The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

by Simon Winchester

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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.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping history of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great-by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.

About the Author:
Simon Winchester's many books include The Professor and the Madman; The Map That Changed the World; Krakatoa; and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these has been a New York Times bestseller and appeared on numerous best and notable lists

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061562761
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/03/2008
Edition description: Large Type
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.


New York; Massachusetts; Scotland

Date of Birth:

September 28, 1944

Place of Birth:

London, England


M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

Table of Contents

Maps     xi
Author's Note     xiii
Prologue     1
The Barbarian and the Celestial     19
Bringing Fuel in Snowy Weather     101
The Discovering of China     160
The Rewards of Restlessness     219
The Making of His Masterpiece     279
Persona Non Grata: The Certain Fall from Grace     331
The Passage to the Gate     361
Epilogue     420
Chinese Inventions and Discoveries with Dates of First Mention     443
States, Kingdoms, and Dynasties of China     454
Acknowledgments     456
Suggested Further Reading     462

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Man Who Loved China 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was absolutely captivated reading Simon Winchester's 'The Man Who Loved China.' While reading the book you're thinking this might be just a very interesting look into the life of a very eccentric scholar. At the finish you are overwhelmed with the largeness and scope of what Mr. Winchester has documented that explaines the what and why China evolved the way it did.....and to give pause and possible insight to the reader that this might be the evolutionary path of all progressive nations....even our very own. It was quite an eye opener. If you like reading historical 19th and 20th century tales, you will find it difficult to put this book down.
The_Iceman More than 1 year ago
This seminal work, this magnum opus, Needham's life work - spanning 50 years in the preparation and still incomplete at his death in 1995 - was, in essence, to burst the bubble of the West's parochial conceit that we are the birthplace of all that is important in science and technology. Life as an accomplished, well-respected biochemist on the faculty of Cambridge University simply wasn't enough for the awesome intellect of an insatiable polymath like Joseph Needham. His love affair with the history of the Middle Kingdom began concurrently with a blossoming extra-marital love for Lu Gwei-djen, one of his students. This affair, conducted in a curiously open manner for such a staunchly staid, conservative and venerable institution as Cambridge, was, equally curiously, accepted and tolerated by Dorothy Needham, his wife and scientific colleague, for the duration of all three of their lives. As Lu Gwei-djen taught him her language, Needham dove headlong into an intense exploration of China's rich, sophisticated and exciting culture and history. "The Man Who Loved China" is Needham's exciting story that reads with all the intensity and passion of the most exciting thrillers - the story of the birth of his love for all things Chinese; his initial explorations of a Chinese countryside torn by war with imperial Japan in the 1940s that were frequently fraught with adventure and even danger; his discovery of the astonishing history of Chinese intellectual wealth whose advancements in science and technology pre-dated those of the west by hundreds of years; and his political missteps as he is branded a Communist by McCarthy's propaganda machine and banished from the USA. Winchester also delves deeply into the scientific exploration of what has come to be called the "Needham question", the curious fact that despite China's prior ability to advance at an almost dizzying speed in such diverse fields as printing, explosives, navigation, hydraulics, ceramics and statecraft, its intellectual capacity fell into an almost completely moribund torpor around the time of the Renaissance, precisely the time when science in the west began the current acceleration which, for all intents and purposes, has never slowed down! Simon Winchester has also taken us one step beyond Needham's work. In a wonderful compelling epilogue, readers are treated to an informative tour of contemporary China and left with the open-ended question as to whether its newly accelerating pace of development will continue and how China will interact with other nations on the world stage. As readable as any novel, "The Man Who Loved China" is brilliantly organized, wonderfully paced, and more than complete enough while it also cleverly sidesteps the biographer's mind-numbing trap of listing tedious arcane details. Exciting narrative descriptions of action sequences, near poetic passages of scenery, cityscapes, sights and smells that seem to vividly leap off of the page directly into the reader's minds-eye and even realistic dialogue, make Winchester's wo
adbond More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. As usual, Winchester's storytelling and information is unparalleled. I have one issue: I read the book on my new nook, and the footnotes appear to be inaccessible. I researched ways to read notes and all the suggested ways to do so were unavailable on this version of the ebook. Again, the book is tremendous, and there are not a excessive amount of footnotes, so I wouldn't want anyone to not read the book, but either confirm that the footnotes are fixed or get a bound copy of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are traveling to China this summer and Joseph Needham's travels during World War II have absolutely nothing to do with what we should expect! This book, however, gives us plenty of insight into the vast contributions to civilization made by the Chinese over many, many centuries. Needham undertakes an exacting project and has just the right personality and work ethic to see it through. He is also an eccentric, socialist, genius of a man which makes the book even more compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read about ancient Chinese technology and a great introduction to Chinese culture to novices. It is also a fascinating examination of a brillant, eccentric scienctist, Joseph Needham. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in China and scienece in general.
