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How deep is love? The engagement with India in Joseph Needham's historiography of China

  • LEON ANTONIO ROCHA (a1)

Abstract

In 2015 Dhruv Raina published Needham's Indian Network: The Search for a Home for the History of Science in India (1950–1970), bringing to light the long-range networks that institutionalized the disciplinary history of science in post-colonial India, and demonstrating the intellectual and infrastructural contributions of Joseph Needham (1900–1995) in this endeavour. This paper takes a different approach and turns to the way that Needham perceived Indian vis-à-vis Chinese civilization, and the role India played in Needham's historiography of science. It turns out that Needham's most sustained engagement with India could be found in his histories of medicine, bodily practices and alchemical traditions. In the first section of the paper, I outline the key concepts of ‘Grand Titration’ and ‘oecumenical science’ that animated Needham's historiography, which clarifies why Chinese medicine, especially acupuncture, occupies a privileged status. The second section elaborates on Needham's scholarship and vision of acupuncture, involving the verification of acupuncture's reality and efficacy via Western biomedicine. He thought acupuncture would be China's unique contribution to a new ‘universal medicine’ in the modern age, but by contrast Needham saw little worth refurbishing in Indian medicine, arguing via an investigation in yoga that Indian practices were generally less ‘materialist’ and less ‘proto-scientific’. In the third section, I turn my attention to Needham's preoccupation with the history of alchemy around the world, and discuss his theorization on transmission and circulation of scientific knowledge. I comment on Needham's commitment to the thesis that European alchemy was a melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, Greek, Egyptian and Roman ideas and practices. While Needham reserved his ‘deepest love’ and ‘profoundest desire’ for Chinese civilization, India on the other hand often occupied a secondary status in his historical accounts, and in the conclusion I move from a critique of Needham's preconceptions to reflect on the writing of the history of non-Western science.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits noncommercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

References

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1 Joseph Needham, ‘Science and society in ancient China’, in Needham, The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West, London: Allen & Unwin, 1969, pp. 154–176, 176.

2 Dhruv Raina, Needham's Indian Network: The Search for a Home for the History of Science in India (1950–1970), New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015. See also the earlier paper by Dhruv Raina and S. Irfan Habib, ‘The missing picture: the non-emergence of a Needhamian history of sciences in India’, in Habib and Raina (eds.), Situating the History of Science: Dialogues with Joseph Needham, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 279–302, as well as Dhruv Raina, Images and Contexts: The Historiography of Science and Modernity in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003.

3 Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), p. 75.

4 John Desmond Bernal, Science in History, vol. 1: The Emergence of Science, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969, p. 311. Sometimes the phrase ‘arrogant ignorance’ is misattributed to Needham, for instance in Varadaraja V. Raman, Indic Visions: In an Age of Science, Bloomington: Xlibris, 2011, p. 72.

5 I write ‘seemingly’ because, as Nathan Sivin has argued, a ‘Scientific Revolution’ may have taken place in China by the criteria that historians of science use, but did not have the social consequences that historians assume a ‘Scientific Revolution’ would have. Sivin argues that ‘the most obvious conclusion is that those assumptions are mistaken’. See Sivin, Nathan, ‘Why the Scientific Revolution did not take place in China – or didn't it?’, Chinese Science (1982) 5, pp. 4566. On China producing science on their own terms see Benjamin A. Elman, On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550–1900, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. For a devastating attack on the whole ‘Scientific Revolution’ and China enterprise see Roger Hart, Imagined Civilisations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, pp. 33–50. Moreover, it should be pointed out that Needham continually rephrased the ‘Needham question’ throughout his life – here I am using what may be the most ‘classic’ formulation. See Gregory Blue, ‘Science(s), civilisation(s), historie(s): a continuing dialogue with Joseph Needham’, in Habib and Raina, Situating the History of Science, op. cit. (2), pp. 29–72; H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, pp. 418–482. Chinese intellectuals contemporaneous with Needham also proposed something akin to the ‘Needham question’; see Liu Dun, ‘Li Yuese de shijie he shijie de Li Yuese’ (Needham's World and the World's Needham), in Liu Dun and Wang Yangzong (eds.), Zhongguo kexue yu kexue geming: Li Yuese nanti ji qi xiangguan wenti yanjiu lunzhu xuan (Chinese Science and the Scientific Revolution: Selected Writings on the Needham Problem and Related Questions), Shenyang: Liaoning jiaoyu chubanshe, 2002, pp. 1–28, esp. 8–9.

