f German philosophers such as Heidegger, Ernst Kapp,
Friedrich Dessauer, H erbert Marcuse, and Jurgen Habermas,
American thinkers such as Carl Mitcham, Don Ihde, and Albert


'Wenn der Kommunismus in China an die Herrschaft kommen sollte,
steht zu vermuten, da8 erst auf diesem Wege China fur die Technik》frei《
wird. Was liegt in diesem Vorgang?’ Ibid., 441.

I believe th a t th e re is an u rg en t need to envision and
develop a philosophy o f technology in China, fo r both histori­
cal and political reasons. China has m odernised its e lf over th e
past century in order to 'catch up w ith th e UK and o u tstrip the

n o w it seems to be at a tu rn in g point, its modernisation having
reached a level th a t allows China to situate itself among th e
great powers. But at th e same time, there is a general sentiment
th a t China cannot continue w ith this blind modernisation. The
great acceleration th a t has taken place in recent decades has
also led to various fo rm s o f destruction, cultural, environmental,
social, and political. W e are now, so geologists te ll us, living
in a new epoch-

th a t o f th e A nthropocene-

w hich began

roughly in th e eighteenth ce n tu ry w ith the Industrial Revolution.
Surviving th e Anthropocene will demand reflection upon— and
transform ation o f— the practices inherited fro m th e modern, in
ord er to overcome m odernity itself. The reconstruction o f the
question o f technology in China outlined here also pertains to
this task, aiming to unfold the concept o f technics in its plural­
ity, and to a c t as an antidote to the modernisation programme
by reopening a tru ly global history o f th e world. The book is
an a tte m p t b o th to respond to Heidegger's concept o f te ch ­
nics, and to sketch o u t a possible w ay to co n stru ct a properly
Chinese philosophy o f technology.

Is there technological th o u g h t in China? A t firs t glance, this
is a question th a t can be easily dismissed, fo r w h a t culture
doesn't have technics? Certainly, technics has existed in China


U S '(超 英 趕 美 ,a slogan proposed by Mao Zedong in 1957 );

THmgmco^ING OF

forw a rd- o r even backward.


巳orgmann, and French thinkers such as Jacques Ellul, Gilbert
Simondon, and Bernard Stiegler. It seems incapable o f moving



fo r many centuries, if we understand th e con cep t to denote
skills fo r m aking artificial products. But responding to this
question more fully will require a deeper appreciation o f w h a t
is a t stake in th e question o f technics.


In the evolution o f human as ho m o faber, th e m om ent o f
the liberation o f the hands also marks the beginning o f sys­
tem atic and transmissible practices o f making. They emerge
firstly fro m th e need fo r survival, to make fire, to hunt. to build
dwellings; later, as certain skills are gradually mastered so as
to improve living conditions, more sophisticated technics can
be developed. As French a n throp olo gist and palaeontolo­
gist Andre Leroi-Gourhan has argued, at th e m om ent o f th e
liberation o f th e hands. a long history o f evolution opened up,
by w a y o f th e exteriorisation o f organs and m em ory and the
interiorisation o f prostheses .7 Now, w ith in this universal te ch n i­
cal tendency, w e observe a diversification o f a rtefa cts across
diffe re nt cultures. This diversification is caused by cultural
specificities. bu talso reinforces them , in a k in d o f feedback loop.
Leroi-Gourhan calls these specificities 'technical fa c ts ’.8 While a
technical tendency is necessary, technical facts are accidental:
as Leroi-Gourhan writes. they result from th e ‘encounter o f the
tendency and th o u s a n d s o f coincidences o f th e m ilie u ? while
th e invention o f the wheel is a technical tendency, w h ethe r
o r not wheels will have spokes is a m a tte r o f technical fact.
The early days o f th e science o f making are dom inated by the
technical tendency, meaning th a t w h a t reveals its e lf in human

A. Lero卜Gourhan, Gesture and Speech (Cambridge, MA and London:
MIT Press, 1993).

8. A. Le「
han, Milieu et Technique (Paris: Albin Michel, 1973), 336­
40; L'homme et la Matiere (Paris: Albin Michel, 1973), 27-35.
9. Le「
han, L'homme et la matiere, 27.

activities- fo r example in the invention o f prim itive wheels
and the use o f flin t— are optim a丨
natural efficiencies. It is only


later on th a t cultural specificities o r technical facts begin to
impose them selves more distinctly .10
Leroi-Gourhan’s distinction betw een technical tendency



and technical fa c t thus seeks to provide an explanation fo r th e


similarities and differences between technical inventions across


different cultures. It sets out from a universal understanding o f


the process o f hominisation characterised by the technical ten-



dency o f invention, as w e 丨
丨as th e extension o f human organs
through technical apparatuses. But how effective is this model
in explaining the diversification o f technologies throughout the
world, and the different pace a t w hich invention proceeds in
different cultures? It is in 丨
ig h t o f these questions th a t 丨hope
to bring in to the discussion th e dimensions o f cosm ology and
metaphysics, which Leroi-Gourhan himself rarely discussed.
Here is m y hypothesis, one w h ich may appear ra th e r
surprising to some readers: in China. technics in th e sense we
understand it to d a y— o r a t feast as it is defined by certain
European philosophers- never existed. There is a genera丨
m isconception th a t all technics are equal, th a t all skills and
artificial products com ing fro m all cultures can be reduced to
one thing called 'technology’. And indeed, it is alm ost impos­
sible to deny th a t technics can be understood as th e exten­
sion o f th e body o r th e exteriorisation o f memory. Yet they
may not be perceived o r refle cte d upon in th e same way in
different cultures.
To put it differently, technics as a general human activity
has been present on earth since the tim e o f the Australanthropos; b u t th e philosophical con cep t o f technics can no t




assumed to be universal. The technics w e refer to here is one
th a t is the subject o f philosophy, meaning th a t it is rendered
visible through the birth o f philosophy. Understood as such,
as a philosophical category, technics is also subject to the




history o f philosophy, and is defined by particular interrogative
perspectives. W hat w e mean by 'philosophy o f technology’ in
this book is not exactly w h at in Germany is known as Technikphiiosophie, associated w ith figures such as Ernst Kapp and
Friedrich Dessauer. Rather, it appears w ith th e birth o f Hellenic
philosophy, and co n stitutes one o f philosophy’s core inquiries.
And technics thu s understood, as an ontological category,丨
argue. m ust be interrogated in relation to a larger configuration,
a 'cosm ology’ proper to th e culture from w hich it emerged.
We know th a t the birth o f philosophy in ancient Greece,
as exhibited in th e thinking o f Thales and Anaximander, was
a process o f rationalisation, m arking a gradual separation
between m yth and philosophy. M ythology is th e source and the
essential com ponent o f European philosophy, w hich distanced
itself from m ythology by naturalizing the divine and integrating
it as a supplement to rationality. A rationalist may well argue that
any recourse to m ythology is a 「
egression, and th a t philosophy
has been able to com pletely fre e itself from its mythological
origins. Yet 丨doubt th a t such a philosophy exists, or e ve r will.
W e know th a t this opposition betw een m ythos and logos was
explicit in th e Athenian Academy: Aristotle was very critical
o f th e 'theologians’ o f th e school o f Hesiod, and Plato before
him argued relentlessly against m yth. Through the m outh of
Socrates in th e Phaedo ( 61a), he says th a t m ythos is not his
concern but rather th e affair o f th e poets (portrayed as liars
in th e Republic). And yet, as Jean-Pierre Vernant has clearly
shown, Plato 'grants an im portant place in his w ritings to m yth


as a means o f expressing both those things th a t lie beyond
and those th a t fa丨
丨sho rt o f strictly philosophical language ’.11


Philosophy is not the language o f blind causa丨
necessity, but
rather th a t which at once allows th e latter to be spoken, and
goes beyond it. The dialectical m ovem ent betw een rationality and m y th co n stitutes th e dynamic o f philosophy, w ith o u t



w hich there would be only positive sciences. The Rom antics
and German Idealists, w riting tow ard th e end o f th e eighteenth


century, were aware o f this problem atic relationship between
philosophy and m yth. Thus w e read in ‘The Oldest S y s te m Programme o f German 丨
dealism’— published anonymously in

1797 , b u t whose authors are suspected to be, o r at 丨
east to
be associated w ith , the three friends from the Tubingen S tift.
Holderlin, Hegel, and Schelling— th a t 'm ythology must become
philosophical, and the people rational, and philosophy m ust
becom e m ythological in order to make philosophers sensuous.
Then eternal unity reigns among u s ^ N ot coincidentally, this
insight came at a m om ent o f renewal o f philosophical interest
h Greek tragedy, chiefly through the w orks o f these three
highly influential friends. The implication here is tha t, in Europe,
philosophy’s a tte m p t to separate itself fro m m ythology is
precisely conditioned by mythology, meaning th a t m ythology
reveals th e germinal fo rm o f such a m ode o f philosophising.
Every dem ythologisation is accom panied by a rem ythologisation, since philosophy is conditioned by an origin fro m w hich it
can never fully detach itself. Accordingly, in order to interrogate
w hat is a t stake in the question o f technology, we should turn to

J.P. Vernant. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece, tr. J. Lloyd (New York:
Zone Books. 1990). 210-11.
12. ‘The "Oldest System-Programme of German Idealism”’,tr. E. Forster,
European Journal of Philosophy 3 (1995). 199-200.



th e predominant m yths o f th e origins o f technology th a t have
been handed down to us, and at once rejected and extended by


