BA Archaeology and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Science and Civilisation in East Asia

Course unit fact file
Unit code JAPA23002
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Why are Japanese people obsessed with being punctual? Why did only China adopt such a drastic population measure as the ‘one-child policy’? Why did the South Korean professor Hwang Woo-suk feel he had to fabricate his biomedical research and why did it become a global scandal? This course, which adopts the perspectives of social and cultural history, will ask questions of this kind and examine a number of key issues – e.g. colonialism, nation-building and globalization – by looking at interactions between science, culture and civilization in East Asia. We will start the course by asking the question proposed more than half a century ago by Joseph Needham, British biologist, first head of the science division of UNESCO and one of the greatest Sinologists of the twentieth-century who spent most of his later career for the compilation of Science and Civilization in China series. His question, also affectionately known as the ‘Needham question’ was: Why did modern science not develop in Chinese civilization and only in Europe, although Chinese civilization between the first century BC and the fifteenth century AD was more efficient than in western Europe in applying natural knowledge to practical human needs? The course will then ask how modern science, technology and medicine did eventually emerge in East Asia during the nineteenth-century and examine its sociopolitical, cultural and economic backgrounds as well as what the notion of civilizations and modernity meant for East Asia. The course will also look at contemporary issues, and aim to find out particular ways in which East Asian societies have engaged with the issues around science and technology.



No pre-requisites.

Available on Japanese Studies (and assosciated programmes), East Asian Studies (and assosciated programmes), History and University College programmes.


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:
•    To provide students with an understanding of major issues pertaining to the relationships between science and civilization in East Asia.
•    To introduce major concepts necessary to develop an understanding of how scientific endeavours were understood in relation to culture and societies in East Asia.
•    To help students critically analyze sources.



Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:
•    Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key issues pertaining to science and civilization in East Asia;
•    Demonstrate critical understanding of key analytical concepts related to the study of the history of science, technology and medicine in East Asia (HEASTM).

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:
•    Broaden intellectual interests and nurture cultural awareness for areas beyond English-speaking countries;
•    Read critically;
•    Write analytically.

Practical skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:
•    Improve their skills to approach sources about regions in East Asia;
•    Improve basic skills for academic writing, in particular reviewing academic literature.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:
•    Have honed their skills for reasoned presentation, discussion and argument;
•    Develop personal qualities of independence of mind in order to make ethical judgments;
•    Have been encouraged to confront their own values as global citizens.

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: ¿ Write analytically: gain exposure and practice in appropriate presentation and written skills related to a discipline or profession; ¿ Develop a project in a specific topic; ¿ Be confident in searching for work in institutions based in, or have dealings with, East Asia.

Assessment methods

Review Essay                                 50%

10 multiple choice questions          10%

Invention of 10 multiple choice        40%
questions on a particular theme
in the history of science,
technology and medicine in
East Asia which we cover in the
course unit, accompanied by a
1,500-word scholarly commentary
on the chosen theme

Feedback methods

Feedback method Formative or Summative

Written feedback on the review essay.

Formative and summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by appointment).

Written feedback on the invented MCQs and 1,500-word commentary Summative


Recommended reading

  1. Science and Civilisation in China series. 1954-. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. A.K.L. Chan, G. K. Clancey, and H. C. Loy, Historical Perspectives on East Asian Science, Technology and Medicine (pp. 121–137). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.5 C1)
  3. Bartholomew, James R. 1989. The Formation of Science in Japan: Building a Research Tradition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.52 B1 )
  4. Clancey, Gregory. 2009. “The History of Technology in Japan and East Asia.” East Asian Science, Technology and Society. 3: 525–30.
  5. Bodde, Derk. 1991. Chinese Thought, Society, and Science: The Intellectual and Social Background of Science and Technology in Pre-modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.51 B26 )
  6. Elman, Benjamin A. 2006. A Cultural History of Modern Science in China. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.51 E2)
  7. Elman, Benjamin A. 2005. On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.51 N1)
  8. Furth, Charlotte. 2009. “Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Pre-Modern Chinese History.” Postcolonial Studies 12: 467–79.
  9. Lo, Vivienne. 2009. “But Is It [History of] Medicine? Twenty Years in the History of the Healing Arts of China.” Social History of Medicine 22: 283–303.
  10. Low, Morris. 2008. Introduction to a Special Issue: “Locating Japanese Science and Technology: Place and the Production of Knowledge.” Hist. Scientiarum 18: 59–61.
  11. Low, Morris. 2009. “The History of Japanese Science: Recent Developments.” East Asian Science, Technology and Society 3: 519–24.
  12. Lu, Yongxiang, Chuijun Qian, and Hui He. 2014. A History of Chinese Science and Technology Volumes 1, 2 & 3. Online access
  13. Hashimoto, Takehiko. Historical Essays on Japanese Technology. Collection UTCP, 6. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy, 2009. Online access at:
  14. Nakayama, Shigeru. 2008. The Orientation of Science and Technology: A Japanese View. Folkestone: Global Oriental. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (509.52 N2 )
  15. Nakayama, Shigeru ed. A Social History of Science and Technology in Contemporary Japan, Volumes 1-4. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press 2001. Blue Area Floor 2 (509.52 N1 )
  16. Scha¿fer, Dagmar ed. 2011. Cultures of Knowledge: Technology in Chinese History. Leiden: Brill. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 (309.51 S63)
  17. Schneider, Laurence. 2003. Biology and Revolution in Twentieth-Century China. Lonham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. Location: Blue Area Floor 2 509.51 S6
  18. Tsu, Jing ed. 2014. Science and Technology in Modern China, 1880s-1940s. Leiden: Brill. Location: High Demand 509.51/09041.

Further reading will be recommended in the class.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Aya Homei Unit coordinator

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