6 The classic reference on the ‘visible college’ is Gary Werskey, The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s, London: Free Association Books, 1988.

7 Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), pp. 110–121.

8 The principal set of materials on Needham's Indian connections can be found in Papers of Joseph Needham as a Historian of Chinese Science, Technology of Medicine (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge), hereinafter ‘NRI Papers’. Needham/NRI/SCC2/9/1-96. The correspondence and other items cover 1948 to 1989.

9 Needham, op. cit. (1); Joseph Needham, Science and Society in Ancient China, Conway Memorial Lecture delivered at Conway Hall on 12 May 1947, London: Watts & Co., 1947, available at http://conwayhall.org.uk/memorial_lecture/science-and-society-in-ancient-china, accessed 1 July 2015; Needham, ‘Science and society in ancient China’, Mainstream (1960) 13, pp. 7–23, 7. On the making of this lecture and publication see NRI Papers, Needham/NRI/SCC2/364/1-14.

10 Needham, op. cit. (1), p. 176.

11 Needham, op. cit. (1), p. 176.

12 Needham, op. cit. (1), p. 176.

13 Habib, Irfan, ‘Joseph Needham and the history of Indian technology’, Indian Journal of History of Science (2000) 35, pp. 245274, 245–246.

14 Rocha, Leon Antonio, ‘Scientia sexualis versus Ars erotica: Foucault, van Gulik, Needham’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (2011) 42, pp. 328343; Rocha, ‘The way of sex: Joseph Needham and Jolan Chang’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (2012) 43, pp. 611626. I put ‘Daoist’ in quotation marks to highlight the fact that the Daoists were not the originators of alchemy, nor did they hold a monopoly over the practice – rather the relationship between the two was negotiated. See Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Mediaeval China, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006; Nathan Sivin, ‘On the word “Taoist” as a source of perplexity, with special reference to the relations of science and religion in traditional China’, in Sivin, Medicine and Religion in Ancient China: Researches and Reflections, Aldershot: Variorum, 1995, pp. 303–330; Sivin, ‘Research on the history of Chinese alchemy’, in Z.R.W.M. von Martels (ed.), Alchemy Revisited: Proceedings of the International Conference on the History of Alchemy at the University of Groningen, 17–19 April 1989, Leiden: Brill, 1990, pp. 3–20.

15 Eric Hayot, Chinese Dreams: Pound, Brecht, Tel Quel, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004, p. 185. More generally see Eric Hayot, Haun Saussy and Stephen G. Yao (eds.), Sinographies: Writing China, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008; Haun Saussy, Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

16 Bray, Francesca, ‘How blind is love? Simon Winchester's The Man Who Loved China’, Technology and Culture (2010) 51, pp. 578588.

17 Joseph Needham, ‘Introduction’, in Needham, The Grand Titration, op. cit. (1), pp. 11–13, 12.

18 Needham, op. cit. (17), p.12.

19 Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), pp. 53–69.

20 Materials associated with the 1951 Delhi symposium are contained in NRI Papers, Needham/NRI/SCC2/9/7.

21 Needham, Joseph, ‘History of science and technology in India and South-East Asia’, Nature (1951) 168, pp. 6465.

22 Needham, op. cit. (21), p. 64.

23 Needham, op. cit. (21), p. 64.

24 Needham, op. cit. (21), p. 64.

25 Needham, op. cit. (21), p. 64.

26 Hora, S.L., ‘History of science and technology in India and South-East Asia’, Nature 168 (1951), pp. 10471048.

27 Hora, op. cit. (26), p. 1047.

28 Hora, op. cit. (26), p. 1048.

29 Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), p. 62.