W estern philosophy. The m isconception th a t technics can be


to understanding th e global technological condition in general,



considered as some kind o f universal remains a huge obstacle

and in particular th e challenge it poses to non-European
cultures. W ith o u t an understanding o f this question, w e will all
remain a t a loss, overwhelm ed by th e homogeneous becoming
o f m odern technology.
Some recent w ork has attem p te d to reclaim w h a t it calls
‘Prometheanism ’,decoupling th e social critique o f capitalism
from a denigration o f technology and affirm ing th e pow er o f
technology to liberate us from th e strictures and contradictions
o f modernity. This doctrine is o fte n identified with, o r a t least
closely related to, th e notion o f *accelerationism '.15 But if such
a response to technology and capitalism is applied globally, as if
Prom etheus w e re a universal cultural figure, it risks perpetuat­
ing a more subtle form o f colonialism.
So w ho is Prometheus, and w h a t does Prometheanism
stand fo r ? 14 In Plato’s Protagoras, th e sophist tells th e story
o f the Titan Prometheus, also said to be the creator o f human
beings, w ho w as asked by Zeus t o distribute skills to all living
beings. His brother Epimetheus too k over th e job, b u t having
distributed all th e skills, found th a t he had fo rg o tte n to provide

13. See R. Mackay and A. Avanessian (eds), ^Accelerate: The Accelerationist
Reader (Falmouth and Berlin: U「
ve, 2011), especially Ray
Brassier’s essay ‘Prometheanism and its Critics’, 469-87.
14. According to Ulrich van Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, there are two
identities of Prometheus: (1) lonian-Attic Promethos, god of the fire industries,
the potter and metalworker honoured in the festival of the Prometheia: and (2)
Boeotian-Locrian Prometheus, the Titan whose punishment is part of the great
theme of conflict between different generations of the gods. See J.-P. Vernant,
Myth and Thought among the Greeks (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 264.

for human beings. In order to com pensate fo r th e fau lt o f


his brother Epimetheus. Prometheus stole fire from the god
Hephaestus and bestowed it upon man .15 Hesiod told another,
slightly different version o f th e story in his Theogony, in w hich



the T itan challenged th e omnipotence o fZ e u s by playing a trick
w ith a sacrificial offering. Zeus expressed his anger by hiding


fire and th e means o f living from human beings, in revenge
fo r which Prom etheus stole fire. Prom etheus received his
punishment from Zeus: he was chained to th e cliff, and an eagle
from Hephaestus came to eat his liver during th e daytim e and
allowed it to grow back a t night. The story continues in Works
and Days, where Zeus, angered by Prometheus's deception
(ap ate) o r fraud (dolos). revenges him self by visiting evil upon
human beings. This evil, o r dolos. is called Pandora 」6The figure
o f Pandora, whose name means 'she who gives everything',
is tw o fo ld : firstly, she stands fo r fertility, since in an othe r
ancient account, according to Vernant, she has another name,
Anesidora, th e goddess o f th e earth;v secondly, she stands fo r
idleness and dissipation, since she is a gaster, 'an insatiable
belly devouring the bios o r nourishm ent th a t men procure fo r
them selves through the ir labor 。8
It is only in Aeschylus th a t Prometheus becomes th e father
o f all technics and th e m aster o f all cra fts (didasklos technes
pases ) ,9 whereas before he was the one who stole fire. hiding

15. Plato, ‘Protagoras’,tr. S. Lombardo and K. Bell, in J.M. Cooper (ed.)
Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997), 320c-328d.
16. Vernant emphasises both acts of Prometheus and Zeus as dolos; see
Vernant, Myth and Society, 185.

Vernant. Myth and Thought, 266.


Ibid.. 174.


Ibid., 271.



it in the hollow o f a reed ? 0 Before Prom etheus’s invention o f
technics, human beings were not sensible beings, since they
saw w ith o u t seeing, listened w ith o u t hearing, and lived in
disorder and confusion.” In Aeschylus’s Prom etheus Bound,


the Titan declares that 'all the tech nai that m ortals have, come


from Prom etheus’. W hat exactly are these technai? 比would



be d ifficu lt to exhaust all possible meanings o f th e word, but it
is w o rth paying atten tion to w h a t Prometheus says:


What's more. for them I invented Number [a厂
/thmon], wisdom
above all others. And the painstaking putting together of Letters:
to be their memory of everything, to be their Muses’ mother,
their handmaid.22
In assuming a universal Prometheanism . one assumes th a t
all cultures arise fro m techne, w hich is originally Greek. But
in China we find another m ythology concerning th e creation
o f hum an beings and th e origin o f technics, one in w hich
there is no Promethean figure. It tells instead o f three ancient
emperors, w ho w ere leaders o f ancient tribes ( 先 民 ):Fuxi
(伏 羲 ) . NOiwa〔
女 蜗 )and Shennong ( 神 農 )? 3 The female god­
dess Nuwa, w ho is represented as a half-human, half-snake
figure, created human beings from clay ? 4 Nuwa’s brother. and


Ibid., 265.



22. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, tr. C. Herrington and J. Scully (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1989), 441-506; quoted by D. Roochnik, Of Art and
Wisdom: Plato's Understanding of Techne (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1996), 33.
23. There are various accounts of who the three emperors were; the list here
is the most commonly used.

Concerning the use of clay, different versions of the tale exist for example,

later husband, is Fuxi, a half-dragon, half-hum an figure w ho
invented th e b a g w a 〔八 圭卜) 一 th e eight trigram s based on a
binary structure. Several classical texts docum ent th e process


whereby Nuwa used five coloured stones to repair th e sky in


order to stop th e w a te r flooding in great expanses and fire


blazing out o f control.25 Shennong has quite an am biguous


identity, since he is often associated w ith tw o oth er names,


Yan Di ( 炎 帝 )and Lie Shan Shi ( 烈 山 氏 )
?6 In this association,


Shennong, w hich literally means 'divine farm er,
, is also th e god


o f fire, and a fte r his death becomes th e god o f th e kitchen


(th e character Yan


[:lk ]

consists o f tw o repeated instances o f

th e character for fire [ 火


It is recognised by historians th a t it

m ost likely comes from th e use o f fire in th e household, rather
tha n sun worship.)2? As th e name indicates, Shennong also
invented agriculture, medicine, and oth er technics. According
to th e Huainanzi, an ancient Chinese te x t originating in a
series o f scholarly debates held a t th e co u rt of Liu An, King o f

(1 7 9 -1 2 2 b c )

som etim e before

139 bc,

he risked poi­

soning him self by trying hundreds o f plants so as to distinguish

according to th e Huainanzi, th e creation of humans was not only th e w ork of
Nuwa b ut a collective w ork w ith other gods: 'The Yellow Emperor produced yin
and yang. Shang Pian produced ears and eyes: Sang Lin produced shoulders
and arms. NOwa used these to carry out the seventy transformations.' J. S.
Major, S. A. Queen, A. S. Meyer, and H. D. Roth (eds, tr.), The Huainanzi: A
Guide to the Theory and P ractice o f Governm ent in Early H an China, Liu
An, King o f Huainan, (N ew York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 17:25. For
Chinese s e e : 《淮 南 子 • 說 林 訓 》 :黃 帝 生 陰 陽 . 上 駢 生 耳 目 ,桑 林 生 臂 手 :

See th e Huainanzi, chapter 6: 'Surveying Obscurities', 6.7 ( 《淮 南 子 .


Li Gui Min ( 李 桂 民 ) ,'The Relation between Shennong, Lie Shan and Yan

Di and th e ir Recognition in A n tiq u ity '〔
神 農 氏 、 烈 山 氏 、 炎 帝 的 糾葛 與 遠 古
傳 說 的 認 識 問 題 ),Theory Journal ( 理 論 學 刊 〕
, 3: 217 (M arch 2012), 108-12.
2 7 .丨
bid., 109.


w h a t is edible from w h a t is poisonous. The broken sky th a t
Nuwa had to repair resulted from a war betw een Yan Di’s
descendant. th e god o f fire Zhu Rong (祝 融 )and th e god o f
w a te r G ong Gong (共 工 )?8 Note th a t th e gods o f agriculture
and fire came from different system s o f mythology, and that,
although the y are called gods, the y are only recognized as
such a fte r their deaths— originally, the y w ere leaders o f th e




ancient tribes. Unlike Greek mythology, then, in w hich the
Titan revolted against th e gods by bestow ing fire and means
o f subsistence upon human beings, thu s raising the m above
animals, h Chinese m ythology there was no such rebellion
and no such transcendence granted; this endow m ent is seen
instead as owing to th e benevolence o f the ancient sages.
In a dialogue w ith Vernant, French sinologist Jacques
G ernet rem arked tha t the radical separation betw een th e
world o f th e gods and the w orld o f man th a tw a s necessary fo r
the developm ent o f Greek rationality didn’t happen in China.29
Thought o f th e Greek type did eventually arrive in China, but
it arrived to o late to exercise any fo rm a tive influence— the
Chinese had already 'naturalised th e divine '.50 In response,
Vernant also pointed o u t th a t th e polar term s characteristic

28. Again, in the Chinese mythologiesthereare various accounts which differ
as to whether Shennong or Nuwa came first, and whether Zhurong is the
descendant of Shennong or Huang Di; here we relate the most well-known

Vernant, Myth and Society, 86.

