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

Rocha, Leon Antonio (2016) How deep is love? The engagement with India in Joseph Needham's historiography of China. BJHS Themes, 1 . pp. 13-41. ISSN 2058-850X

Full content URL: http://doi.org/10.1017/bjt.2016.5

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

Keywords:Modern Chinese History, History of Science, Intellectual History
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V242 Indian History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V241 Chinese History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V380 History of Science
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V340 Intellectual History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:34944
Deposited On:15 Feb 2019 09:58

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