Joseph Needham: Man Who Made Ancient China's Science World Famous
    2009-11-23 10:47:13     CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhang Xu
 

Joseph Needham [File Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

The four great inventions of ancient China which are the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing have been world-renowned as landmark advances of science and civilization in ancient China. However, it was Joseph Needham, a true Englishman that made the world aware of the four great inventions of ancient China. Recently overseas reporters for China Radio International (CRI) in the UK, Li Ningjing and Zhang Zhe, had an interview with Needham Research Institute of Cambridge University.

Needham Research Institute was located in a silent corner in Cambridge and the whole building has a bit of oriental feel with China-related furnishings. Professor Christopher Cullen, dean of Needham Research Institute, told CRI that Needham's research has brought great change of the international scientific circle's attitude on science and civilization in ancient China.

"If you go to a world congress of the history of science as I did this summer in Budapest, Hungry, you'll find there are a large number of contributions made, which are talking about scientific and technical developments in China. Whereas 50 years ago, it wouldn't have seem normal for western historians of science to talk about China at all. And we have to say too, even some Chinese scholars, if asked what China's contributions to the development of science have been, would have said 'oh, we didn't do that'. And even writing essays, explaining why China didn't feel any need to do anything scientific in the past and so on and so forth. So I can say that Joseph Needham certainly made a huge difference there." Professor Cullen said.

Joseph Needham was born to an English intellectual family in 1900 and graduated from Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge University with a great reputation on biochemistry research in his early years. In 1941, Needham who had passion for Chinese scientific history was sent to China by the British Cultural Commission to become the director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office. Although China's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression broke out, Needham who traveled across China for several years inspected and collected ancient books and records about the science and civilization of ancient China. According to Professor Cullen, after coming back to Cambridge, Needham, who was very interested in China's science and civilization, devoted most of his life to the research of ancient China's scientific history and finally wrote his masterpiece -- Science and Civilization in China.

"When he came back to Cambridge, he considered the idea of writing a short work just one volume which was going to be called Science and Civilization in China. It was just a brief survey of some of the things that happened in China that all were interested in history of science and technology and medicine. As he began the work, he got more and more material and became more and more convinced that he was the only person in the western world at that time, who could write this classic book, and allowed the work to expand. So by the time the series have finally been fully published there have been twenty eight large volumes of science and civilization in China published. And it is these volumes that's his major contribution I think to the understanding of the scientific and technical contributions of pre-modern China to the common scientific heritage of mankind." Professor Cullen said.

Professor Cullen noted that the contributions of Science and Civilization in China include two aspects: It not only helped the world know China's scientific development but also made Chinese people aware of their level of scientific technology.

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