30 Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), p. 61.

31 Bray, op. cit. (16), p. 588. Floris Cohen would go further and claim that Needham was guilty of ‘consistent aggrandisement’: Cohen, op. cit. (5), p. 437.

32 Joseph Needham, ‘The roles of Europe and China in the evolution of oecumenical science’, in Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen in China and in the West: Lectures and Addresses on the History of Science and Technology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970; first published 1966, pp. 396–418. Reprinted in Kenneth Girdwood Robinson (ed.), Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 7: The Social Background, part 2: General Conclusions and Reflections, with contributions by Ray Huang and an introduction by Mark Elvin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 24–43.

33 See also analysis in Cohen, op. cit. (5), pp. 467–470.

34 Needham, op. cit. (32), p. 398.

35 Needham, op. cit. (32), p. 397.

36 Needham, op. cit. (32), p. 397.

37 Cohen, op. cit. (5), pp. 469–470; Sivin, op. cit. (5); Hart, op. cit. (5), pp. 33–50.

38 Needham, op. cit. (32), pp. 406–407.

39 Needham, op. cit. (32), p. 407.

40 Needham, op. cit. (32), pp. 401–402.

41 Needham, op. cit. (32), p. 415.

42 Rocha, ‘The way of sex’, op. cit. (14), pp. 622–623.

43 Francis Bacon, The New Organon (1620) (ed. Lisa Jardine and Michael Silverthorne), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 100.

44 Needham was by no means the first to argue this. In fact, the idea that the Chinese invented gunpowder and print (but not the compass) ‘thousands of years’ before the Europeans could be traced back to Montaigne's ‘Des Coches’ (1588). See David A. Bourchoff, ‘The three great inventions of modern times: an idea and its public’, in Klaus Hock and Gesa Mackenthun (eds.), Entangled Knowledge: Scientific Discourses and Cultural Difference, Münster: Waxmann Verlag, 2012, pp. 133–164. The idea of the ‘three Baconian inventions’ spread to China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries via Protestant missionaries and Western sinologists/orientalists, which was then transformed by Chinese intellectuals such as Xiang Da (1900–1966) into the story of the ‘four great inventions’ (si da faming) of ancient China, i.e. the Chinese came up with gunpowder, compass, printing and papermaking centuries, if not millennia, before the Europeans. Joseph Needham then popularized the story of the ‘four great inventions’ in the mid-twentieth century. See Iwo Amelung, ‘Historiography of science and technology in China: the first phase’, in Jing Tsu and Benjamin A. Elman (eds.), Science and Technology in Modern China, 1880s–1940s, Leiden: Brill, 2013, pp. 39–66, esp. 46–52.

45 Needham, op. cit. (32), pp. 401–402; Lu Gwei-Djen and Joseph Needham, ‘Authors’ foreword’, in Lu and Needham, Celestial Lancets: A History and Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxa, reprint edn, London: Routledge, 2005; first published 1980, pp. xix–xxi, xx.

46 On the programme of ‘integration of Chinese and Western medicine’ see Kim Taylor, Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945–1963: A Medicine of Revolution, New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005, pp. 109–150, esp. 135–137; Volker Scheid, Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002; Scheid, ‘The People's Republic of China’, in T.J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes (eds.), Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013, pp. 239–283.

47 Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-Djen, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 6: Biology and Biological Technology, part 6: Medicine (ed. Nathan Sivin), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

48 Vivienne Lo, ‘Introduction: survey of research into the history and rationale of acupuncture and moxa since 1980’, in Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. xxv–li, xxv. One important caveat regarding the discussion below on medicine and acupuncture, particularly Lu Gwei-Djen and Joseph Needham's book Celestial Lancets: even though scholars in the history of Chinese science, particularly those who have worked closely with Lu and Needham, are acutely aware of Lu's great influence on Needham and her contributions to SCC, it has not so far been possible to delineate exactly which lines of inquiry or turns of argumentation belonged to Lu and which to Needham. It is worth mentioning that Celestial Lancets is explicitly billed as ‘authored by Lu Gwei-Djen and Joseph Needham’, in contrast to volumes of SCC which are often labelled ‘Joseph Needham in collaboration with Lu Gwei-Djen’. Since the Lu papers remain closed to the public, the question of Lu's versus Needham's authorship cannot be adequately addressed.

