Why did China’s Scientific Innovation Stop?

Posted on June 6, 2008  Comments (0)

Why did China’s scientific innovation, once so advanced, suddenly collapse

By the time Joseph Needham died in 1995, he had published 17 volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China series, including several that he wrote entirely on his own.

The Chinese began printing 600 years before Johannes Gutenberg introduced the technique in Germany. They built the first chain drive 700 years before the Europeans. And they made use of a magnetic compass at least a century before the first reference to it appeared elsewhere. So why, in the middle of the 15th century, did this advanced civilisation suddenly cease its spectacular progress?

Needham never fully worked out why China’s inventiveness dried up. Other academics have made their own suggestions: the stultifying pursuit of bureaucratic rank in the Middle Kingdom and the absence of a mercantile class to foster competition and self-improvement; the sheer size of China compared with the smaller states of Europe whose fierce rivalries fostered technological competition; its totalitarianism.

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