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating biography of Cambridge University biochemist Joseph Needham. Although married to a scientific peer Dorothy, he fell in love with a student Lu Gwei-djen in the 1930s. She taught him her language and her love for her culture. Needham began exploring the country even as the war with Japan in the late 1930s and 1940s made it unsafe for anyone especially a British professor. Still he continued his travels and soon began to uncover the incredible historical intellect of China, investing new technologies and learning scientific secrets centuries before the west. His efforts led to McCarthy naming him a Communist and banning him from America. That did not stop him as he searched for why an anomaly occurred; while the Renaissance reawakened scientific curiosity in the West, in China suddenly scientific discovery ended. Known as the "Needham Question", this remains unresolved as China explodes into the modern world at am exponential pace that mirrors what it once did during the Middle Kingdom. This is a terrific biography.--------------- Harriet Klausner
wanderman More than 1 year ago
I've read several of Simon Winchester's works and this is on a par with his best. He takes an interesting character and recounts an epic adventure in China. His "Professor and The Madman", "Krakatoa" and "Crack in the Edge of The World" were great but this story just flows from his pen like no other. Truly one of the GREAT authors of our time!
JDHomrighausen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simon Winchester. The Man Who Loved China. 2008.This is my first audiobook. Winchester's book is a fascinating account of Joseph Needham, a Cambridge biochemist who fell in love with a Chinese graduate student. She taught him bits of her language, and through that he fell in love with her civilization. He wandered around China under the guise of a British foreign diplomat, going first in the early 1940s and last around 1982. He supplied Chinese scientists with much-needed scientific materials, and eventually became enamored a culture which discovered many so-called ¿Western accomplishments¿ long before Europe did: printing press, clocks, and gunpowder, for example. From this he began a massive encyclopedia on ¿Science and Civilization in China,¿ which blew so out of scope that he died before he could finish it. He was also a nudist, Communist, and Morris dancer. He had no formal education in history or sinology.First thing that struck me about the story was his way of finding China. Like me, he came to the language by falling in love with a Chinese woman, and realized what a rich, fascinating culture they have. He taught himself Chinese by keeping track of characters' different characteristics in self-made dictionaries. Not only do silly 17-year-old boys find the language through females, but so do distinguished Cambridge researchers!Needham's goal in his work was to demonstrate to the West that China was not inferior, that they were not always the backward and unindustrialized nation they were in the 1800s and first part of the 1900s. By a combination of fear and arrogance, the West did not always like hearing this; but his works were acclaimed by academics. For me they fuel thoughts on scholarly work in general.It was mentioned that he approached his topic with ¿empathetic insight.¿ He did not just want to analyze the Chinese, but he wanted to befriend them, understand them, see things from their point of view. It's a phrase that reminds me what one in religious studies should do as well. Always honor that which you seek to understand. If you learn only with the intent of refuting, how will you ever understand? William James wrote of the man at a party who argued with everyone. Soon nobody wanted to share their ideas with him. He may have thought himself the wisest man in the room, but really he was too idiotic to understand.Needham also realized that the politics of his day were unimportant. Now he is remembered for his work ¿ not for the political uproar he created when he publicly supported Mao in the 1950s, not for the academic politics at Cambridge when scholars in history and sinology were miffed at him for stepping on their turf with no credentials. He is remembered for the Needham question ¿ why did China stop growing scientifically so that the West could shoot ahead in development? - a question that Chinese events since his death have rendered somewhat irrelevant. He did not solve the question well, but posing it opened new avenues for those more trained in historical analysis to delve into. As Jeremy said, the questions are more important than the answers.His old age was the saddest part. His wife dead, his Chinese mistress dead, everyone his age dead, he continued working five hours a day until the day before he died. It was sad that he could not finish the project, and by his 80s volumes were being written mainly by others. What a reminder of the necessity of defining the scope of one's work!
