The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
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In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.
No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair.
He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. His thrilling and dangerous journeys, vividly recreated by Winchester, took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people.
After the war, Needham was determined to tell the world what he had discovered, and began writing his majestic Science and Civilisation in China, describing the country's long and astonishing history of invention and technology. By the time he died, he had produced, essentially single-handedly, seventeen immense volumes, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.
Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great—related by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.
congratulations, though she spent most of that year and the next sunk deep in her own studies, tactfully keeping out of the way, and pretending not to mind. 44 The Man Who Loved China But when one is thirty-eight years old, the linguistic corners of the brain are notoriously difficult to penetrate—and at a certain level, in trying to make the leap from simple competence in Chinese to the excellence he demanded, Needham ran into difficulties. He could absorb only so much. Confusion started to
this, Needham decided to call a halt. They stopped at the small town of Shuangshipu, nestling in a hollow in the hills eighty miles away from the Silk Road. He chose it for his caravanserai in part for simple convenience, and to get repairs for his truck’s newly broken spring. But he also stopped at Shuangshipu in the hope of seeing one of China’s more celebrated foreign residents—a man with the unusual name of Rewi Alley, who thanks to this brief stop would soon become a privileged member of
water behind, with earth in the centre. This, too, is the father-and-son order, each receiving the other in its turn. Thus it is that wood receives from water, fire from wood and so on. As transmitters they are fathers, as receivers they are sons. There is an unvarying dependence of the sons on the fathers, and a direction from the fathers to the sons. Such is the Dao of heaven. —FRO M C H UN QI U FA N LU , BY DO NG Z H O N G S H U, 135 BC; E X P L A NATI O NS BY J O SE P H N EED H A M , 1 9 5 6
Needham—the fourteenth-century gem known formally as Gonville and Caius, more generally referred to by its second name only, and that pronounced like the original surname of its second founder, John Keys. Needham knew little enough of Caius when he applied. A friend at Oundle, Charles Brook, had opted for the college, and one summer afternoon, while he and Needham were idling in the long grass in the school fields, he had suggested that Needham might profit from going there too— not least because
original plan, Volume VI—given the overall scheme for looking at China’s development in relation to the general history of civilization—would examine other societies that had developed in parallel to the Chinese: the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Indians, the Aztecs, the Maya, the Japanese. It would note, in detail, similarities and major differences. And then, as the grand finale, Volume VII would ask quite simply and robustly: what next? What would be China’s future, its wealth,