Wáng Xiǎoxú 王小徐 (1875-1948)
Wáng Xiǎoxú 王小徐 (1875-1948) was one of China's great early modern scientists. He was a founding member of Academia Sinica and, as a lay Buddhist, wrote several of the most influential works on Buddhism and science in the Republican period.
Wáng came from a prominent gentry family that was based in Sūzhōu 蘇州, but hailed from Ānqìng 安慶, Ānhuī 安徽. Wáng was interested in math and the physical sciences from an early age and eventually enrolled at the Tóngwén guǎn 同文館 in Běijīng 北京 while still in his early teens. At 16 (in 1891), he produced his first work on Chinese algebra.
After graduating, Wáng became acquainted with Cài Yuánpéi 蔡元培, with whom he participated in a variety of activities, including establishing the Chinese Education Association (Zhōnghuá jiàoyù huì 中華教育會) just after the turn of the century. Other founding members included Wú Zhìhuī 吳稚暉 and Jiǎng Wéiqiáo 蔣維喬. In 1903, Wáng, Cài, Jiǎng, and others founded the ultimately short-lived radical political journal, Èshì jǐngwén 俄事警聞 (Russian Affairs Bulletin). During the busy first years of the 20th century that Wáng became a devout Buddhist. In the early 1900s he attended a lecture given by Yáng Wénhuì 楊文會, and began to have faith in Buddhism.
In 1909, Wáng was sent to England as an official in the Qing government’s office for overseeing Chinese students in Europe. While in England he trained at various electronics factories, including the Siemens Brothers' Dynamo Factory. While there, Wáng invented a new kind of automatic electric switch. He also became the first Chinese scientist to publish in a European science magazine, when his article, “The Differentiation of Quaternion Functions” appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy in 1911.
Wáng returned to China after 1912, where he worked in industry for nearly two decades. In July 1928, he was appointed one of the first researchers in the Research Institute of Engineering of the newly formed Academia Sinica (Zhōngyāng yánjiù yuàn 中央研究院). He retired from there in 1933, buying a house in Sūzhōu.
In the late 1920s he began writing articles about Buddhism and its relationship to science. In these articles, he relied heavily on Consciousness-Only 唯識 and the comparative use of Western and classical Buddhist logic 因明. His most important works were Fófǎ yǔ kēxuézhī bǐjiào yánjiù 佛法與科學之比較研究 (Comparative study of the Buddha-dharma and Science), a collection of essays, letters, and critiques published in 1932; and Fófǎ shěngyào 佛法省要 (Brief Essentials of the Buddha-dharma), published in 1942. In his later years he also began to write semi-critically of Marxism, which is a clear theme in his Fófǎ shěngyào.