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story of an eccentric English scientist, Joseph Needham, who fell in love with China, having fallen in love with a female Chinese scientist first, and getting interested in her tales of Chinese scientific achievements. In 1942, he organized and went on a rescue expedition to help Chinese scientists survive the hard times of the Japanese invasion, and from the moment of landing in Chungking found himself mesmerized with Chinese ways of doing things and their vast and long-lasting scientific knowledge. His stay expanded from a few months to a few years during which he accumulated enormous amounts of notes which became the foundation of 17 volumes of Science and Civilisation in China, which he spent the rest of his life writing. He was particularly interested in making the Western world aware of all the Chinese firsts in science and technology, which included paper, gunpowder and the compass, and investigating why despite such spectacular advances, a phenomenon akin to the Western industrial revolution did not take place there. In the end, he concluded that it was partially due to the philosophical principles of Confucianism and Taoism, which did not advocate progress as necessarily good and desirable. Needham¿s love story extended to Mao¿s China, which almost cost him his reputation and caused him a lot of political problems. He blindly supported communism there despite having been duped by fellow Chinese scientists, and communist agents alike. A very well written book, meticulously researched and written with flare, as all Winchester¿s books are.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd never heard of Joseph Needham, but he is a fascinating man. He was a scientist, nudist, Morris dancer -- an most importantly, a man who created an encyclopedia of Chinese science and innovation without having any formal training in either history or sinology. What I most admired about him was that he was genuinely interested in the Chinese society and people he studied. He had a thirst for knowledge and really wanted to understand and get to know the people of China.Like Needham, I have wondered why China moved from the primary innovative nation in the world to a more isolationist and (at least perceived) backward society. I don't think Needham answered this question very well. Neither did Jared Diamond answer the question about China. His "Guns, Germs and Steel" gradually shifts from talking about Eur-Asia to Europe wiithout any explanation. Maybe there is no answer?This book is a biography -- a look at Joseph Needham's long and interesting life. Simon Winchester is a good writer with a knack for choosing interesting subjects, and this book was no exception.
rightantler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once more Simon Winchester tells an enthralling story of a fascinating man.
rakerman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While interesting, it's basically about an extraordinarily privileged and brilliant man, Joseph Needham, who lived a privileged and brilliant life.He was from a lost age of erudite and madly adventurous Englishmen. However I found it hard to relate to his story. In terms of people exploring and having adventures I prefer Time Exposure: The Autobiography of William Henry Jackson and Ring of Fire by the Blairs, and even a man who is sort-of roughly Needham's modern equivalent, Rory Stewart talking about walking across Afghanistan.I guess in reflecting upon it, all three of those are autobiographical, whereas The Man Who Loved China is a biography, and in some ways I felt like Winchester almost admired Needham too much - it was hard to get a sense of Needham as a person, in the unremitting sequence of brilliance and achievement that Winchester presents.
dele2451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A detailed, enthusiastic and well-written account of one exceptional British scientist who dedicated the vast majority of his extraordinary life to studying the inventions, technology and other significant accomplishments of China and then meticulously chronicling them so that the world at large could better understand and appreciate them.
mbmackay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simon Winchester is a reliable populariser/biographer - you know you are going to get a good read and interesting facts. But he is also a little predictable and formulaic, and this book fits both expectations. While there is a lively re-imagined life of Joseph Needham, I thought that Winchester failed to analyse Needham's work sufficiently. I came looking for an in-depth examination of the Needham question and I was left a little disappointed. But still a worthwhile read. Read January 2011.
tjwilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simon Winchester has made quite a career of finding outlandishly eccentric characters who had extraordinary, if often overlooked, impacts on the world. Whether it¿s an insane murderer who almost single-handedly wrote the Oxford English Dictionary or a Communist philanderer who exposed the western world to the influence of Chinese science, Winchester has long able to take the odd outsiders and turn them into sympathetic and important characters. Joseph Needham, the protagonist of ¿The Man Who Loved China¿ was just such a character.Needham began his career as a biochemist at Cambridge University, though only one field could ever completely entice his polymathic abilities: China. While still teaching at the university, Needham fell in love with a Chinese graduate student, Lu Gwei-djen. The relationship, once given the go-ahead by Needham¿s liberal-leaning (in politics and in love) wife, gave the professor an inside look at the culture and country that would eventually consume his entire existence. Needham devoured everything Chinese, learning to speak and read Mandarin within months and plotting the book for which he would become famous, asking himself ¿how did science develop in China¿.Needham was given the chance to explore the question when he took up a diplomatic post during World War II in the itinerant Chinese capital, Chongqing. Needham¿s ostensible mission was to visit the Chinese universities and assess their needs for equipment and supplies. But he also used the time to explore as much of free China as he could, speaking with scientists and gathering books and evidence that he would later be able to use to show the rest of the world what he already knew: China had developed scientifically completely separate from the western world and, in many cases faster than the western world. In fact, Needham believed, many of the West¿s greatest advancements had come from the Chinese. Joseph Needham would spend the rest of considerably long life (he lived to 94 years of age) writing and editing ¿Science and Civilisation in China¿ an immense (in size and importance) work that today numbers 27 volumes and parts. His life was not without controversy, as his Communist sympathies and support of the Red Chinese government would seriously damage his reputation at various points during his career, but Needham¿s exploration of Chinese science and technology has left a lasting legacy on the academic world.
brewbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"No knowledge is ever to be wasted or despised." Joseph Needham's father told hinm this early in life, and he abided by these words. Simon Winchaster has done an excellent job of conveying the essence of Needham's life and work in this short book. Needham worked for more than fifty years to decipher the answer to his own question: Science in general in China - why did it never develop.? (Paraphrased by Winchester). But of course - it did as Needham documented in "Science and Civilisation in China - and of course the question I would ask is "Science in China - what will it do this century? I aam sure the answer will be a surprising one.
etxgardener on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Why is it that the English have produced so many brilliant eccentrics who are fascinating to read about? Who knows, but they make great subjects for books.Simon Winchester, who I know through his books on geological subjects from the explosion of Krakatoa to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has now chosen as his subject Joseph Neeham. Needham was a brilliant biochemist and fellow at Cambridge University. He was also a dedicated Socialist, a high church Anglican who believed in liberation theology before the term was invented, a fan of Morris dancing, a nudist and an ardent womanizer. It was this last personality trait that led him to what became the great love & consuming intellectual work of his life. In 1937 he fell in love with a brilliant Chinese student with whom he began a lifetime affair. He became fascinated with China, taught himself the Chinese language and then talked himself into a diplomatic mission to Chungking (Chongqing in today's parlance). There his ever inquisitive mind started pondering what became known as the "Needham question:" why did China, which invented so many technological firsts suddenly around 1500 stop their inventive activity and become stagnant and "backward" for the next 450 years?To answer this question, Needham first had to tell a doubting world the vast breadth of Chinese innovations from the inventing of printing hundreds of years before Gutenberg, to the compass, suspension bridges and even toilet paper (the impressive list is provided in an appendix to this book). In his quest for discovering the history of scientific invention in the country, Needham embarked on several treks during World War II that are described by some as adventures on the order of Indiana Jones and y others as the journeys of a fool-hardy idiot.Upon returning home to England after the war, Needham began writing Science and Civilization in China describing the county's astonishing history of technological invention. The one planned volume quickly became seven and then ten and finally eighteen upon his death in 1995/Along the way he befriended Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and ran afoul of Joseph McCarthy at the height of his red baiting fame. Yet through it all, Needham remained true to both his left-wing beliefs and to his magnum opus.Simon Winchester tells this story with clear-eyed affection for his subject writing in a breezy style that is more fiction than academic study. For anyone who is fascinated with China, or with men who follow their own drummer, this is the book for you.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the fascinating story of the eccentric British scientist Joseph Needham, a Cambridge Fellow who eventually became Master of the College but whose crowning achievement was the 17 volume History of Science in China which made him the greatest ever one-man encyclopaedist. As exciting as Needham¿s story is I found the history of China to be equally riveting and enlightening. The world political turmoil of the mid to late 20th century also adds spice to the mix. This book was even more intriguing than The Professor and the Madman.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
Finely presented and accurately portrayed of Mr Needham. This is as others have said, "Captivating", and "a seminal work", regarding China as a growing nation. The development of China through its history and the development of this man Needham are well illustrated. It is a fine read and i love to share this book around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's too bad this is a readable book, because it is poor history. The notion that Joseph Needham heroically discovered China and particularly Chinese science in the 1940s -- the theme loudly promoted by this study -- is vastly overstated. There are far more historically informed accounts of Westerners in China, who interacted with the Chinese in a scientific way, including many works by Jonathan Spence, Mary Bullock (her several books on the Rockefeller Foundation in China beginning in 1915), and multiple scholarly studies of Christian medical missionaries who worked in tandem with indigenous medicine. If Winchester's book might be defended on the grounds that Needham was more sympathetic to Chinese science than contemporaneous Westerners, that argument strikes me as weak. To be sure, many Westerners took a patronizing attitude toward Chinese science, but Needham comes across in this book as an unpleasantly arrogant, egotistical man, and a misogenist as well. He seems to be the T. E. Lawrence of World War II-era China, captivating but hardly heroic, as Winchester claims. Winchester's shrill promoting of Needham as some kind of hero ruins what might otherwise have been an informative story.
BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
Winchester's account of Joseph Needham shows a Needham-esque fascination with intricate detail -- be it the social world of Edwardian England or the topography of western China. At the same time, the author shares Needham's enthusiasm for enormous questions -- How much does the Western world owe to Eastern ingenuity? What accounts for the flaring up or dying down of a society's intellectual drive? All told, the book gives a highly thought-provoking love story. You gotta admire a guy whose passion for a Chinese woman led him to tear down walls of prejudice between civilizations. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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