Summer School - Thinking, Understanding, Interpreting China (17th-18th Century), University of Geneva, Switzerland

Publish Date: May 11, 2015

Deadline: May 15, 2015

Event Dates: from Jun 18, 2015 12:00 to May 26, 2015 12:00

Our fascination for China has a history; our own history. If we wish to better understand our present, we need to be attentive to this history. Blaise Pascal’s observations are precious. In a crossed-out fragment of the Pensées, he asks: “Which is the more credible of the two, Moses or China?” On the one side the lawgiver and central figure of monotheism; on the other, China, vast space of thought where the imaginary of otherness is projected. Both are overwhelming: they challenge our understanding. Rather than diminishing this challenge, Pascal undertakes it frontally : “It is not a question of seeing this summarily. I tell you there is in it something to blind, and something to enlighten. By this one word I destroy all your reasoning. ‘But China obscures’, say you; and I answer, ‘China obscures, but there is clearness to be found; seek it.’ […] We must then see this in detail; we must put the papers on the table.” We wish to follow Pascal’s injunction: we shall refuse to see China and its mirrors summarily, and examine the ways in which it blinds and enlightens. Clearness of China and of European Enlightenment? We must see this in detail; we must put the papers on the table.

It is these papers that we will study, in order to instruct a case: what are the images of China that Europe coins during the 17th and 18th centuries? Of what brightness China shines, and what shimmers are reflected on the European Enlightenment? What part of this light-game remains in the shadow? What was the reception of European Enlightenment by China? How did the patterns of clarification got woven and set apart?


We thus wish to observe the ways in which we have tried to think, to understand and to interpret China. We will first draw the history of a space of exchanges, that is a workshop of knowledge as well. Its roots are well known: they belong to the Jesuit Missions in China: Father Parrenin, Father Kircher, Father Schall, Father Foucquet and Father du Halde especially, who took more than thirty years to write his General History of China Containing a Geographical, Historical, Chronological, Political and Physical Description of the Empire of China, Chinese-Tartary. (The third volume contains translations of literary texts, poetry and Chinese theatre that Voltaire greatly appreciated). The age and immensity of China, the strength of its institutions, are such that the otherness is no longer the same as with the savages or the barbarians; it is the otherness of civilisation itself. The missionaries that disembark in China will obey to the rites and requirements of the political world and culture they find. They will wear Chinese clothes, learn the Chinese language, read the Chinese Classics. The world they discover is a world of high culture. We will have to enquire about the dreams and fantasies on China, for they are not only the imaginary opposites of the nightmares of European monotheism (Voltaire). We will also need to analyse how China became a model for both philosophy (Leibniz), politics (Montesquieu), and measure the effects of this model on the arts.

It has been a long time since China has awaken. The wakening of Europe took its time. We shall examine these delaying forces that explains in some ways the astonishment of the contemporary occidental world.

Academic Director: Professor Martin Rueff, University of Geneva

Course Assistant: Doctor Fabrice Brandli, University of Geneva

Speakers (to be confirmed) 

The course will be taught by a mix of eminent scholars, from both China and Occidental universities, whose speciality is the interaction between China and Europe between 16th and 18th century. 

In particular, faculty will include professors from the University of Geneva, Université de Paris, American and Chinese universities. 

In addition to the Academic Director and Course Assistant, speakers already confirmed include:

Big conferences: 

François Jullien (MSH, Chaire mondiale de l'altérité)

Carlo Ginzburg (UCLA, Pisa)


Matthieu Bernhardt (Unige)

Brenno Boccadoro (Unige) and Xavier Bouvier (musicology)

Jean-Patrice Courtois (Paris 7): Montesquieu and China

François Jacob (IMV, Genève): Voltaire and China

Mariafranca Spallanzani (Bologna): China as a philosophical problem

Franklins Perkins (De Paul University, Chicago): Leibniz and China: a commerce of Light

Martin Rueff (Unige): Chinese writing and european grammars

Li Tiangang (Director of Department for Religious Studies, University of Fudan, Shanghai): Modern Europe from a chinese point of view

Frédéric Tinguely (Unige): La Chine libertine


The course welcomes applications from advanced graduate or post-graduate students (currently enrolled in master degree or above) in chinese studies, french and comparative studies, philosophy, history, musicology. Upper-year undergraduate students may also apply, and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Please note that this is a master-level course. Summer school will be in French and in English.


Tuition Fees: 1500 CHF (with possibilities of receiving scholarships in the form of tuition reduction upon motivated request) 

Deadline of application: May 15, 2015 

Evaluation method: a paper will be decided together with the staff

Geneva Summer Schools Excellence Scholarships 2015

Geneva Summer Schools offers a limited number of Excellence Scholarships to summer school participants for certain courses.

These scholarships are in the form of partial or full tuition exemption.

Scholarship application is done in the online application form.

To apply for a scholarship, students must include: 

  • Scholarship statement
  • Letter of Recommendation

Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic excellence, letter of reference, and financial need. Incomplete scholarship applications will not be considered.


ThinkSwiss Scholarships 2015

The Geneva Summer Schools has 4 ThinkSwiss Scholarships to award (up to 1300 CHF each) to students enrolled in Canadian and US Universities who wish to attend the Geneva Summer Schools 2015. These scholarships are sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland in the United States of America.

To be considered for a ThinkSwiss scholarship:

  • Apply for your summer school online (
  • Send in your ThinkSwiss application (deadline May 1, 2015) to with the subject « ThinkSwiss Application » composed of:
    • a 500 word (max) statement about why you would like to be considered for this Think Swiss scholarship
    • Your CV
    • Proof  of enrollment in Canadian or US university
    • Current academic transcript


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