Some readers will be drawn to this collection of articles on traditional Chinese science by the idea that humanity has evolved more than one tradition of natural science that deserves to be taken seriously as a study in itself. Others will wish to explore the possibility that by reconstructing and imaginatively adopting the viewpoint of so different a culture, they might become more critical in judging what aspects of the West's Scientific Revolution grew out of local pressures and prejudices rather than out of the inner necessities of science itself.
The volume falls naturally into two complementary parts. The first provides the reader with perspectives on the work of Joseph Needham, whose monumental, multivolume Science and Civilization in China is so largely responsible for the growing awareness on the part of inquiring people everywhere that the Chinese technical traditions reached a high level, and that the birth of modern science and technology owes a great deal to them. Needham's work has often been cited as among the greatest one-man historical compilations of the twentieth century.
Needham himself has contributed an opening “Mediation” to Chinese Science, in which he recapitulates the motive forces and ideals behind his life's work. Derek J. de Solla Price then describes the genesis and evolution of Needham's work; A. C. Graham critically examines Needham's views on social and economic factors in scientific and technological change; and Shigeru Nakayama discusses the philosophy of history and of science that Needham evolved from his youth on and that underlies all his writings.
The essays in the second part of the book provide examples of the full range of approaches to the history of Chinese science by outstanding contemporary scholars in the United States, Europe, and the far East. They are contributions of permanent value to the study of such areas as world view, astronomy, optics, pharmacology, and medicine.
In particular, they discuss the inseparability of man and nature as a concept which colored every aspect of classical thought (in an essay by Mitukuni Yosida): the remarkable set of propositions explaining the behavior of shadows and images in the Mohist writings of 300 B. C. (A. C. Graham and N. Sivin); the habitats, properties, and employment of plants of immortality as described in the rhymed pharmacognostic manual of the adept Lü Ch'un-lang )Ho Peng Yoke, Beda Lim, and Francis Morsingh); the use in classical medicine of ritual and magical elements adapted from folk therapy, as reflected in a study of drugs derived from the human body (William C. Cooper and N. Sivin); and the early use of Datura as a surgical anesthetic in China were and how they were related, as well as a critically annotated bibliography of books in Western languages useful in the study of Chinese science.
The book is second in the MIT East Asian Science Series, of which Dr. Sivin is general editor.