The truth is I don’t know.  But after reading The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester you, too, might find yourself wondering about your morning mug as you wait for water to boil.

The Man Who Loved China is part biography, part history, part science, and wholly interesting due to Winchesters engaging writing style.

Joseph Needham was a brilliant Cambridge professors whose eccentricities included an open marriage and being used as a political pawn. He met Lu Gwei-djen in 1937 and in addition to becoming enamored with her, he fell for her country, China. He first visited in China in 1943 at the height of WWII and as he traveled around discovered that China had been advanced in virtually every area until the 1500s when she shut herself off from the world.

In the 50s he started a project entitled Science  and Civilisation in China that he thought would be a comprehensive tome. Let’s just say he was a little off as there are now 24 volumes! Think Oxford English Dictionary or Encyclopedia Britannica.

Enjoying some nice moxibustion and yes, that is a lighter near my face

Enjoying some nice moxibustion and yes, that is a lighter near my face

The appendix lists Chinese inventions and discoveries and gives the earliest recorded date. Some are as you’d expect (abacus, chopsticks, gun powder, or Great Wall), but not all. For fun, here is one item from each letter and the amount of entries for each letter. Not everyone is as into math as I am, so I really did limit myself from listing all things math.  {You’re welcome.}

A (15) – antimalarial drugs (3rd century BC)

B (24) – bookworm repellent

C (28) – crossbow (5th century BC)

D (16) – decimal place value (13th century BC)

E (6) – ephedrine (2nd century AD)

F (9) – folding chairs (3rd century AD … thus my morning cup wondering)

G (15) – gluten from wheat (AD 530)

H (10) – handgun (AD 1128)

I (2) – indeterminate analysis (4th century AD)

K (2) – kite (4th century BC)

L (4) – ladders, extendable (4th century BC)

M (27) – moxibustion (cupping, 3rd century BC)

N (4) –  negative numbers, operations using (1st  century AD)

O (1) – oil lamps, economics (9th century AD)

P (32) – “pi,” accurate estimation of (3rd century AD), placenta used as a source of estrogen (AD 725), playing cards (AD 969) {P was too interesting for just one!}

Q (1) – qin and se zither

R (10) – reel on fishing rod (3rd century AD)

S (36) – smokescreens (AD 178), stirrup (AD 300)

T (8) – thyroid treatment (1st century AD), toothbrush (9th century AD, really?! Let’s not think of mouths before that)

V (1) – vinegar (2nd century BC)

W (10) – weather vane (120 BC)

Z (1) – Zoetrope (AD 180, mechanical toy. I had to look it up)

I know! Pretty interesting list with a little something for everyone. The Man Who Loved China will open your eyes, entertain, and educate. Get it, and that’s not just a smokescreen ploy (which, by the way, would not have been a great line prior to  AD 178!)

Which jumped out at you? Please share in the comments, I really am curious :).

Leave A Comment

  1. Amy January 16, 2013 at 7:38 am - Reply

    The gluten processed in Asia is definitely different than the gluten processed in America!
    Hmmm…now for that coffee cup…(or tea cup)! :)

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      Amy January 16, 2013 at 10:13 am - Reply

      I’ll drink to that :)

  2. Mia January 16, 2013 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Hi Amy
    This looks like an interesting book! I wonder if that moxibustion thingies would help for Fibromyalgia pain. It looks so outlandish sort of thing!
    Hugs to you

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      Amy January 16, 2013 at 10:12 am - Reply

      Mia, I LOVE it … and bet it would help :) … but not everyone agrees with me :)

  3. Erin H January 16, 2013 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Placenta…aha!…alas a medical explination for the tradition in some groups of cooking & eating it post delivery. When nursing your estrogen production plummets to near menopausal levels, so that makes since.

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      Amy January 16, 2013 at 11:31 am - Reply

      That one caught my eye too!

  4. Karin P January 19, 2013 at 10:10 am - Reply

    This one! And not even from a Math major! But I still like numbers, just in more arty farty kinds of ways ;-) :

    “pi,” accurate estimation of (3rd century AD)

    Seriously? It was not, like, the Mayans or something? The Sumerians?


    Hey, I am really impressed with this list, honestly. Really incredible stuff, and reminds me of just how old and developed China has been in eras past (and likely in eras future!). The country of China is an old grandfather compared to the current nation/state of the US — who is but a teen by comparison. A baby, really, when you really think about the years/dates. It also makes me think that in general, Americans have not looked enough to the wealth of knowledge of the Indigenous people there and what discoveries they made long before Caucasians came to dominate.

    And gluten. Wow. Well, I for one am glad they figured that one out. It makes me horribly ill now, and I think is evil stuff! But at least they figured out it exists and it is in wheat. :) Thank you, China.

    And thank you, Amy, for this interesting post! Hope the moxi helped! (I have not had that done in a really long time! It’d be cool to do it again, though!)

  5. Mark Allman January 27, 2013 at 1:22 am - Reply

    I enjoyed your list but it is hard to tell; your treatment looks painful. Can you explain it? thanks

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      Amy January 27, 2013 at 8:31 am - Reply

      You know what, you’ve inspired me to write a post explaining the process. Might not come out for a few weeks, but keep your eyes open for it!

  6. Bill @ Fingerprint Gun Safe October 21, 2013 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article – sounds like an interesting book. I know if I suffered from figromyalgia I’d be willing to try just about anything, too.

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