Dr. Joseph Needham is a British biochemist, science historian and an eminent Chinese science historian who enjoys worldwide reputation as one of the great scholars of the 20th century.
After graduating from Cambridge University in Britain in 1921, he started work as a biochemist under Professor Fredrick J. Hopkins who was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering vitamins.
However, in 1931, he published book in three volumes on Chemical Embryology, and became famous as a chemical embryologist rather than a biochemist.
Towards the end of 1930, Dr. Needham came across a very brilliant young Chinese scholar who visited Cambridge, and his interest in turn changed towards the history of science in China. Furthermore, during the Second World War, he was dispatched to China from the British Royal Society as Head of the British Scientific Mission. This four-year experience instigated him to remain in China and study Chinese science and culture further.
After the War, he began seriously writing a book on the History of Chinese Science. In 1954, he completed the first volume of "Science and Civilization in China" (Introductory Orientations); in 1956 he completed the second volume (History of Scientific Thought); in 1959 the third volume on Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth was completed. As such, in a rapid succession, up to this day, six volumes and 15 books have already been published, but his big project is not complete yet. At an admirable age of 89, Dr. Needham is still writing energetically, as he needs completion of his master work. Although while focusing on the science and technology of China, the "Science and Civilization in China" covers such a wide and broad range of field of west and eastern culture that gives a profound insight of the entire culture of China, but also of the entire culture of Eastern Asia as well and it is already the largest and the most eminent historical book of this century, pertaining to China.
He has close connection with UNESCO right from the beginning. From 1946-1948, he was the first Director of its Natural Science Department, and he has also contributed to International Science Cooperation projects. Furthermore, from 1966-1976 he was the Master of the Gonville & Caius College at Cambridge University. Even after his retirement from Gonville & Caius College, he is still actively serving as the Honorary Director of the Needham Research Institute.
In this manner, the accomplishments of Dr. Joseph Needham which gained sympathy in the Chinese civilization, not only has played a role in studying the Chinese scientific history but has given great influence as to entirely change the way of the intellectuals around the world looking at non-European civilization.
Dr. Needham is truly worthy of receiving The Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prizes - The 1990 Special Commemorative Prize.