49 Taylor, op. cit. (46), pp. 120–121.

50 For instance, NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/315/1-220, contains correspondence regarding Chinese medicine (including journal refereeing) dating from 1951 to 1991; Needham/NRI2/SCC2/284/2/1-57 contains Needham's activities related to the British Medical Acupuncture Society, as well as letters from non-academics seeking Needham's advice on acupuncture treatment, dating from 1946 to 1994.

51 Nathan Sivin, ‘Editor's introduction’, in Needham and Lu, op. cit. (47), pp. 1–37, 1–3.

52 Needham and Lu, op. cit. (47), p. 66.

53 See the chapter entitled ‘Therapy and analgesia: physiological interpretations’ in Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 184–261; Lo, ‘Introduction’, in Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. xlii–xlix.

54 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 184–261, contains references throughout to the three tours of China. NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/5/1/1–7 (Joseph Needham's notebooks from his 1958 tour of China) and specifically Needham/NRI2/5/1/4 contain notes of visits to the Chinese Medical Research Institute in Beijing, the Historical Medical Museum in Shanghai, and Sichuan Medical School, among others. Needham/NRI2/5/2/1–9 (documents arising from Joseph Needham's 1964 tour of China and Japan), specifically Needham/NRI2/5/2/4, contain notes on the Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital in Shenyang, the Shanghai School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai, among others. Needham/NRI2/5/4/1–4 (Joseph Needham's notebooks from his trip to China in 1972), specifically Needham/NRI2/5/4/2, contain notes on Northwest Medical School in Xi'an, the Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital in Nanjing, among others.

55 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 185–186.

56 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 187–194.

57 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 188, 190.

58 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 204–213.

59 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), pp. 233–235. Joseph Needham met Ronald Melzack and his colleagues at McGill University to discuss acupuncture, pain and electrical stimulation in summer 1975: NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/290/43, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/285/3/16 and Needham/NRI2/SCC2/290/50. He also planned to meet neurologist Wilder Penfield (1891–1976) to discuss brain localization and acupuncture in that same trip to Montreal, but it is unclear if this meeting ever materialized: NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/290/42; he met Patrick Wall, who at that point was a professor at University College London, in 1974: NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/285/1/14.

60 Melzack, Ronald and Wall, Patrick D., ‘Pain mechanisms: a new theory’, Science (1965) 150, pp. 971979; Ronald Melzack, The Puzzle of Pain, New York: Basic Books, 1973. Needham read Melzack's book with enthusiasm: NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/285/3/21.

61 For Melzack's papers on acupuncture see Melzack, Ronald, ‘How acupuncture can block pain’, Impact of Science on Society (UNESCO) (1973) 23, pp. 6575; Melzack, Ronald and Jeans, M.E., ‘Acupuncture analgesia: a psychophysiological explanation’, Minnesota Medicine (1974) 57, pp. 161166; Melzack, Ronald, ‘Acupuncture and pain mechanisms’, Der Anaesthesist (1976) 25, pp. 204207; Fox, Elisabeth J. and Melzack, Ronald, ‘Transcutaneous electrical stimulation and acupuncture: comparison of treatment of low-back pain’, Pain (1976) 2, pp. 141148; Melzack, Ronald, Stillwell, Dorothy M. and Fox, Elisabeth J., ‘Trigger points and acupuncture points for pain: correlations and implications’, Pain (1977) 3, pp. 323; Melzack, Ronald, ‘Myofascial trigger points: relation to acupuncture and mechanisms of pain’, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (1981) 62, pp. 114117; Melzack, Ronald and Wall, Patrick D., ‘Acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation’, Postgraduate Medical Journal (1984) 60, pp. 893896; Melzack, Ronald and Wall, Patrick D., ‘Acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation’, Acupuncture in Medicine (1986) 3, pp. 810.

