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Chinese natural history objects in 18th-century Paris: reflections on the non-circulation of knowledge

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During his stay in Macao during the 1720s, the French doctor Jacques-François Vandermonde (?–1746) built up a collection of Chinese minerals with the help of local apothecaries. The collection of 79 mineral samples, recently rediscovered in the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris, was carefully labeled in Chinese, and accompanied by a French translation of the mineral section of Li Shizhen’s Bencao gangmu [Compendium of materia medica]. However, these carefully assembled materials failed to produce a tangible impact once they arrived in Paris, avid as it was of things Chinese. This talk builds around this case study to offer some reflections on the collections of Chinese natural history objects in 18th-century France, the networks undergirding them, and the limitation of their role as medium of knowledge.

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