30. Gernet also commented elsewhere on the difference between God
in Judaism and Christianity and the Heaven in Chinese culture: the former
(Jewish and Christian) is the god of pastors, he speaks, commands; while the
Chinese heaven does not speak, ‘it contents itself to produce the seasons and
to act continuously by way of its seasonal influxes'. See J. Gernet, Chine et
Christianisme: action et reaction (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), 206, cited also by F.
Jullien, Proces ou Creation: une introduction a la pensee des lettres chinois
(Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1999). "15.

o f Greek cu ltu re - m an/gods, invisible/visible, e te rn a l/m o r­


tal, perm anent/changing, po w e rfu l/pow erless, pure/m ixed,
c e rta in /u n c e rta in 一 were absent h China, and suggested
th a t this might partially explain w hy it was th e Greeks who
invented tragedy .51


I do not mean simply to gesture tow ards the obvious fact
th a t there are different m ythologies concerning creation and
technics in China, Japan, India, o r elsewhere. The point, rather,
is th a t each o f these mythologies gives a different origin for
technics, corresponding m each case to diffe re nt relations
betw een th e gods, technics, humans, and th e cosm os. Apart
from some efforts in anthropology to discuss the variation of
practices across cultures, these relations have been ignored, or
the ir im pact has n ot been taken into account, in th e discourse
on technics and technologies. I propose that it is only by tracing
different accounts o f th e genesis o f technicity52 th a t w e can
understand w h at w e mean w hen we speak o f different 'form s
o f life’, and thus different relations to technics.
The e ffo rt to relativise th e c o n ce p t o f technics challenges
existing anthropological approaches as well as historical studies,
which re s t on th e com parison o f th e advancem ent o f either
individual technical objects o r technical systems (in th e sense
o f Bertrand Gille) in different periods among different cultures.55


Jullien. Proces ou Creation., 98-100.

32. 'Technicity' is a term I borrow from Gilbert Simondon, according to whom
technological development should be understood as a lineage of constant
bifurcation that begins during the magical phase of human societies.
33. French historian of technology Bertrand Gille (1920-1980) proposed
to analyse the history of technology according to what he calls 'technical
systems'. In Histoire des techniques (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 19, Gille defines a
'technical system' as follows: 'All technics are to diverse degrees dependent on
one another, and there needs to be a certain coherence between them: this
ensemble of the different levels of coherence of all the structures. of all the



S cientific and technical thinking emerges under cosmological
conditions th a t are expressed in the relations between humans
and the ir milieus, w hich are never static. For this reason I would
like to call this conception o f technics cosm otechnics. One of
the most characteristic examples o f Chinese cosm otechnics,
fo r example, is Chinese medicine, which uses th e same prin­


ciples and te rm s found in cosmology, such as Yin-Yang, Wu
Xing, harmony, and so on, to describe th e body.


Here one may ask w h e th e r Leroi-G ourhan's analysis c o n ­
cerning technical fa c ts is n o t already sufficie nt to explain



different technicities. It is tru e th a t Leroi-Gourhan brilliantly
docum ented technical tendencies and th e diversification o f
technical fa cts in his work, docum enting different lineages
o f technical evolution and th e influences o f the milieu on
th e fab ricatio n o f tools and products. Yet Leroi-Gourhan's
research has a limit (even if this also c o n stitutes th e strength
and singularity o f his research), one th a t seem s to stem from
his focus upon the individualisation o f technical objects so as
to c o n s tru c t a technical genealogy and technical hierarchy

ensembles and of all the procedures, composes what one can call a technical
system.’ Technical systems underwent mutation in the face of technological
revolutions. for example during the mediaeval period (twelfth and thirteenth
centuries), the Renaissance (fifteenth century), and the industrial revolution
(eighteenth century). The researchers Yao Dazhi and Per Hogselius accused
Gille’s analysis of being Westem-centric, in the sense that Gille used European
technical systems as his primary references and, in doing so, ignored Joseph
Needham’s observation that Chinese technologies seem to have been more
advanced than Europe about two thousand years ago. For the debate see Yao
Dazhi and P. HOgselius, ‘Transforming the Narrative of the History of Chinese
Technology: East and West in Bertrand Gille’s Histoire des Techniques', Acta
Baltica Historiae et Philosophiae Scientiarum 3:1 (Spring 2015), 7-24.

applicable across different cultures. From this perspective, we


can understand w hy he would have deliberately limited himself
to an explanation o f technical genesis based on the study o f


the developm ent o f tools: as he lamented in the postscript to



L^homme e t la m ove厂
e, w ritten th irty years a fte r its original
publication, m o st classic ethnographies dedicate th e ir firs t
chapter to technics, only to tu rn immediately to social and
religious aspects fo r th e remainder .34 In Leroi-Gourhan’s w ork,
technics becomes autonom ous in th e sense th a t it a c ts as a
'lens’ through w hich th e evolution o f th e human, civilisation,
and culture can be retrieved. However, it is d ifficu lt to attribute
the singularity o f technical facts to the 'milieu’ alone, and 丨do
not believe it is possible to avoid th e question o f cosm ology
and therefore th a t o f cosm otechnics.
Allow me to pose this question in the form o f a Kantian
antinom y: ( 1) Technics is anthropologically universal, and since
it consists in the extension o f som atic fu n c tio n s and th e
externalisation o f memory, th e differences produced in d if­
ferent cultures can be explained according to th e degree to
w hich factual circum stances inflect th e technical ten den cy ;35
⑵ Technics is not anthropologically universal; technologies in
different cultures are affected by th e cosmological understand­
ings o fth e s e cultures, and have autonom y only w ith in a certain
cosmological s e ttin g - technics is always cosm otechnics. The
search fo r a resolution o f this antinom y will be th e Ariadne’s
thread o f our inquiry.
丨will give a preliminary definition o f cosm otechnics here:
it means th e unification betw een th e cosm ic order and the
moral order through technical activities (although th e term


Leroi-Gourhan, L'homme et la matiere, 315.


Ibid., 29-35.



cosm ic order is itself tautological since the Greek word kosmos
means order). The con cep t o f cosm otechnics immediately
provides us w ith a conceptual tool w ith w h ich to overcom e
the conventional opposition between technics and nature, and
to understand the task o f philosophy as th a t o f seeking and


affirm ing th e organic unity o f th e tw o . In th e remainder o f this
Introduction,丨will investigate this con cep t in th e w o rk o f the
tw e n tie th -c e n tu ry philosopher G ilbert Simondon and th a t o f


som e contem porary anthropologists, notably Tim Ingold.


O bjects (1958 ). Simondon sets out a speculative history of

In th e third part o f On the M ode o f Existence o f Technical

technicity, affirm ing th a t it is not sufficient ju st to investigate

the technical lineage o f objects; it is also necessary to under­
stand th a t it implies 'an organic character o f thinking and o f
the mode o f being h the w o rld '.56 According to Simondon, the
genesis o f tech nicity begins w ith a 'magical' phase, in w hich
w e find an original unity anterior to th e sub je ct/o b je ct division.
This phase is characterised by th e separation and cohesion
be tw ee n ground and figure. Sim ondon took these term s fro m
G estalt psychology, where th e figure cannot be detached
fro m ground, and it is th e ground th a t gives form , while a t the
same tim e form also imposing lim itations on th e ground. We
can conceive th e tech nicity o f th e magical phase as a field
o f forces reticulated according to w h a t he calls 'key points'
(pointes cles). fo r example high points such as mountains,
giant rocks, or old trees. The prim itive magical m om ent, th e
original m ode o f cosm otechnics, is bifurcated into technics
and religions, in w hich th e Ia tte r retain an equilibrium w ith the
former, in th e continued e ffo rt to obtain unity. Technics and
religion yield b o th theoretical and practical parts: in religion,


Simondon. Du mode d'existence des objets techniques, 213.

they are known as ethics (theoretical) and dogma (practical); in
technics. science and technology. The magical phase is a mode


in w hich there is hardly any distinction betw een cosm ology


and cosm otechnics, since cosm ology only makes sense here


w hen it is part o f everyday practice. There is a separation only
during th e m odern period, since th e s tu d y o f technology and
th e study o f cosm ology (as astronom y) are regarded as tw o


different disciplines— an indication o f th e to ta l detachm ent o f
technics fro m cosmology, and th e disappearance o f any o ve rt
conception o f a cosmotechnics. And yet it would not be correct
to say that there is no cosm otechnics in our tim e. There cer-




tainly is: it is w h a t Philippe Descola calls ‘naturalism1, meaning


th e antithesis betw een culture and nature, w hich trium phed


in th e W est in th e seventeenth century.37. In this cosm otechnics, th e cosmos is seen as an exploitable standing-reserve,
according to w h at Heidegger calls the world picture ( Weltbild).
Here w e should state th a t fo r Simondon, there remains some
possibility o f reinventing cosm otechnics (although he doesn’t
use th e term ) fo r our time. In an interview on mechanology,
Simondon talks about the


antenna. beautifully describing

w h at th is convergence (be tw ee n m odern technology and
natural geography) should look like. Even though, as fa r as I
am aware. Simondon did not engage fu rth e r w ith this subject,
it will be our task to take w h at he meant to say further:

Look at this TV antenna of television as it is [...] it is rigid but it is
oriented; we see that it looks into the distance. and that it can
receive (signals) from an transmitter far away. For me. it appears
to be more than a symbol; it seems to represent a gesture of