62 As Needham has mentioned on a vast number of occasions, but for a summary of his view on traditional Chinese medical theory see Needham and Lu, op. cit. (47), pp. 65–66. Limited space here will not allow me to elaborate this in detail, but essentially Needham's view was that traditional Chinese medicine consisted of an accumulated body of empirical, experiential knowledge. Unfortunately, the ‘problem’ began with the crystallization or even fossilization of that knowledge in correlative (or analogical) thinking (i.e. a highly elaborate set of systematic correspondences, yin–yang and ‘Five Elements’ schemes, ‘Liver is Wood, Heart is Fire’ and so on), which permeated all spheres of intellectual inquiry in early China. For Needham the only ‘mature’ kind of scientific reasoning is causative (A causes B causes C) and Chinese medicine never made that transition from ‘proto-scientific’ correlative to ‘modern scientific’ causative thinking, and the culprit was none other than Confucianism. The Confucians retarded the development of science because they were always preoccupied with the precise arrangement of human affairs (in contrast to the Daoists who supposedly were genuinely interested in the observation of nature). Put another way, the Confucians were only interested in the observation of nature insofar as natural phenomena could be mobilized to legitimize social hierarchies and political power, and they did that by ruthlessly trimming and bashing observations into systematic correspondences, and so empirical science was radically wrecked and derailed by social interest. This view could also be detected in the work of sinologist Angus Charles Graham (1919–1991); see A.C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989. Even historian of medicine Paul Unschuld would write, ‘The conceptual framework of systematic correspondences … was nothing more than a complex labyrinth, in which those thinkers seeking solutions to medical questions wandered aimlessly in all directions, lacking any orientation, and unable to find a feasible way out. Such a solution came only with the collapse of the Confucian social order and the subsequent weakening of the worldview that had prevailed for centuries’. See Paul Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. 197. For a deconstruction of ‘correlative thinking’ see Hart, op. cit. (5), pp. 111–113. The Bengali Marxist philosopher and historian Debiprasad Chattopadhyahya has appropriated Needham's line of argument to claim that materialist, empirical, rational, naturalist, atheistic medicine in ancient India was likewise wrecked and derailed by idealist, theistic, conservative Vedic Hinduism to reinforce the caste system. See Raina, Needham's Indian Network, op. cit. (2), pp. 94–101; Debiprasad Chattopadhyahya, Science and Society in Ancient India, Calcutta: Research India Publications, 1977; Chattopadhyahya, Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1959.

63 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (47), pp. 218–230.

64 Taylor, op. cit. (46), pp. 137–144.

65 Taylor, op. cit. (46), pp. 135–137; Scheid, Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China, op. cit. (46), pp. 65–106.

66 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), p. 6.

67 James Reston, ‘Now, about my operation in Peking’, New York Times, 26 July 1971, p. 1; Mei Zhan, Other-Worldly: Making Chinese Medicine through Transnational Frames, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009, p. 15; Candy Brown, The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 143–148.

68 Miriam Lee, Insights of a Senior Acupuncturist: One Combination of Points Can Treat Many Diseases, Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 1992; Zhan, op. cit. (67), pp. 80–81. More generally, Linda L. Barnes, ‘A world of Chinese medicine and healing: part one’, in T.J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes (eds.), Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013, pp. 284–333.

69 Lu and Needham, op. cit. (45), p. 6.

70 Hsu, Elisabeth, ‘The history of Chinese medicine in the People's Republic of China and its globalization’, East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal (2008) 2, pp. 465484; Scheid, Volker, ‘Globalizing Chinese medical understandings of menopause’, East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal (2008) 2, pp. 485506; more generally see Volker Scheid and Hugh MacPherson (eds.), Integrating East Asian Medicine into Contemporary Healthcare, London: Churchill Livingstone, 2011.

