The Chinese scientific genius
The origins of many of the things the modern world takes for granted from paper to porcelain, from mechanical clocks to the harness, steel-making and the extraction of petroleum and natural gas can be traced to ancient China. Although for centuries these and many other achievements of Chinese inventiveness were forgotten or veiled in obscurity, in recent years the nature of the Chinese scientific genius has become increasingly appreciated. This is largely due to one of the outstanding intellectual ventures of our time, the research and writings of Dr. Joseph Needham of Cambridge University, who has spent over half a century investigating the history of Chinese science and technology. The results of Dr. Needham's investigations, and those of his colleagues at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, are being published in a monumental work, Science and Civilisation in China, which will be complete in 25 volumes. (Fifteen have so far appeared or are passing through the press.)
With Dr. Needham's authorization, an American science writer, Robert K.G. Temple, has written a book entitled China, Land of Discovery and Invention which attempts to make this scholarly research accessible to the general reader. All the articles in this issue have been extracted from Mr. Temple's book, with the kind permission of the publishers. The issue falls into 3 parts : a brief introduction in which Temple describes the genesis and importance of Needham's work; a short text in which Needham sets the question of scientific and technological activity in a social and economic context; and descriptions of over 20 discoveries and inventions. (Most of the descriptions have been abridged.) A celebration of the Chinese scientific genius, this issue may also lead readers to speculate about the surprises that will be revealed when the history of science and technology in other great world civilizations comes to be written.