37. P. Descola. Beyond Nature and Culture. tr. J. Lloyd (Chicago and London:
Chicago University Press, 2013), 85.


sorts, an almost magical power of intentionality, a contemporary
form of magic. In this encounter between the highest place and


the nodal point, which is the point of transmission of hype「
equencies, there is a sort of ‘co-naturality’ between the human
network and the natural geography of the region. It has a poetic
dimension, as well as a dimension having to do with signification


and the encounter between significations.38
Retrospectively, w e may fin d th a t Sim ondon's proposition
is incompatible w ith th e distinction betw een magic and sci­


ence made by Levi-Strauss in The Savage M ind, published


a fe w years later (1962 ). Magic, or rather th e 'science o f the




concrete’, according to Levi-Strauss cannot be reduced to a
stage or phase o f technical and scientific evolution, whereas
fo r Simondon, as we have seen, the magical phase occupies
th e firs t stage o f the genesis o f technicity. The science o f the
concrete, according to Levi-Strauss, is event-driven and signoriented, while science is structure -d rive n and co n ce p t-o ri­
ented. Thus fo r Levi-Strauss there is a discontinuity betw een
the tw o, but it seems th a t this discontinuity is only legitimated
w hen one compares a non-European m ythical th o u g h t w ith
European scientific thought. In Simondon, on th e o th e r hand,
th e magical retains a con tinu ity w ith th e developm ent o f sci­
ence and technology. I would suggest th a t w h a t Simondon
hints at in the th ird part o f On th e M ode o f Existence o f
Technical O bjects is precisely a 'cosm otechnics'. O nce we
accept th e concept o f cosm otechnics, instead o f maintaining

38. G. Simondon, ‘Entretien su「la mechanologie’
Revue de synthese 130:6.
no. 1 (2〇〇9),1〇3-32: 111.
39. C. Levi-St「
auss, The Savage Mind (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
1966), 13.

the opposition betw een th e m agic/m ythical and science and


a progression betw een the tw o, w e will be able to see th a t
th e former, characterized as th e 'speculative organization and
exploitation o f th e sensible world in sensible term s ? 0 is not
necessarily a regression in relation to the latter.
Some recent work has suggested th a t close consideration
o f non-W estern cultures, since it dem onstrates a pluralism o f
ontologies and cosmologies, indicates a way out o f the modern
predicam ent. Anthropologists such as Philippe Descola and
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro look to Amazonian cultures in


order to de con stru ct th e na ture/cultu re division in Europe.
Similarly, philosophers such as Frangois Jullien and Augustin
巳erque a tte m p t to compare European culture w ith Chinese
and Japanese culture so as to depict a profound pluralism
th a t cannot be easily classified according to simple schemes,
and to reinterpret W estern attem p ts to overcom e modernity.
In his seminal w ork Beyond N ature and Culture, Descola not
only suggests th a t the nature/culture division developed in
th e O ccide nt is not universal, b u t also maintains t h a t it is
a marginal case. Descola describes fo u r ontologies: namely,
naturalism (the nature/culture division), animism, totem ism ,
and analogism. Each o f these ontologies inscribes nature in
different ways, and in non-m odern practices one find s th a t
th e na ture/culture division th a t has been taken fo r granted
since European m odernity does not hold .41 Descola cites Social
anthropologist Tim lngold’s observation th a t philosophers have
seldom asked, 'W h at makes humans animals o f a particular
, the ir typica l preferred question about naturalism being


Ibid, 16.


See Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture. especially Part Ill.



‘W hat makes humans different in kind from animals? ’
犯 This


is not only th e case among philosophers, as Descola points


out; fo r ethnologists also fall into th e dogma o f naturalism


w hich insists on th e uniqueness o f th e human being, and th e


assumption th a t humans are differentiated fro m o th e r beings


interiority and con tinu ity in physicality; in animism, continuity


Descola’s definitions o f th e fou r ontologies below:

by means o f cultu re .43 In naturalism, one finds discontinuity in
in interiority and discontinuity in physicality.糾 We reproduce









Analog ism


These various ontologies imply different conceptions o f nature
and different form s o f participation; and indeed, as Descola
pointed out, th e antithesis betw een nature and culture in
naturalism is rejected in oth er conceptions o f ‘nature’. W hat
Descola says about nature m ight also be said o f technics,
w hich in Descola’s w ritings is abstracted as ‘practice’— a term
tha t avoids the tech nics/cultu re division. However, calling it
‘practice’ may obscure th e role o f technics; this is th e reason
we speak o f cosm otechnics rather than cosmology.


Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture, 178.


Ibid., 180.


Ibid., 122.


Although he does not employ a term analogous to 'cosmotechnics’, Ingold perceives this point clearly. Drawing on G reg­

practices and the environm ent to w h ich the y belong. This
leads to his proposal fo r a sentient ecology ,45 w hich is medi­
ated and operated according to affective relations between
human beings and th e ir environments. One example he gives
concerning hunter-gatherer society helps to clarify w hat he
means by 'sentient ecology’
:hunter-gatherers’ perception o f
the environm ent, he tells us, is em bedded h th e ir practices .46
Ingold points out that the Cree people o f northeastern Canada
have an explanation fo r w hy reindeers are easy to kill: the
animals o ffe r them selves voluntarily 'in a spirit o f good will
o r even love tow ards th e h u nter ? 7 The encounter between
animal and hunter is not simply a question o f 'to shoot o r not
to shoot’, but rather one o f cosmological and moral necessity:

At that crucial moment of eye-to-eye contact. the hunter felt
the overwhelming presence of the animal; he felt as f his own
being were somehow bound up or intermingled with that of
the animal一a feeling tantamount to love and one that, in the
domain of human relations, is experienced in sexual intercourse.48
Rethinking senses such as vision, hearing, and tou ch by invok­
ing Hans Jonas, James Gibson, and M aurice Merleau-Ponty,
Ingold a tte m p ts to show th a t, w h e n w e reinvestigate th e

45. T. Ingold, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood,
Dwelling and Skill (London: Routledge, 2011), 24.
46. Ibid.. 10.

Ibid.. 13.


Ibkl, 25.


ory Bateson, Ingold proposes th a t there is a unity between


question o f th e senses, it is possible t o 「
iate this
sentient ecology, w hich is totally ignored in m odern tech no­
logical development. And y e t in this conception o f human and
environm ent. th e relation be tw ee n environm ent and cosm ol­
ogy is n o t v e 「
y clea「
, and this w ay o f analysing living beings
w ith the environm ent risks reduction to a cybernetic feedback
model such as Bateson’s, thereby undermining the absolutely
overwhelm ing and contingent role o f th e cosmos.
Simondon holds a similar view on th e relation between


human being and the outer w orld as figure and ground- a
fu n ctio n in g model o f cosm otechnics, since th e ground is
lim ited by th e figure, and th e figure is em pow ered by the
ground. O wing to the ir detachm ent, in religion th e ground is
no longer limited by th e figure. and therefore th e unlimited
ground is conceived as a godlike power; whereas inversely,
in technics. the figure overtakes th e ground and leads to the
subversion o f the ir relation. Simondon therefore proposes a
task fo r philosophical thinking: to produce a convergence th a t
reaffirms th e unity o f figure and ground ,49 something th a t could
be understood as the search fo r a cosm otechnics. For example,
in considering Polynesian navigation一 the ability to navigate
among a thousand islands w ith o u t any m odern a p p a ra tu s -a s
a cosm otechnics, we m ight focus n o t on this ability as a skill,
b u t rather on the figure -grou nd relation th a t prefigures th is skill.
T he com parison betw een th e w ork o f Ingold and oth er
ethnologists and Simondon indicates tw o different ways in
w hich th e question concerning technology in China m ight be
approached. In the first. we are given a way in which to com pre­
hend cosmology, which conditions social and political life; while
in the second. philosophical th o u g h t is reconfigured as a search


Simondon, Du mode d'existence des objets techniques, 217—18.

o f ancient China and the philosophical th o u g h t developed

to bring about precisely such a unification o f ground and figure.
In Chinese cosmology, one finds a sense o th e r than vision.
hearing, and touch. It is called G an ying〔
感 應 ) . literally meaning
'feeling' and 'response', and is often (as h th e w o rk o f sinolo­
gists such as Marcel G ranet and Angus Graham) understood
as 'correlative thin kin g ';50 I prefer to call it resonance, following
Joseph Needham. It yields a 'moral sentim ent' and further, a
'moral obligation' (in social and political term s) w hich is not
solely th e product o f subjective contem plation, b u t rathe r
emerges from th e resonance betw een th e Heaven and the
human, since th e Heaven is th e ground o f th e m oral,1 The
existence o f such a resonance rests upon th e presupposition
o f unification between the human and th e H e ave n〔
天 人 合 一 ).
and therefore Ganying implies ( 1 ) a hom ogeneity in all beings,
and ⑵ an organicity o f th e relation betw een pa rt and part,

50. A. C. Graham. Yin-Yang and the Nature of Correlative Thinking,
(Singapore: National University of Singapore, 1986)
51. Concerning the origin of the moral order. it is difficult, for instance, to find
an explanation in Henri Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
(tr A. Audra and C. Brereton [London: Macmillan, 1935]). Bergson distinguishes
two kinds of morals: one is a closed morals related to social obligation and
habitude, while the other is what he calls an open morals related to 'call of
the hero [appe' du hero]\ In the latter form, one doesn't yield to pressure, but
to fascination; according to Bergson these two forms of the moral coexist,
and neither exists in pure form. It would certainly be worthwhile to further
examine Bergson’s concept of the moral and its implications for the Chinese
cosmotechnics that I attempt to sketch out here, although it seems to me that
Bergson’s understanding of the moral is rather limited to the Western tradition,
especially the Greeks: in China, the cosmos played a determining role, so that
any heroic act could only be an accordance with the Heaven.


