Comparing Ancient Worlds: Greece and China

24 January 2013 - 26 January 2013

Location to be announced

Main Location: The Needham Research Institute (NRI)

8 Sylvester Road, Cambridge CB3 9AF

With two public talks at CRASSH

Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


Qiaosheng Dong  ( Faculty of Classics / Needham Research Institute)

Jenny Zhao  (Faculty of Classics)


Right across the spectrum of Greek and Chinese studies there is an increasing realisation of the benefits to be gained by adopting a comparative approach. Only by using such an approach can the distinctive features and commonalities between these two civilisations be identified.

The focus will be on the perio before the rise of Christianity in the west and of Buddhism in China.  Among the fundamental questions to be addressed in this path-breaking conference are:

(1) Why did 'philosophy', 'science' and 'medicine' develop differently in these two civilisations? (In each case the nature of the philosophy, science and medicine, in question must of course be problematised).

(2) While both civilisations have sophisticated historiographical traditions, what were their contrasting aims and how do these reflect the institutions (or lack of them) within which the historians worked?

(3) Can we account for the development of different literary genres in the two cultures and what were the differing roles of literary learning in education and the rise of a literate elite in either case? 

Talks will be 20-minute summaries of pre-circulated papers, followed by commentary and discussion in one-hour slots in such a way as to promote dialogue and critical engagement between fields and approaches. 


This conference is generously supported by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge University Faculty of Classics, and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).


Entrance to the whole event will be free.  The two public lectures at CRASSH are open to all; no pre-booking is necessary.  However, due to the limited capacity of the venue at the Needham Research Institute, the number of participants at the NRI will be limited to those who will have read the pre-circulated papers.  If you have a strong interest in attending the whole conference, please send an email to the conference conveners Qiaosheng Dong ( and Jenny Zhao ( by 31 October.

Conference Administrators

Susan Bennett (Needham Research Institute Administrator

CRASSH Conference Programme Manager (

Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms

University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.

Administrative assistance:

Conference Programme

Thurs, 24th January

Needham Research Institute

12:30 - 13:20

Lunch and registration

13:20 - 13:30

Welcome remarks: Geoffrey Lloyd

13:30 - 14.45

Walter Scheidel: “Comparing Comparisons”

14.45 - 15.00 

Coffee break

15.00  - 16.15

Michael Nylan: “On Libraries and Manuscript Culture in Western Han Chang'an and Alexandria”

17.00 - 18.00 

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road

Nathan Sivin: “Why Some Comparisons Make More Difference than Others”

Public talk at CRASSH, open to all


Fri, 25th January

Needham Research Institute 

9.30 - 10.45

Jeremy Tanner: “Portraits and Politics in Classical Greece and Early Imperial China”

10.45 - 11.00

Coffee break

11.00 - 12.15

Ian Johnston: “The School of Names and the Later Mohists: Their Relevance in Early Chinese Philosophy and Comparisons to Contemporary Greek Thought”

12.30 - 13.30 


13.30 - 15.00

Richard King: “Freedom in Zhuangzi and some Stoics”

15.00 - 15.15

Coffee break

15.15 - 16.30

Lisa Raphals: “Scales of Nature in Zhuangzi and Aristotle”

18.00 - 19.30

Drinks Reception hosted by Cambridge University Press

Sat, 26th January

Needham Research Institute 

9.30 - 10.45

Shigehisa Kuriyama: “Medicine and the Mystery of Presence”

10.45 - 11.00

Coffee break

11.00 - 12.15

Vivienne Lo and Eleanor Re'em:  “Recipes for Love in the Ancient Worlds?”

12.30 - 13.30 


13.45 - 15.00 

Yiqun Zhou: “Helen and the Chinese Femmes Fatales”

15.00  - 15.15 

Coffee break

15.15  - 16.30

Heinrich von Staden: “Fundamental Issues in the Historiography of Ancient Science"

 17.30 - 18.30

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road

Christopher Cullen: "Some Comparative Experiences"

Public Talk at CRASSH, open to all


 Conference close