In this entry: quotes, warm up questions, discussion questions, resources
This video looks at the life of Joseph Needham, an eccentric British biochemist whose life took a dramatic turn in 1937 when he fell in love with a visiting Chinese student and began a lifelong fascination with China.
Needham, who was also a nudist and radical Leftist, wanted to know why China, where so many advances in science and technology had originated, had been eclipsed by the West. He began his extensive travels in war-torn China in 1943. And by the time of his death in 1995, he was one of the world’s pre-eminent China scholars. His legacy was the monumental, 24-volume “Science and Civilization in China.”
The author telling Joseph Needham’s story is Simon Winchester, who has also written about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the Oxford English Dictionary.
“And it was air conditioning fans, and segmented arch bridges, and toilet paper, would you believe. And also the holy trinity, really, of the most important inventions in mankind’s history, which Francis Bacon had said a couple of 100 years before were printing, gun powder, and the compass. All of them, it turned out, were initially made by the Chinese.” - Simon Winchester, Author “The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of an Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.”
“[China] had been unraveling, I suppose, ever since the 1840s, when the British took Hong Kong, and then the French took Hainan, and the Germans took Shandong, and then the Russians and the Japanese…. Then we had the revolution, which dismantled an empire which had been in place for 2,000 years. No wonder — I mean, your poet, Emerson, I mean, he said China is this booby nation. Everyone disregarded China.” - Simon Winchester, Author
“Needham was full of life. I mean, he was a tremendously exuberant, very tall man. He looked like Harry Potter. I mean, he was like Harry Potter on amphetamines, you know.” - Simon Winchester, Author
“So he came to America, having been banned for 25 years, finally turned up to give three lectures in Chicago. The second one was on early Chinese explosives and the early use of gun powder. And who should be in the lecture theater that day, in the spring of 1978, Ted Kaczynski, who six weeks later constructed the first ever bomb, modeled on Needham’s design that he had shown quite innocently at this lecture, and started his infamous career as the Unabomber.” - Simon Winchester, Author
WARM UP QUESTIONS
What do air conditioning, toilet paper and gun powder have in common? They were all invented in China. Does that surprise you? Printing and the compass were also invented there-how have those inventions changed the course of human history?
What was the most interesting thing you learned about China from this interview? If China was such a great, strong nation, why were Japan and Western nations able to dominate it over the past two centuries?
Do you think China will be a world superpower in 10 years? 100 years? Why or why not? What does China’s rapidly expanding economy mean for the United States? If China rises, does that mean that the current superpower, the United States, will fall? Why or why not?
Transcript of this report
2005 Report: China on the Rise
China’s 2008 Olympics
Online NewsHour Extra:
Student Voice: 17-year-old Tian returns to China