71 Taylor, op. cit. (46), pp.138–140; Hsu, Elisabeth, ‘Innovations in acumoxa: acupuncture analgesia, scalp and ear acupuncture in the People's Republic of China’, Social Science and Medicine (1996) 52, pp. 421430; Eric Hayot, The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 207–245, provides a reading of the photographs of acupuncture anaesthesia.

72 Taylor, op. cit. (46), p. 140. See also Linda L. Barnes, ‘Multiple meanings of Chinese healing in the United States’, in Linda L. Barnes and Susan S. Sered (eds.), Religion and Healing in America, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 307–332; Taylor, Kim, ‘Divergent interests and cultivated misunderstandings: the influence of the West on modern Chinese medicine’, Social History of Medicine (2004) 17, pp. 93111.

73 Zhan, op. cit. (67), pp. 119–144; Karchmer, Eric, ‘Chinese medicine in action: on the postcoloniality of medical practice in China’, Medical Anthropology (2010) 29, pp. 127.

74 Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-Djen, ‘Medicine and Chinese culture’, in Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen in China and in the West, op. cit. (32), pp. 263–293, 289. This was presented at the Symposium on Medicine and Culture at the Wellcome Historical Museum and Library in London.

75 Generally speaking, there were two branches of alchemy in early China. ‘Outer alchemy’ (waidan) involved the concoction of the elixir of life in a cauldron using various metallic and mineral ingredients; the elixir of life was then ingested. ‘Inner alchemy’ (neidan) developed later, and the human body itself was seen as a reaction vessel or chamber, and the elixir of life was manufactured from within through the manipulation of bodily fluids and vital essences (meditation, breathing and gymnastic exercises, sexual techniques, dietary regimens and prohibitions, and so forth). Needham would equate ‘outer alchemy’ with ‘Chinese proto-chemistry’ or ‘inorganic laboratory alchemy’, and ‘inner alchemy’ with ‘Chinese proto-biochemistry’ or ‘proto-physiology’.

76 Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part 5: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Physiological Alchemy, with the collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 257–288.

77 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 259.

78 Needham, op. cit. (76), pp. 257–261.

79 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 260.

80 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 261.

81 Needham, op. cit. (76), pp. 261–262.

82 Needham, op. cit. (76), pp. 263–270.

83 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 271; Laubry, Charles and Brosse, Thérèse, ‘Documents recueillis aux Indes sur les “Yoguis” par l'enregistrement simultané du pouls, de la respiration et de l'electrocardiogramme’, Presse médicale (1936) 44, pp. 16011604; Thérèse Brosse, Etudes instrumentals des techniques du Yoga: Expérimentation psychosomatique, with an introduction ‘La nature du Yoga dans sa tradition’ by Jean Filliozat, Paris: Ecole française d'extrême-orient, 1963.

84 Kovoor T. Behanan, Yoga: Its Scientific Basis, New York: Macmillan, 1937, pp. 246–247.

85 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 271; Anand, B.K. and Chinna, G.S., ‘Investigations of Yogis claiming to stop their heart beats’, Indian Journal of Medical Research (1961) 49, pp. 9094; Anand, B.K., Chinna, G.S. and Singh, Baldev, ‘Studies on Shri Ramanand Yogi during his stay in air-tight box’, Indian Journal of Medical Research (1961) 49, pp. 8289; Bagchi, B.K. and Wenger, M.A., ‘Electrophysiological correlates of some Yogi exercises’, Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology (1957) 7, pp. 132149. More generally see Joseph S. Alter, Yoga in Modern India: The Body between Science and Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 73–108; William J. Broad, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

86 Needham, op. cit. (76), pp. 272–273, 287.

87 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 287. More recent scholarship, however, has suggested that postural yoga (asana) may have been a more recent product that owes a greater debt to modern Indian nationalism and to the bodybuilding and gymnastic cultures of Europe and America than it does to any ancient tradition. See Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

88 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 288.