throu gh ou t its history seem to me to refle ct a con stant e ffo rt


and more distanced due to the increasing specialization and
division o f professions in m odern societies. The cosmotechnics


fo r th e ground o f th e figure. whose relation seems to be more


and be tw ee n part and w hole.》 This hom ogeneity can be


found already in Z hou Yi— X i Ci 11,55 where th e ancient 巳ao-xi


(another name fo r Fuxi) created th e eight trigram s to reflect


the connection o f a丨
丨being through these homogeneities:
Anciently. when 巳ao-xi had come to the rule of all under Heaven.
looking up. he contemplated the brilliant forms exhibited in the
sky. and looking down he surveyed the patterns shown on the
earth. He contemplated the ornamental appearances of birds




and beasts and the (different) suitabilities of the soil. Near at
hand. in his own person, he found things for consideration. and
the same at a distance. in things in general. On this he devised
the eight trigrams, to show fully the attributes of the spirit-like
and intelligent (operations working secretly), and to classify the
qualities of the myriads of things.54
Words such as 'fo rm s ,
, 'patterns', and ‘appearances’ are essen­
tial in understanding th e resonances betw een th e Heaven
and th e human. They imply an a ttitu d e to w a rd s science in
China which (according to th e organismic readings offered
by authors such as Joseph Needham) differs from th a t o f
Greece, since it is resonance th a t 丨
ends au thority to rules and
laws, whereas f o r th e Greeks laws (nom oi) are closely related

52. Huang Junjie (黃俊傑),東亞儒學史的新視野[New Perspectives on
the History of Confucianism in East Asia] (Taiwan: Taiwan National University
Press, 2015), 267.
53. According to historical documents, there were three versions of the
I Ching (易經. or The Book of Changes) in China, but only one, Zhou Yi (周
has been preserved and circulated. There are seven classic commentaries
on the I Ching, known as Yi Zhuan (易傳),including the Xi Ci quoted below;
together, these ten texts (including the lost ones) are known as the 'ten wings'.
54 Xi Ci II, tr. J. Legge, <>
[emphasis mine].

postulate a cosmological ‘he art’ or ‘m ind’ (examined in §18


this resonance to be sensed? Confucianism and Daoism both


to geometry, as Vernant frequently points out. But how is

below) able to resonate w ith the external environm ent (for

as well as w ith o th e r beings (fo r example in M encius). We
will see later how it is this sense th a t leads to th e develop­
m ent o f a moral cosm ology o r moral metaphysics in China,
w hich is expressed in th e unification betw een th e Heaven
and the human. Im portantly fo r our argum ent here, in the
co n te xt o f technics such unification is also expressed as the
unification o f Qi ( ^ . literally translated as 'to ols’) and D ao ( 道 ,
often transliterated as ‘tao’). For example, h Confucianism, Qi
implies a cosmological consciousness o f the relations between
humans and nature th a t is demonstrated in rituals and religious
ceremonies. As w e discuss in Part 1, the Confucian classic Li
Ji (th e Book o f Rituals) contains a long section entitled Li Qi (
禮 器 , 'th e vessels o f rituals’)docum enting th e im portance o f
technical objects in the fulfilm en t o f the Li (禮 , 'rituals’), and
according to w hich m orality can only be maintained through
th e proper use o f Li Qi.
It will be th e task o f Part 1 to elaborate on this 'correlative
th in kin g ’ in China, and on th e dynam ic relation betw een Qi
and Dao. I believe th a t th e concept o f cosm otechnics allows
us to trace different technicities, and contributes to opening
up th e plurality o f relations betw een technics, mythology, and
cosm ology一 and thereby to th e embracing o f th e different
relations betw een the human and technics inherited from d if­
ferent mythologies and cosmologies. Certainly Prometheanism

55. Authorship of this work is attributed to the important Han Confucian
Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒,
179-104 BC), who we will discuss below.


example in Luxuriant Dew o f th e Spring a nd Autumn Annals )55


is one such relation, but it is highly problematic to take it as a

w01 No
H山i〇2 wo0 Q <

universal. However, I am certainly not proposing to advocate

tion betw een d ifferent ethnic groups, w hich immediately calls


synchronising force h time. Yet a radical alterity will have to be

any kind o f cultural purity here, o r to defend it. as origin, against
contamination. Technics has served as a means o f com m unica­
into question any con cep t o f an absolute origin. In our te c h ­
nological epoch, it is th e driving force o f globalisation— in the
sense b o th o f a converging force actin g through space, and a

asserted in order to leave room fo r heterogeneity, and thereby
to develop different epistemes based on traditional m etaphysi­
cal categories, a task w hich opens th e w ay to th e veritable
question o f locality. I use th e te rm epistem e w ith reference to
Michel Foucault. fo r w h om it denotes a social and scientific
stru ctu re th a t functions as a se t o f criteria o f selection, and
determ ines th e discourse o f tr u th .56 In The O rder o f Things,
Foucault introduces a periodisation o f three epistemes in the
O ccident: Renaissance, Classical, and Modern. Foucault later
found th a t his introduction o f th e term epistem e had led to an
impasse, and developed a m ore general concept, namely th a t
o f th e dispositif.口The transition fro m epistem e to dispositif is
a strategic m ove to a more immanent critique, w hich Foucault
w as able to apply in a more contem porary analysis; looking back

56. M. Foucault. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences
(New York: Vintage Books. 1994). xxi: 'What I am attempting to bring to light
is the epistemological field. the episteme in which knowledge. envisaged apart
from all criteria having reference to its rational value or to its objective forms,
grounds its positivity and thereby manifests a history which is not that of
its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility; in this
account. what should appear are those configurations within the space of
knowledge which have given rise to the diverse forms of empirical science.’
57. M. Foucault, 'Le jeu de Michel Foucault (Entretien sur「
histoire de la
sexualite)1,in Dits et Ecrits Ill (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 297-329: 301.

during an interview in 1977 , around the tim e o f the publication o f
as a form o f dispositif: as th a t 'strategic dispositif w hich allows


the H istory o f Sexuality, Foucault proposed to define episteme

the selection, among all possible enunciations, o f those th a t
can say: this is true o r false '.581 take the liberty o f reform ulating
th e con cep t o f epistem e here: fo r me it is a dispo sitif which,
in th e face o f m odern technology, may be reinvented on the
basis o f th e traditional metaphysical categories in o rd e r to
reintroduce a fo rm o f life and to reactivate a locality. Such
reinventions can be observed, forexam ple, follow ing th e social,
political, and econom ic crises th a t occurred in each ep o ch in
China (and w e c a n surely find examples in o th e r cultures): the
decline o f th e Zhou D ynasty ( ^ 2 2 -2 5 6

b c ),

th e introduction

o f Buddhism in China, th e cou ntry's defeat in th e Opium Wars,
etc. A t these points we observe th e reinvention o f an episteme,
w h ich h tu rn conditions aesthetic, social, and political life. The
technical system s th a t are in th e process o f form ing today,
fuelled by digital technologies (fo r example, 'sm art cities', the
'internet o f things', social networks, and large-scale autom ation
system s) tend to lead to a homogeneous relation betw een
hum anity and technics— th a t o f intensive quantification and
control. B ut this only makes it more im p o rta n t and more
urgent fo r different cultures to reflect on th e ir own history
and ontologies in order to adopt digital technologies w ith o u t
being merely synchronized into th e hom ogenous 'global' and
'generic' episteme.
The decisive m om ent in m odern Chinese history came w ith
th e tw o Opium W ars in th e m id-nineteenth century, in which
th e Qing dynasty (1644- 1912) was com prehensively defeated
5 8 .丨


will be acceptable w ith in [...] a field o f scie ntificity o f w hich one


by the British army, leading to the opening up o f China as a
quasi-colony fo r W estern forces, and instigating China’s m od­
ernisation. Lack o f technological com petence was considered
by th e Chinese to be one o f th e major reasons fo r this defeat.


They therefore fe lt w ith urgency th e need fo r rapidly m oderni­
sation via technological development, in the h o p e o f putting an
end to th e inequality betw een China and th e W estern forces.
However, China was not able to absorb W estern technology
in th e way th a t th e dom inant Chinese reform ists at th a t time
wished, largely due to th e ignorance and m isunderstanding o f
technology. For the y maintained a belief, which retrospectively


seems rather 'Cartesian’, th a t it would be possible to separate
Chinese th o u g h t- th e m ind- from technologies understood


merely as instrum ents; th a t the form er, th e ground, could
remain intact w ith o u t being affected by th e im portation and
im plem entation o f th e technological figure.
On th e contrary, technology has ended up subverting any
such dualism, and has co n stitu te d itself as ground rather than
as figure. M ore tha n a century and a half has passed since
the Opium Wars. China has lived through fu rth e r catastrophes
and crises ow ing to the change o f regimes and all m anner o f
experimental reforms. During this time there have been many
reflections on th e question o f technology and modernisation,
and th e a tte m p t to m aintain a dualism betw een thinking mind
and technological instrum ent has been revealed as a failure.
More seriously, in recent decades a n ysu ch reflection has been
rendered im potent in the face o f continuing econom ic and
technological booms. A kind o f ecstasy and hype has emerged
in its stead, propelling th e country into th e unknown: all o f a
sudden, it finds itself as if in the m idst o f an ocean w ith o u t
being able to see any limit, any d e s tin a tio n -th e predicament
described by Nietzsche in The G ayScience, and which remains

a poignant image fo r describing m odern man’s troubling situ­


atio n .59 In Europe, various concepts such as th e ‘postm odern’
or ‘posthum an’ have been invented to name some imaginary
exodus from this situation; but it will not be possible to find the
exit w ith o u t directly addressing and confronting th e question
o f technology.
W ith all o f the above questions in mind, this w o rk aims to
open up a new inquiry into m odern technology, one that does
not take Prometheanism as its fundam ental presupposition.
The work is divided into tw o parts. Part 1 is intended to be a
system atic and historical survey o f 'technological th o u g h t’ in
China in com parison to its counterpart in Europe. It serves as
a ne w starting point fo r understanding w h at is a t stake here,
as well as fo r reflecting on th e urgency o f this investigation.
Part 2 is an investig ation in to th e historical-m etaphysical
questions o f m odern technology, and aims to shed new light
on th e obscurity in w hich th e question o f technology dwells
in China. especially in th e Anthropocene.

