Sunday, June 6, 2010

How Accurate is Our History?

       I just finished reading "The Man Who Loved China" by Simon Winchester. There are many sources and much evidence that China had a far more advanced achievement in science than we ordinarily think. Many things that Europeans take credit for having first invented were invented by the Chinese. Gunpowder is a common example. However, the Chinese used a magnetic compass long before Europeans thought about it and had travelled to many parts of the world and  produced maps. There is some suspicion that Columbus had a map which originated in China for his first voyage .

      Winchester uses the experience of a brilliant English scientist, Joseph Needham to lay out the scientific achievements of the Chinese. Needham was brilliant but somewhat eccentric. He became interested in the history of science and in particular the Chinese history of science. Needham learned Chinese extremely well.

      During WW II  Needham was sent to China by the British government. For Needham this was too good to be true. He travelled extensively in China . Because he knew the language so well he gained much more information than others would. The description of Needham's Chinese travels would make a fascinating book by themselves. He collected many artifacts and made many box fulls of notes. He had made contact with the leaders of the Chinese communist revolution. At the end of the war Needham was called back to England where he resumed his position at Cambridge. He immediately began to plan a history of Chinese science. A proposal was made to Cambridge and Cambridge agreed to  publish his work.

    The history was to be massive and Needham had the material to do it. The writing took Needham and others 30 years and was not finished when he died.

    So needless to say I found Winchester's story fascinating and would highly recommend people to read "The Man Who Loved China" by Simon Winchester.