Joseph Needham (December 9, 1900 — March 241995) was a British biochemist and pre-eminent authority on Chinese science and author of definitive texts on the subject. He pioneered the Western academic recognition of Chinese scientific past with the ongoing monumental Science and Civilisation in China Series (SCC, also known as History of Science in China in some Asian sources). This encyclopedic opus magum revealed the historical development of Chinese science. Needham's Grand Question was raised about stagnation of China's technological development.
A single child of a Scottish family in London, Needham's father was a doctor; mother a composer and music teacher. Needham studied in Cambridge University, received bachelor's degree in 1921, master's degree in January 1925, and doctorate in October 1925. After graduation, he worked in F.G. Hopkins's laboratory in Caius College, specializing in embryology and morphogenesis.
Three Chinese came to work with Needham in 1936: Lu Gwei-djen, Wang Ying-lai, and Chen Shi-chang. Lu (1904 - 1991), daughter of a Nanjingese pharmacist, taught Needham Classical Chinese. Needham's interest in China's technology was ignited since then.
Under Royal Society's direction, Needham was the director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office in Chongqing from 1942 to 1946, collaborating with the historian Wang Ling and solidifying his passion of Chinese technoological past. He also met numerous Chinese scholars including painter Wu Zuoren and traveled to sites in western China including Dunhuang and Yunnan. Educational institutions were also visited, from where large amount of references and materials were collected and would aid his editing of the Science and Civilisation in China Series
After two years tenure as the first head of the Natural Science division at UNESCO in Paris, France - indeed, it was Needham who insisted that Science should be included in the organisation's mandate - he returned to Caius College in 1948 when Cambridge University Press partially funded his Science and Civilisation in China. He devoted much energy in the history of Chinese science until his retirement in 1990 even though he continued to teach biochemistry until 1966. He also supported and actually signed the unfounded Chinese communist claims of American biological warfare as an inspector from 1952 to 1953 in North Korea during the Korean War.
Needham was first married to Dorothy Moyle (née Moyle, 1896-1987). Two years after Dorothy's death (1989), Needham was re-married to Lu Gwei-djen. He suffered from Parkinson's disease since 1982, and died at the age of 94 at his Cambridge home.
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