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226 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 Colin A. Ronan. The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China: An Abridgement by Colin A. Ronan ofJoseph Needham's Original Text. Volume 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xvi, 364 pp. Hardcover $69.95, isbn 0-521-46214-2. Paperback $34.95, isbn 0-521-46773-x. The late Colin A. Ronan was for some years before his recent death the director ofthe Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, where his duties included overseeing both the production and publication ofthe remaining volumes ofNeedham 's mighty Science and Civilisation in China and—Ronan's personal project— creating an abridged version ofthat great work. This, the fifth volume ofthe abridged version continues fhe pattern set by the earlier ones; on the whole it succeeds in making the material less intimidatingly comprehensive and more accessible to nonspecialists, in a format significantiy more affordable than the volumes of the original set (though still hardly inexpensive). The material in the present book, drawn from sections oftwo parts ofVolume IV ofthe original work, covers civü engineering and some aspects ofmechanical engineering. The major topics included are roads, waUs, building technology , bridges, water control and waterway construction, and water-raising and water-power technology. Coverage ofthese topics is somewhat uneven (exaggerating an unevenness in the larger volumes); the section on roads is not much more than a descriptive survey offhe premodern Chinese road system, for example , while the section on building technology is fidi ofinteresting detaUs about such matters as corbel bracing and the history ofthe pagoda in China. The chapter on bridges gives much information on bridge budding and the typology of bridges, and Ulustrates many interesting and beautiful examples. Almost half of the book is devoted to hydrological topics, and it is clear that these greatiy engaged Needham's mind, with very fruitful results. These books are quite satisfactory as relativelybrief and readable condensations ofNeedham's work. They would be suitable for nonspecialists who want a quick overview ofNeedham's volumes widiout plowing through (for example) the extensive bibliographical essays in the latter. They also would be acceptable as assigned reading for students, though personally I would prefer to assign the original volumes, ifonly to give students a taste ofthe magnificence ofNeedham's great project. On the other hand, this book contains defects that require its readers to exer-© 1997 by University cise caution pjrst 0fjjij jt shouldhavebeenmore carefullyedited; some sentences oj awai ? (condensed from longer passages in fhe original) are awkward and confusing. Needham's original modified Wade-GUes romanization has been converted here to pinyin, which most readers wül welcome, but Chinese characters accompany Reviews 227© 1997 by University ofHawai'i Press romanized words only haphazardly. In a bizarre error, a drawing on page 204 of the Guanxian irrigation system in Sichuan (which also is known as the Dujiang Yan, "dam on the Capital River") is said to have been "drawn by Dujiang Yan." More significantiy, the old Needham emphasis on Chinese priority in inventions looks, in this new condensed volume, increasingly retrograde as a cultural argument. That emphasis undoubtedly was tactically useful halfa century ago, when Needham began his great project and the field ofhistory ofChinese science didn't exist yet (because he was in fhe process ofcreating it), but now fhe issue of priority seems like a rather pointiess sort ofspecial pleading. In a sense this problem shows fhat Ronan's work of condensation is too faithful to fhe original, retaining what might beneficially have been downplayed. This book is, on the whole, a pretty good stand-in for the expensive and elaborate volumes on which it is based. It also serves, sadly, as a reminder of Colin Ronan's devotion to the work ofJoseph Needham and to the Needham Institute. John S. Major John S. Major, formerly an associateprofessor ofhistory at Dartmouth College, works as an editor and independent scholar in New York City. He is the author o/Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought (SUNYPress, 1993J. H Ruan Ming. DengXiaoping: Chronicle ofan Empire. Translated and edited by Nancy Liu, Peter Rand, and Lawrence R. Sullivan, with a foreword by Andrew J. Nathan. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1994. xxi...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 226-227
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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