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C U L T U R E
 

Compass Magazine, August 2001

Joseph Needham in Wartime China (1942-1946): A Special Exhibit of the National Museum of Natural Science

by Cheryl Robbins


Dr. Joseph Needham (1900-1995) was a man of extraordinary enthusiasm and self-discipline. In his thirties, he was already the top biochemist in Britain. At the age of 42, he began a 4-year stay in China as President of the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office. At that time, China was fighting against Japanese invasion. Dr. Needham assisted Chinese scientists, providing them with scientific information, books, equipment and chemical reagents. He also helped to make the work of Chinese scientists known in the West and assisted students of science in applying for scholarships to study in British universities.

Dr. Needham started to become interested in China in the late 1930s. It was then that he met a number of young Chinese researchers at Cambridge, and began to ask himself a question that what would become known as the ¡¥Needham puzzle¡¦: Why with all of its great technological achievements, did the industrial revolution and the inception of modern science not take place in China? Desiring to solve this puzzle, he began to learn Chinese, and became the first researcher to systematically and comprehensively study the history of Chinese science and technology. Much of his research became a series of books entitled ¡¥Science and Civilisation in China,¡¦ hailed in the West as the monumental work of the century in the field of Chinese studies.

 

 

The first area of this exhibit describes the major events in Dr. Needham¡¦s life before World War II. The second area describes the establishment of the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office during the war, and includes a replica of this office which can be viewed through a door peephole. The third area includes 300 photographs taken by Dr. Needham in wartime China. The fourth area focuses on Dr. Needham¡¦s research and his lifelong pursuit of learning. In this area, there are handwritten English-Chinese dictionaries and Chinese language grammar books compiled by Dr. Needham. The fifth area covers his first and last visit to Taiwan in 1984. The sixth and final area includes videotaped interviews with Dr. Needham recorded in the 1980s. The videotaped interviews are in English and many of the photo captions are in both English and Chinese, allowing both foreign visitors and local residents to learn from and be inspired by this extraordinary scientist.

(This exhibit runs until December 2nd and is located in the 1st Special Exhibition Gallery, next to the Hsi Tun Road entrance. The National Museum of Natural Science is located at 1, Kuan Chien Road, Taichung. Museum hours are Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm. Call (04)2322-6940 for more information.)

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