As implied by th e con cep t o f cosm otechnics outlined above,
the account o f technology given here does not limit itself to
the historical, social, and econom ic levels; w e have to move
beyond these levels in order to reconstitute a metaphysical
unity. By 'unity’, I do n o t mean a political o r cultural identity, but
a unity between practice and theory, o r m ore precisely a form
o f life th a t maintains th e coherence (if not necessarily the ha「
mony) o f a com m unity. The fragm entation o f form s o f life in

59. F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, tr. J. Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2001), 119 (§124).


both European and non-European countries is largely a result
o f an inconsistency betw een th e o ry and practice. But in the
East this gap is revealed not as a mere disturbance but as the
'deracination' (E ntw urzelung) described by Heidegger— as a
total discontinuity. The transform ation o f practices brought
about by m odern technology outstrips the ancient categories
th a t had previously applied. For example, as I discuss in Part 1,
th e Chinese have no equivalents o f th e categories th a t the
Greeks called techne and physis. Hence in China th e force o f
technology dismantles th e metaphysical unity o f practice and
theory, and creates a rupture, w hich still aw aits unification. O f
course, this is n o t something tha t is only happening in the East.


In th e West, as Heidegger described, the emergence o f the


category 'technology' no longer shares th e same essence as


techne. The question concerning technology should ultimately
serve as a m otivation to take up the question o f B e in g -a n d ,
if I m ight say so, to create a new metaphysics; or, even bet­
ter, a new cosm otechnics .60 In our tim e, this unification or
indifference does not present itself as a quest fo r a ground,
but rather exhibits itself as b o th an original ground ( Urgrund)
and an unground (U ngrund): U ngrund because it is open to
alterities; Urgrund as a ground that resists assimilation. Hence
th e U rgrund and the U ngrund should be considered as a
unity, much like being and nothingness. The quest fo r unity is
properly speaking the telos o f philosophy, as Hegel maintained
in his treatise on Schelling and Fichte , 1

60. Although Heidegger did not explicitly make this claim. in his commentary
on Nietzsche he refers to metaphysics as a force of unification that overlooks all
beings. However. we have to bear in mind that Heidegger’s reading of the history
of Western metaphysics is only one possible interpretation: see M. Heidegger,
GA 6.2 Nietzsche Band II (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1997), 3'12-3.

G. W. F. Hegel. The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System


As we shall see, to answer th e question concerning tech nol­
ogy in China is not to give a detailed history of th e econom ic

historians and sinologists such as Joseph Needham have
already done in various brilliant ways— but rather to describe
th e transform ation o f th e cate gory Q/ ( 器 ) in its relation to
Dao ( 道 ) . Let me be more precise on this point. Normally
technics and technology are translated in Chinese as jishu
( 技 術 )and keji ( 科 技 ) . The firs t term means ‘technique’ or
‘skill’; th e second is composed o f tw o characters, ke meaning
‘science’ (ke xue) and j/ meaning ‘technique’ or ‘applied science’.
The question is not w hether these translations adequately ren­

th e translations are newly-coined term s), but rather w h ethe r
they create th e illusion th a t W estern technics have an equiva­
lent in the Chinese tradition. Ultimately, th e eagerness these
Chinese neologisms express to show th a t ‘we also have these
term s’ obscures the true question o f technics. Rather than
relying on these potentially confusing neologisms, therefore,
I propose to reconstruct the question o f technics from the
ancient philosophical categories Q/ and Dao, tracin g various
turning points at which th e tw o w ere separated, reunified, or
even totally disregarded. The relation betw een Q/ and Dao
characterises, properly speaking, the thinking o f technics in
China, w h ich is also a unification o f moral and cosmological
thinking in a cosm otechnics. It is in associating Q/ and Dao
th a t the question o f technics reaches its metaphysical ground.
It is also in entering into this relation th a t Q/ participates in
moral cosmology, and intervenes in th e metaphysical system

of Philosophy, tr. H. S. Harris and W. Cerf (Albany, NY: State University of New
York Press, 1977), 91.




der th e meanings o f th e W estern words (one has to no te th a t

TE C HN 〇 1_〇 GIoAl_

and social developm ent o f tech nolog ies一 som ething th a t


according to its ow n evolution. Thus w e will show how the


relation between Qi and Dao has varied throughout the history
o f Chinese thought, follow ing continual attem p ts to reunify


Dao and Qi ( 道 器 合 一 ) ,each w ith d iffe re n t nuances and


diffe re nt consequences: Q i enlightens Dao ( 器 以 明 道 ) . Qi


carries Dao ( 器 以 載 道 )o r Q i in th e service o f Dao (器 為 道


用 ).Dao in the service o f Q i ( 道 為 器 用 )
. and so on. Below we


trace these relations from the era o f Confucius and Laozi into
contem porary China. Finally, w e show how the im position of


a superficial and reductive materialism ended up com pletely
separating Qi and Dao, an event th a t may be considered as
th e breakdown o f th e traditional system, and may even be


term ed China’s ow n 'end o f m etaphysics’一 although once
again, here we should emphasise th a t w h a t is called 'm eta-


physics’ in the European language is not equivalent to its usual


translation in Chinese, Xing e rS h a n g X u e (形 而 上 學 ) . w hich
actually m eans 'th a t w hich is above form s’, and is a synonym
o f D ao in th e I Ching. W hat Heidegger te rm s the 'end o f
m etaphysics’, then, is by no means th e end o f Xing e r Shang
X ue— because, fo r Heidegger, it is the com pletion o f m eta­
physics th a t gives us m odern technoscience; whereas Xing e r
Shang Xue cannot give rise to m odern technology, since firstly
it doesn’t have th e same source as th e m etaphysika, and
secondly, as w e will explain in detail below, if we follow New
C onfucian philosopher M ou Zongsan, Chinese th o u g h t has
always given p riority to th e noumenon o v e r th e phenomenon,
and it is precisely because o f this philosophical a ttitu d e th a t
a different cosm otechnics developed in China.
It is not my aim, however, to argue th a t th e traditional
Chinese m etaphysics is sufficient and th a t w e can simply go
back to it. On th e contrary, I would like to show tha t, while it
is insufficient to simply revive th e traditional m etaphysics, it is

crucial th a t w e s ta rt from it in order to seek ways oth er than
affirm ative Prometheanism o r neocolonial critiq ue to think and
to challenge global technological hegemony. The ultim ate task
will be to reinvent th e Dao-Q i relation by situating it historically,
and asking in w h at way this line o f thinking m ight be fru itfu l
not only in th e co n stru ctio n o f a new Chinese philosophy
o f technology, but also in responding to th e current s ta te o f
technological globalisation.
Inevitably, this task will also have to respond to th e haunt­
ing dilemma o f w h at is called ' Needham’s question1: Why didn't
m odern science and tech nolog y em erge in China? In the
sixteenth century, Europeans w e re a ttracted by China: by its
aesthetics and its culture, b u t also by its advanced technolo­
gies. For example, Leibniz was obsessed w ith Chinese w riting,
especially by his discovery th a t th e / Ching is organised accord­
ing to precisely the binary system he himself had proposed. He
thus believed he had discovered in th e Chinese w ritings an
advanced mode o f com binatorics. A fte r the sixteenth century,
though, science and technology in China were outstripped by
the W est. According to the dom inant view, it is the modernisa­
tion o f science and technology in Europe during th e sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries th a t accounts fo r this change. Such
an explanation is 'accidental' in th e sense th a t it relies on a
rupture o r an event; but as w e shall try to elaborate. there may
be another explanation, from the standpoint o f metaphysics.
In asking w hy m odern science and technology did n o t
emerge in China, w e will discuss the te n ta tiv e answers given
both by Needham himself, and by the Chinese philosophers
Feng Youlan ( 1895 - 1990 ) and Mou Zongsan ( 1909 - 19 95 ).
M ou’s answer is th e m ost sophisticated and speculative o f
th e tw o, and the solution he proposes demands a reunifica­
tion o f tw o metaphysical systems: one th a t speculates on the


noumenal world and makes it th e core con stituen t o f a moral
metaphysics, and another th a t tends to limit itself to th e level
o f phenomena. and in doing so furnishes th e terrain fo r highly
analytical activities. This reading is clearly influenced by Kant.

