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"The Man Who Loved China" (2009 Selection)

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Discussion Questions

1. What kind of fellow was Joseph Needham? Talk about his genius and his unusual life-time interests. Does genius go hand-in-hand with eccentricity?

2. The Needhams' marriage survived intact until Dorothy died at the age of 92. How is it possible that Needham's marriage survived his life-long love affair with Lu-Gwei-djen?

3. Talk about Needham's heroic efforts behind the Japanese lines in China during World War II. Consider his travels to the Dunhuang Caves (where the world's first printed book had been discovered) and to Dujiangyan (the site of the ancient dam project). What part of his Chinese journey do you find most remarkable?

4. As a group, try to identify the many scientific and technological advances made by the Chinese. When were they developed...and how many years passed before their general adoption by Western society? What surprised you most?

5. Talk about Needham's disgrace during the 1950's. Was it deserved or not? What led Needham to believe that U.S. forces had dropped plague infested rodents on China during the Korean War? Why does Winchester believe Needham was wrong? Do you think it's possible that Needham was correct?

6. The first main question that arises from Needham's work is this: historically, what forces were at work in Chinese society that enabled it to invent so much so early on—and why did it stop for centuries?

7. The second question is what has prompted China's re-entry into the technological and industrial world—and what will the consequences be for the Chinese and the world? What does Winchester suggest...and what are your opinions?

8. In what way (if at all) does Winchester's book change your understanding of Chinese history and culture? What did you find most intriguing about this book?

(Questions courtesy of LitLovers.)

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