China and the “Needham Question” from the Perspective of Modernity

Social Sciences in China Review

No.1, 2020


China and the “Needham Question” from the Perspective of Modernity (Abstract)


Sun Guanchen


The Needham question itself arose from a cross-cultural comparative research approach that investigated and analyzed the cultural differences between East and West so as to better understand the characteristics of Chinese civilization. However, some Chinese scholars with a formulaic mindset confine themselves to analyzing the defects and deficiencies of China’s traditional institutions and culture in the belief that they account for the country’s failure to take the leading role in developing modern science. In fact, this equates to Euro-centrism. In the context of modernity, the Needham questions particularity and differences foreground the sociological and great history principles of cross-cultural comparative research. The in-depth reflection on the nature of modern science, particularly technology, of Heidegger and others reconfirms the historical significance of heterogeneous civilizations in the tide of technological globalization. The Needham question not only fails to denigrate China; rather, it reserves a precious possibility against the danger that modern technology will dominate the world. The Chinese road, with its characteristic interconnection and integration of scientific and humanistic culture, opens up new possibilities for reflecting on and responding to the Needham question.