and indeed Mou frequently employs Kant’s vocabulary. Mou
recalls tha t, w hen he firs t read Kant, he w a s s tru c k by th e fa ct
that w h at Kant calls the noumenon is a t the core o f Chinese


philosophy, and th a t it is the respective focus on noumenon


and phenomenon th a t marks th e difference betw een Chinese


ties o f intellectual intuition, but refrains fro m dealing w ith the


take it as a stepping stone to reach 'above form ’. Mou therefore


and European m e ta p h ysics^ Indulging in speculation on the
noumenon, Chinese philosophy tends to advance th e a ctivi­
phenomenal world: it pays attention to the la tte r only in order to

argues th a t in order to revive traditional Chinese tho ugh t, an
interface has to be reconstructed betw een noumenal on tol­
ogy and phenomenal ontology. This connection cannot com e
from anywhere oth er than the Chinese tradition itself, since
ultim ately M ou means it to be a p ro o f th a t traditional Chinese
thought can also develop modern science and technology, and
only needs a new m ethod in order to do so. This sums up the
task o f th e 'N ew Confucianism ’65 which developed in Taiwan
and Hong Kong a fte r th e Second World War, and w hich w e
discuss in P a rt 1 ( § 18 ). However, M ou’s proposal remains an
idealist one, because he considers Xin ( 心 ,'h e a rt’) ,o r th e
noumenal subject, as the ultim ate possibility: according to him,

62. Mou Zongsan, Collected Works 21: Phenomenon and Thing-in-Itself
Taipei: Student Books Co.. 1975), 20-30.
63. It is necessary to distinguish Neo-Confucianism, a metaphysical
movement that culminated during the Sung and Ming dynasties, from New
Confucianism. which is a movement that started in the early twentieth century.

though, through self-negation it can descend so as to become


a subject o f (phenom enal) know ledge .64
P art 2 o f th e book serves as a critique o f M ou's approach,
and proposes to go 'back to th e technical objects them selves’
as an alternative (or better, a supplem ent) to this idealist vision.

In attem p ting to think through M ou's proposition o f an inter­


face betw een Chinese and W estern tho ugh t, while avoiding


his idealism, P a rt 2 finds th a t w h a t is cen tra l here is the


relation betw een technics and tim e. Here I tu rn to Bernard
Stiegler's reform ulation o f th e history o f W estern philosophy
according to th e question o f te ch n icity in Technics and Time.
But tim e has never been a real question fo r Chinese philoso­
phy; as sinologists Marcel G ranet and Frangois Jullien have
stated clearly, the Chinese never really elaborated on th e
question o f tim e .65 This therefore opens up th e possibility, in
th e wake o f Stiegler's work, o f an investigation into th e rela­
tion betw een technics and tim e in China.
Based on th e w ork o f Leroi-Gourhan, Husserl, and Hei­
degger, Stiegler attem p ts to p u t an end to a m odernity char­
acterised by technological unconsciousness. Technological
consciousness is th e consciousness o f time, o f one's finitude;
b u t also o f th e relation betw een this finitude and technicity.
S tiegler con vin cing ly show s how, fro m Plato on, the rela­
tio n betw een technics and anamnesis is already well estab­
lished, and stands at th e centre o f th e econom y o f th e soul.

64. Mou himself claims that heis not an idealist. since xin is not the mind:
is more than the mind, and offers more possibilities.

F. Jullien, Du Temps (Paris: Biblio Essais, 2012).



A fter reincarnation, th e 、
sou丨forgets the knowledge o f tru th
th a t it has acquired in th e past life, and th e search fo r tru th is


fundam entally an act o f remembering o r recollection. Socrates
famously dem onstrates this in the Meno. where the young
slave. w ith th e aid o f technical tools (drawing in th e sand), is
able to solve geom etrical problems o f w hich he has no prior
knowledge at all.
T he econom y o f th e soul in th e East. though, has little in
com m on w ith such an anamnesic conception o ftim e . W e m ust


say th a t. even tho ugh th e calendrical devices o f th e cultures
resemble each other. in these technical ob je cts w e find not
only different technical lineages. b u t also different interpreta­
tions o f tim e, w hich configure th e fu n ctio n and perception o f
these technical objects in everyday life. This is largely th e result
o f th e influence o f Daoism and Buddhism,w hich combined
w ith Confucianism to produce w h a t M ou Zongsan calls the
'synthe tic approach to com prehending reason [綜 合 的 盡 理 之
神 ], h con tra st to occidental cultu re’s 'analytic approach to
com prehending reason [分 解 的 盡 理 之 精 神 ]’.66 In th e noumeor
nal experience implied by th e former. there simply is no tim e:
more precisely, time and historicity do not occu r as questions.
In Heidegger. historicity is the hermeneutics conditioned by the
finitude o f Dasein and technics, w hich infinitises Dasein’s reten­
tional finitude by passing exteriorised memory from generation
to generation. Mou appreciated Heidegger’s critique o f Kant
in Kant and th e Problem o f Metaphysics, in w hich Heidegger
radicalised th e transcendental imagination, making it a ques­
tio n o f time. H ow ever Mou also sees Heidegger's analysis o f
finitude as a 丨
imitation. since fo r Mou, xin qua noumena丨

66. Mou Zongsan, Collected Works 9: Philosophy of History (歷史哲學)
(Taipei: Student Books Co.), 192-200.

is th a t w hich can indeed ‘infinitise’. Mou did not form ulate any
material relation betw een technics and th e xin, since he largely
disregarded the question o f technics, which, fo r him, is only
one o f th e possibilities o f th e self-negation o f th e Liangzhi
(h e a rt/m in d ) ( 良 知 的 自 我 坎 陷 ) . It is to this lack o f reflection
on th e question o f technics,丨speculate, th a t w e can a ttribu te
the failure o f New Confucianism to respond to th e problem o f




m odernisation and the question o f historicity; however, it is
possible and necessary to transfo rm this lack into a positive
concept, a task akin to th a t undertaken by Jean-Frangois
Lyotard, as w e shall examine below.
This disregarding o f tim e and lack o f any discourse on
historicity h Chinese metaphysics was noted by Keiji Nishitani
( 1900 - 1990 ), a Japanese philosopher o f th e Kyoto School
w ho studied under Heidegger in Freiburg during th e 1930 s.
For Nishitani, Eastern philosophy did not take the concept
o f time seriously, and hence was unable to account fo r co n ­
ce p ts such as histo ricity— th a t is, th e ability to th in k as a
'historical being,
. This question is indeed a most Heideggerian
one: in th e second division o f Being a n d Time, th e philoso­
pher discussed th e relation betw een individual time and the
relation to G eschichtlichkeit (histo ricity). But in Nishitani,
a tte m p t to think East and W est together, tw o problems arise,
and present a dilemma. Firstly, fo r th e Japanese philosopher,
technology opens a path tow ards 'nihility’,as do th e works
o f N ietzsche and Heidegger; but in the Buddhism espoused
by Nishitani, sunyata (emptiness) aims to transcend nihility;
and in such transcendence, tim e loses all meaning .67 Secondly,
G eschichtlichkeit and, further, W eltgeschichtlichkeit (world

67. K. Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1982).




historicity) are not possible w ith o u t a retentional system —
which, as Stiegler shows in the third volume o f Technics and
Time, is also tech nics .68 This means th a t it is not possible to
be conscious o f the relation between Dasein and historicity
w ith o u t being conscious o f th e relation be tw ee n Dasein and


te ch n icity— th a t is to say, historical consciousness demands
technological consciousness.
As I argue in Part 2 , m odernity functions according to a
technological unconsciousness, w h ich consists o f a fo rg e t­
ting o f one’s ow n limits, as described by N ietzsche in The
Gay Science: 'th e poor bird th a t has fe lt free and now strikes
against the walls o f this cage! Woe, when homesickness fo r
th e land overcom es you, as if there had been more freedom
th e re — and there is no m ore “ land”, This predicam ent arises
precisely from a lack o f awareness o f the instrum ents a t hand,
th e ir limits and th e ir dangers. M odernity ends w ith th e rise o f
a technological consciousness, meaning bo th the conscious­
ness o f the power o f technology and the consciousness o f the
technological condition o f th e human. In order to tackle the
questions raised by Nishitani and Mou Zongsan, it is necessary
to articulate the question o f time and history w ith th a t o f te c h ­
nics, so as to op en up a ne w terrain and to explore a thinking
th a t bridges noumenal ontology and phenomenal ontology.
But in demanding th a t a Chinese philosophy o f technology
adopt th is post-H eideggerian (Stieglerian) view point, aren't
we in danger o f simply imposing a W estern point o f view once
again? Not necessarily, since w hat is more fundamental today is

68. B. Stiegler, Technics and Time 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of
Malaise, tr. S. Barker (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).
69. F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science. tr. J. Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 2001). 119.

to seek a new conception o f w orld history and a cosm otechni-


cal thinking th a t will give us a n ew w a y o f being w ith technical
objects and systems. Far fro m sim p ly 「
enouncing th e analyses
o f Mou and Nishitani and replacing it with Stiegler’s, we th e re ­
fore pose th e following question: Rather than absorbing te c h ­
nics into either o f the ir ontologies, is it possible to understand
technics as a medium fo r th e tw o ontologies? For Nishitani, the
question was: Can absolute nothingness appropriate m odernity
and hence c o n stru ct a new w orld history th a t is n ot limited by
W estern m odernity? For Mou: Can Chinese thinking absorb
modern science and technology through a reconfiguration o f
its ow n thinking th a t already lies within th e possibilities o f the
la tte r? Nishitani’s answer leads to a proposal fo r a total w ar as
a s trateg y to overcom e modernity, som ething th a t was taken
up as th e slogan o f th e Kyoto school philosophers prior to the
Second World War. This is w h at I term a metaphysical fascism,
w hich arises fro m a misdiagnosis o f th e question o f modernity,
and is som ething w e m ust avoid a t all costs. M o u ’s answ er
was affirm ative and positive even if, as we will see in P a rt i, it
was widely questioned by Chinese intellectuals. It seems to
me th a t both M ou and Nishitani (as well as the ir schools and
the epochs in w hich the y lived) failed to overcom e m odernity
largely because they didn’t take th e question o f technology
seriously enough. However, w e still have to pass through their
w ork in ord er to clarify these problems. One point th a t can be
stated clearly here is tha t, in order to heal the rupture o f the
metaphysical system introduced by m odern technology, we
cannot rely on any speculative idealist thinking. Instead, it is
necessary to ta ke the m ateriality o f technics (as ergon) into
account. This is not a materialism in the classical sense, but one
th a t pushes the possibility o f m atter to its limits.



This question is at once speculative and political. In 1986, JeanFranc;:ois Lyotard, on th e invitation o f Bernard Stiegler. gave


a seminar at IRCAM, a t th e Centre Pompidou in Paris, later


than being retentional devices, th e new technologies m ight

published under the title 'Logos and Techne. o r Telegraphy ,.70
In the seminar Lyotard asked w h ethe r it is possible that, rather

open up a new possibility o f thinking w h a t th e th irte e n th cen tury Japanese Zen Buddhist Dogen calls th e 'clear m ir­
ror [ 明 鏡 ] ' . Lyotard's question resonates w ith th e analyses
o f M ou and Nishitani, since th e 'clear m irror,fundam entally
constitutes the heart o f th e metaphysical systems o f the East.
Towards th e end o f th e talk, Lyotard concludes as follows:



The whole question is this: is the passage possible, will it be
possible with, or allowed by, the new mode of inscription and
memoration that characterizes the new technologies? Do they
not impose syntheses. and syntheses conceived still more inti­
mately in the soul than any earlier technology has done? But
by that very fact, do they not also help to refine our anamnesic
resistance? I'll stop on this vague hope, which is too dialectical
to take seriously. All this remains to be thought out, tried o u t/ 1
Why did Lyotard, having made this proposal, retreat from it,
suggesting th a t it w as to o vague and to o dialectical to be
taken seriously? Lyotard approached th e question from the
opposite direction to M ou Zongsan and Keiji Nishitani: he was
looking fo r a passage from W est to East. However, Lyotard's
limited knowledge o f th e East did n o t allow him to go further,
into the question o f world historicity.
70. J.-F. Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, tr. G. Bennington and R.
Bowlby (London: Polity, 1991).

Ibid., 57.

Along w ith m any others o f his tim e, notably Bruno Latour,


Lyotard is a representative o f the second a ttem p t o f European
intellectuals to overcom e modernity. The firs t a tte m p t was
around th e time o f th e First World War, when intellectuals
were conscious o f th e decline o f th e W est and th e crisis
th a t was presenting itself in the domains o f culture (Oswald


Spengler), science (Edmund Husserl), m athematics (Hermann
Weyl), physics (Albert Einstein), and mechanics (Richard von
Mises). In parallel, East Asia saw the firs t generation o f New
Confucians (Xiong Shili, the teacher o f Mou Zongsan, and
Liang Shuming) and intellectuals such as Liang Qichao and
Zhang Junm ai; th e very m uch germ anised Kyoto school;
and the n th e second generation o f N e w Confucians in the

197 os一 all o f w h o m a tte m p te d to bro ach th e same ques­
tions. However, like th e firs t generation o f New Confucians,
they remained insensitive to th e ir idealist approach towards
modernisation, and d id n 't give the question o f technology
th e properly philosophical status th a t it deserves. In Europe
w e are now witnessing a third a ttem p t, w ith anthropologists
such as Descola and Latour, w ho seek to use th e event o f
the Anthropocene as an op po rtu nity to overcom e m odernity
in order to open up an ontological pluralism. In parallel, in
Asia, w e also see th e e ffo rts o f scholars w h o are seeking
w ays to understand m odernity w ith o u t relying on European
discourse— notably the Inter-Asia School initiated by Johnson
Chang and others.”

For Lyotard, th e question he poses is also th a t o f possible
resistance against th e reigning technological hegemony— the


See <http://www.inte「
g /x




product o f occidental metaphysics. This is precisely th e task
o f the postm odern, beyond its aesthetic expressions. Certain
o th er thinkers such as Latour and Descola, who eschew the
postmodern, are instead drawn to th e ‘non-m odern’ in order


to address this task. However, no m a tte r w h at we call it, Lyo­


And as we shall see, this question converges w ith the inquiries




ta rd ’s question deserves to be taken up seriously once more.

o f Nishitani, Mou, Stiegler, and Heidegger. If an anthropology
o f nature is possible and necessary in order to elaborate on
n o n-m odern m odes o f thinking, the n th e same operation
is possible fo r technics. It is on this point th a t w e can and
m ust engage w ith co n te m p o ra ry European th o u g h t co n ­
cerning the programme o f overcom ing modernity, as clearly
and sym ptom atically exemplified, fo r instance, in th e recent
work of French philosopher Pierre Montebello, Cosmomorphic
Metaphysics: The End o f the Human W orld .75
M ontebello a ttem p ts to show how the search fo r a postKantian metaphysics, hand-in-hand with the ‘ontological tu rn ’
in contem porary anthropology, can lead us一 Europeans, at
least一 out o f th e trap th a t m odernity has se t fo r us. Kant’s
metaphysics, as M ontebello puts it, is based on limits. Kant
already warned readers o f th e Critique o f Pure Reason about
the Schw arm erei or ‘fanaticism ’ o f speculative reason, and
attem pted to draw th e boundaries o f pure reason. For Kant,
th e term ‘critique’ doesn’t carry a negative signification, but
rather a positive one, namely th a t o f exposing the conditions o f
possibility o f th e subject in question一 the limits within which
th e subject can experience.

73. P. Montebello, Metaphysiques cosmomorphes. la fin du monde humain
(Dijon: Les presses du reel, 2015).

This setting o f limits appears again w hen we consider Kant's


division between phenom enon and noumenon, and his refusal
to consider human beings capable o f intellectual intuition, or
intuition o f th e th in g -in -itse lf .74 For Kant, human beings only
have sensible intuitions corresponding to phenomena. M o n ­
tebello's form ulation o f th e becom ing o f post-K antian m eta­
physics, as exem plified in th e th o u g h t o f W hitehead, Deleuze,




Tarde, and Latour, hinges on th e a tte m p t to overcom e such
a m etaphysics o f limits, and therefore proposes a necessary
infinitisation. The political danger o f the Kantian legacy is
th a t human beings becom e more and m ore detached from


the world, a process form ulated by Bruno Latour as follows:


'Things-in-them selves become inaccessible while, sym m etri­
cally, th e transcendental subject becom es infinitely rem ote
from the w o rld " 5 Mou Zongsan's critique o f Kant accords
in th is respect w ith Montebello's, tho ugh Mou proposes a
diffe re nt way to think about infinitisation— namely, through
th e reinvention o f Kantian intellectual intuition in te rm s drawn
from Chinese philosophy.
Montebello proposes th a t the work o f Q uentin Meillassoux
stands o u t as a challenge to th e lim it o f m odernity (here a
synonym fo r th e Kantian legacy o f a m etaphysics o f limits).
One central feature o f the latter th a t Meillassoux calls into
question is w h a t he calls 'correlationism'— the stipulation th a t
any object o f knowledge can only be th o u g h t in relation to the
conditions according to which it is m anifested to a subject. This
paradigm, according to Meillassoux, has been predom inant in


Ibid.. 21.

75. B. Latour, We have Never Been Modern (Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press. 1993), 56; cited by Montebello, Metaphysiques
cosmomorphes. 105.

Western philosophy for more than tw o centuries, for example in
German Idealism and phenomenology. Meillassoux’s question is

simply this: How far can reason reach? Can reason accede to a
tem porality where it itself ceases to be, fo r example in thinking
objects belonging to an ancestral era prior to the appearance of
hum anity ? 76Although Montebello acknowledges Meillassoux’s
work, at th e same tim e he strategically portrays Meillassoux
and Alain 巳adiou as representatives o f a failed a tte m p t to


escape finitude that relies on the 'm athem atical infinite’. W hen
M ontebello says ‘m athe m atics’ here, he means numerical
reduction; and he jointly condem ns b o th m athem atics (in this
sense) and correlationism:

The monster with two heads simultaneously affirms a world
without man, mathematical, glacial, desert, unlivable, and man
without world, haunting, spectral, pure spirit. Mathematics and
correlation, far from opposing each other, marry each other in
funereal weddings.77
It is not our task here to examine M ontebello’s verdict against
巳adiou and Meillassoux. W hat interests us is th e solution he
proposes, w hich consists in affirm ing instead ‘th e m ultiplicity
o f relations th a t situate us in th e w o rld ? 8 We can understand
this as a resistance against a thinking based on m athem atical
rationality, and w h ich takes into consideration th e history
o f cosmology, w h ich w e can analyse in term s o f the p ro ­
gress o f ge om e try in its departure fro m m yth and its ultim ate

76. Q. Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency,
tr. R. Brassier (London: Continuum, 2009).

Ibid., 69.


Ibid., 55.

completion in astronomy. It seems to m e that this type of
relational thinking is emerging in Europe as a replacement for a
substantialist thinking that has survived since antiquity. This is
evident in the so-called 'ontological turn' h anthropology— for
example in Descola's analysis of the ecology of relations— as
well as in philosophy, where Whitehead and Simondon's antisubstantialist re