Project Overview

The Needham Question: Rethinking Methods

Faculty Sponsor

Jing Wang (


East Asian Languages and Literatures


Largely, this project critiques Western-centrism, not so much as political and racial domination in the Saidian sense but as epistemology or an intellectual habit. As such, Western-centrism must be described as a, not necessarily a Western, way of knowing characterized by self-enclosure and determinism. With regard to modern China studies, however, what we are faced with happens to be the Western version. 

In summer 2020, I plan to work on a particular portion of the project regarding the so-called Needham Question. 

The Needham Question is rephrased by many: Why did modern science arise in Europe but not in China?     

Leading experts on modern Chinese studies point out that Needham did not answer the question despite that he devoted nearly five decades to the writing and production of twenty-seven volumes of Science and Civilisation in China, (Sivin, Spence). Given the situation, many scholars attempted to provide explanations from their disciplinary angles; some challenged the question itself as Western-centric.  
In this portion of my project I do not try to offer any explanation. My research suggests that scholars engaged with the Needham Question follow a method containing certain assumptions, but few ask whether or not Needham shares the method, and what Needham’s method might be, so that he made himself perhaps the most learned scholar on the history of Chinese science but left the riddle for others to solve. By examining Needham’s writings and critical scholarship on the Needham Question, I plan to compare methods. 

Student Qualifications

The student is expected to have native proficiency in Chinese and an excellent command of English in reading and writing. Majors of philosophy, religion, and history are encouraged to apply.

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

10 weeks, hopefully from Monday June 15 to Friday August 21. I am flexible to suit the student’s dat weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (