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Joseph Needham Photographs - Wartime China, 1942-1946
On February 24th 1943, Dr. Joseph Needham arrived in Southwest China. He had been sent by the British Council to aid the war effort there by facilitating the provision of laboratory equipment and scientific books and journals to Chinese scientists. He soon gained permission to establish the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office (SBSCO) (Zhong ying ke xue he zuo guan 中英科學合作館), also known as the Sino-British Science Co-operation Bureau, in Chungking (Chongqing), Szechuan (Sichuan) Province. By the time of his departure in April 1946, he had travelled extensively throughout Sichuan, Yunnan, and other parts of South, Southwest and Northwest China not under Japanese occupation, visiting universities and laboratories, factories and workshops, meeting people from all walks of life, especially scientists and other academics. He also took every opportunity to visit sites of historic interest and to take part in discussions with the scholars he met about his new passion - the history of Chinese science, technology and medicine - and began to collect books and other materials on the subject. For more information on Dr. Needham's life and work, see our Further Reading page.
During this period Dr. Needham took around 1000 photographs, many of which he shot on the often long and arduous journeys he undertook by truck to far-flung parts of the country. These photographs are made available here according to Dr. Needham's original groupings rearranged in chronological order:
Please do not reproduce the photographs for commercial use without permission. For any enquiries, contact our Librarian, John Moffett.
The See all page, containing all the photographs, has been added for convenient searching. Users can also see a list of all the persons we have identified so far with links to the photographs in the Index of Persons, and a list of university institutions, factories, mines etc. in the Index of Institutions.
For a brief guide to searching the pages and to the structure and
content of the descriptions, see searching
Dr. Needham did not carry a flash and the conditions under which the exposed films had to be changed and then stored took their toll. Many of the photographs show signs of over or under exposure, double exposure, scratching to the negatives and other wear and tear, sometimes to a very serious degree. Neither was Dr. Needham systematic in the use of the camera to keep a record of his travels. These are snapshots, taken where and when he could if the camera was to hand.
The individual rolls of film and developed prints were grouped
and labelled by Dr. Needham during and after his departure from
China. They were not ordered in a strictly chronological sequence,
and only on some did Dr. Needham make brief notes of places and
people. We still do not know who many of the people in the
photographs are, so if you are able to identify them, or provide
any other information or corrections, please contact our
Not all of the photographs in the collection were taken by Dr.
Needham. Most of the photographs in Other
wartime China came from other sources, such as research
organisations, individuals, and official sources. Among these, two
of these were definitely taken in August 1942 before Dr. Needham’s
arrival. Where the source of these photographs is known, it has
been noted. In addition, 40 photographs (Gungho 9-48) of the
Shantan Bailie School 山丹培黎學校 and co-operatives of the Chinese
Industrial Co-operatives (CIC) (Zhong guo gong ye he zuo she
中國工業合作社) movement were kindly donated by (Walter) Brian Harland
(1917-2003) and Elisabeth Harland, though the photographs
themselves appear to have come from the CIC.
We would like to express our thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation for their most generous support which enabled the
cataloguing of these photographs.