(nēd`əm), 1900–1995, British biochemist, historian of science, and sinologist, b. London. He had a lifelong association with Cambridge, where he was educated (Ph.D. 1924), taught biochemistry (1924–66), served as master of Gonville and Caius College (1966–76), and founded and directed the Needham Research Institute (1976–90). An embryologist, he wrote such books as Chemical Embryology (3 vol., 1931) and A History of Embryology (1934). Fascinated with all things Chinese, he learned Mandarin and headed (1942–46) the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office in Chongqing, China. After World War II he served (1946–48) as UNESCO's director of natural sciences. Needham wrote more than a dozen books, but by far his greatest achievement is the monumental Science and Civilization in China (7 vol., 1954–), a study of the history of Chinese science and technology and their relation to China's culture and society that was complete through its sixth volume at his death.
See M. Goldsmith, Joseph Needham: 20th-Century Renaissance Man (1995); S. K. Mukherjee and A. Ghosh, ed., The Life and Works of Joseph Needham (1997); P. Y. Ho, Reminiscence of a Roving Scholar: Science, Humanities, and Joseph Needham (2005); S. Winchester, The Man Who Loved China (2008).
In his effort to valorize the Chinese inventive tradition, Needham asked what has become "Needham's Question": Why did China, which up until 1500 was more scientifically and technologically advanced than Europe, fail to develop modern technoscience?