89 A reading of love from Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, p. 355. Of course, the most widely known biography of Needham, by Simon Winchester, is entitled The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, New York: HarperCollins, 2008. In the United Kingdom, the title is Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China, London: Viking, 2008. As I suggested before, in Rocha, ‘The way of sex’, op. cit. (14), p. 622 n. 109, Winchester reduced Needham to a caricature: an eccentric Christian–Daoist–communist, a free-love practising Cambridge don with a penchant for Morris-dancing and nudism, who fell in love with China via an ‘exotic’ Chinese woman (Lu Gwei-Djen) and then produced tomes that ‘unlocked the mysteries’ of China. In other words, ‘The Man Who Loved China … because he fell in love with a Chinese woman’. ‘The man who loved China’ is an acceptable epithet for Needham, but only if we add a more appropriate second part: ‘The man who loved China … because he thought China could answer his questions’.

90 Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part 2: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Magisteries of Gold and Immortality, with the collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974; Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part 3: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Historical Survey, from Cinnabar Elixirs to Synthetic Insulin, with the collaboration of Ho Peng-Yoke and Lu Gwei-Djen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976; Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part 4: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Apparatus and Theory, with the collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983; Needham, op. cit. (76).

91 Rocha, ‘The way of sex’, op. cit. (14).

92 Joseph Needham, ‘China, Europe, and the seas between’, in Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen in China and in the West, op. cit. (32), pp. 40–70, 70. Lecture at the International Congress of Maritime History, Beirut, in 1966.

93 Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-Djen, Trans-Pacific Echoes and Resonances: Listening Once Again, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 1985, p. 13.

94 Needham and Lu, op. cit. (93), p. 14. They cite the classic paper by Kroeber, Alfred L., ‘Stimulus diffusion’, American Anthropologist (1940) 42, pp. 120. On Kroeber see Terry L. Jones, Alice A. Storey, Eliszabeth A. Matisoo-Smith and José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga (eds.), Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World, Lanham, MD: Rowman AltaMira, 2011.

95 Needham and Lu, op. cit. (93), pp. 7–14; Douglas Fraser, Primitive Art, New York: Doubleday, 1962; Fraser (ed.), The Many Faces of Primitive Art: A Critical Anthology, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1966. On Fraser in general see Ben Burt, World Art: An Introduction to the Art in Artefacts, London: Bloomsbury, 2013, pp. 59–61.

96 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987, later published as Black Athena: Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785–1985, vol. 1, New York: Vintage, 1991. Vol. 2 (on archaeological and documentary evidence) and vol. 3 (on linguistic evidence) were published in 1991 and 2006 respectively.

97 Cohen, op. cit. (5), p. 436

98 Needham, op. cit. (76), p. 298.

99 NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/222/1–28, twenty-eight bundles of letters dated 1953–1988. Dorothy Moyle Needham's death in 1985 and Joseph's old age meant that around the late 1980s he had ceased regular communication with many colleagues in his extremely wide network. Many letters were replied by Gregory Blue, who was then a research associate at Cambridge, with Needham's approval. NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/222/20, 23.

100 Needham, op. cit. (76), pp. 468–469; Needham, part 4, op. cit. (90), pp. 352–356.

101 See biographical timeline in Hakim Mohammad Said (ed.), Essays on Science: Felicitation Volume in Honour of Dr S. Mahdihassan, Karachi: Hamdard Foundation Press, 1987, pp. xiii–xv.

102 NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/222/1, 2, 9, 12, 14, 16.

103 NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/222/4, 5, 7, 8, 17, 24.

104 Mahdihassan, Syed, ‘The soma of the Aryans and the chih of the Chinese’, May and Baker Pharmaceutical Bulletin (1972) 21, p. 30. NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/222/3, 6.

