The Needham Question

Nathan Sivin

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
The Needham Question

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
  • East Asian Philosophy
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The “Needham Question” or “Needham Problem,” also misleadingly called “the Needham Paradox,” refers to the guiding question behind Joseph Needham’s (b. 1900–d. 1995) massive Science and Civilisation in China, as well as his many other publications. As he phrased it, “the essential problem [is] why modern science had not developed in Chinese civilization (or Indian) but only in Europe.” He went on to consider another quite different question, equally important, and centered his historical research on it: “why, between the first century bc and the fifteenth century ad, Chinese civilization was much more efficient than occidental in applying human natural knowledge to practical human needs” (p. 190 of The Grand Titration [Needham 1969], cited under Basic Works by Needham). To seek answers, he compiled what Europeans had learned over three hundred years about science, medicine, and technology in China. Substantial original investigations by Needham and his several collaborators, of whom the best known were Lu Gwei-djen (Guizhen), Wang Ling, and Ho Peng Yoke (Bingyu), expanded and added depth to the picture, and Needham’s interpretations of the results gave it coherence.

Article.  7289 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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