Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Man Who Loved China

I should have enjoyed The Man Who Loved China more than I did.  I've read a few books by Simon Winchester and found them engrossing, and Joseph Needham is a fascinating character.  A true polymath, he read biochemistry at Cambridge, became a fellow of the college, and married a fellow scientist.  (Joseph and Dorothy Needham - also a biochemist who studied the chemical composition of muscles - are the only married couple to both be named fellows of the Royal Academy.)

Then Needham met a young Chinese scientist named Lu Gwei-djen.  They started a life-long affair (with the knowledge and consent of Dorothy Needham - they had the sort of bohemian post-Edwardian arrangement that makes me think of the Bloomsbury Set), and Needham's love for Gwei-djen led to a love of China.  Initially attached to a diplomatic mission, he set out to confirm his theory that China and the West had parallel tracks, both inventing technologies that at the time were considered purely Western.  He was right, and his discoveries changed the world's view of China.

I should have been fascinated by Winchester's narrative, but for some reason it didn't make much of an impression on me.  Perhaps it was how and when I read it, a few pages at a time before bed during the dreariest part of the winter.  It may be a book that requires more concentrated attention.

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