105 Syed Mahdihassan, The History and Natural History of Ephedra as Soma, Islamabad: Pakistan Science Foundation, 1987.

106 Needham, part 4, op. cit. (90), pp. 323–501.

107 See Mahdihassan, Syed, ‘The Chinese origin of three cognate words: chemistry, elixir and genii’, Journal of the University of Bombay (1951) 20, pp. 107131; Mahdihassan, ‘Alchemy and its Chinese origin as revealed by its etymology, doctrines and symbols’, Iqbal Review (1966) 7, pp. 2258; Mahdihassan, ‘Chinese alchemy in the light of its fundamental terms’, American Journal of Chinese Medicine (1980) 8, pp. 307312; Mahdihassan, ‘Alchemy, Chinese versus Greek, an etymological approach: a rejoinder’, American Journal of Chinese Medicine (1988) 16, pp. 8386; Needham, part 4, op. cit. (90), pp. 352–356.

108 Later historians of Indian alchemy, such as Vijaya Deshpande, argued that transmission of alchemical ideas might have existed between India and China, but declined to comment on what implication (if any) there was for the development of European alchemy. For example, Deshpande, Vijava, ‘Mediaeval transmission of alchemical and chemical ideas between India and China’, Indian Journal of History of Science (1987) 22, pp. 1528. Deshpande wrote to Needham in late 1983 and early 1984 (with Needham's assistant Gregory Blue replying), and as far as I can gather there was no meaningful conversation between the two scholars. See NRI Papers, Needham/NRI2/SCC2/229/114 and Needham/NRI2/SCC2/209/19.

109 David Gordon White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Mediaeval India, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 377 n. 62; P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy, London: Continuum, 2008, p. 1; Aaron Cheak, ‘Introduction to part one: circumambulating the alchemical mysterium’, in Cheak (ed.), Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde, Melbourne: Numen Books, pp. 18–43, 24–25.

110 Newman, William R. and Principe, Lawrence M., ‘Alchemy vs. chemistry: the etymological origins of a historiographic mistake’, Early Science and Medicine (1998) 3, pp. 3265, 38.

111 Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012, pp. 5–6, original emphasis.

112 William R. Newman, Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 25.

113 Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; Raj, ‘Mapping knowledge go-betweens in Calcutta, 1770–1820’, in Simon Schaffer, Lissa Roberts, Kapil Raj and James Delbourgo (eds.), The Brokered World: Go-betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770–1820, Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2009, pp. 105–150; Raj, ‘The historical anatomy of a contact zone: Calcutta in the eighteenth century’, Indian Economic and Social History Review (2011) 48, pp. 5582; Raj, ‘Beyond postcolonialism … and postpostivism: circulation and the global history of science’, Isis (2013) 104, pp. 337347; Raj, ‘Rescuing science from civilisation: on Joseph Needham's “Asiatic mode of (knowledge) production”’, in Arun Bala and Prasenjit Duara (eds.), The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives, Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

Rough versions of this paper were discussed at the London, Beijing and Bangalore workshops for the Intersections: New Perspectives on Science and Technology in Twentieth-Century India and China project. I thank the participants of those three occasions, especially Jahnavi Phalkey, Tong Lam, Sigrid Schmalzer and Fa-ti Fan for their insightful questions. The portions on medicine have been presented as a paper entitled ‘Celestial Lancets, oecumenical science: Lu Gwei-Djen and Joseph Needham's history of acupuncture’ at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Stanford University, in 2013. I thank Thomas Mullaney for the invitation, as well as Paula Findlen, Mark Edward Lewis, Robert Proctor, Londa Schiebinger and Matthew Sommer for their comments. I am grateful also for the advice from John Forrester, Dhruv Raina and Simon Schaffer at events tied to the Exploring Traditions: Sources for a Global History of Science programme at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge. For the past years I have benefited enormously from continual conversations on Joseph Needham with Gregory Blue, Francesca Bray, Christopher Cullen, Susan Daruvala, Joseph McDermott, John Moffett and Hans van de Ven. I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their interventions; all mistakes and misinterpretations remain my own.

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