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Needham, Joseph (1900–96)


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


Author and editor of the massive encyclopedic historical survey of scientific innovation in China, Science and Civilisation in China , Joseph Needham, already an accomplished biochemist before beginning the project in the early 1950s, became a central figure in introducing Western audiences to the breadth and scope of the scientific and material cultural production of China. Originally conceived as a single volume examination of “why modern science originated in Europe and not in China,” by the time of its completion (eight years after Needham's death) the work had expanded to a twenty-volume, seemingly comprehensive, compendium of existing knowledge of virtually all aspects of scientific innovation in China. Published over a fifty-year period, the work was completed by collaborators recruited by Needham, working under the direction of the Needham Institute at Cambridge University. Born in London in 1900, Needham was the only child of a Scottish physician whose strong Fabian socialist views, in combination with a singular emphasis on instilling in his son the importance of embracing an unrelenting pursuit of the acquisition of knowledge, formed the basis for what was to become Needham's lifelong indefatigable work ethic, broad intellectual curiosity, and radical leftist political beliefs. Needham turned away from a planned career as a surgeon – which he considered too intellectually ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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