Simon Winchester to speak at Orcas Center about China
March 28, 2011 · Updated 9:06 AM
Globe-scouting British journalist and best-selling author Simon Winchester will soon pay a visit to Orcas Island to share his thoughts on China.
“Winchester is unquestionably a masterful spinner of historical and scientific sagas, including the bestseller The Professor and the Madman,” say Crossroads lecture series organizers. “In this lecture Winchester brings decades of high profile experience as a journalist and broadcaster to elucidate unique perspectives about China, dealing with its past played against a post-WWII period.”
His talk is titled, “The fascination of China: Past, Present and Future,” scheduled for Sunday, April 17, 2 p.m. at Orcas Center. There will also be a book-signing from 1 to 1:45 p.m. prior to the talk.
“China [is] going to be the world’s biggest economy soon,” Winchester told the Sounder. “Obviously and subtly it's going to be having more and more of an influence on our lives … China was, 1,000 years ago, the greatest nation on earth, and now it’s regaining its role in history. Youngsters will do well to recognize the importance of China.”
In addition to his travels in China, Winchester has spent countless hours researching for his NY Times bestseller, “The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.”
Its subject Joseph Needham, whom Winchester calls “one of the most fascinating men that ever lived” and “an extraordinarily polymathic human being,” was a Cambridge biochemist who learned Chinese in 1937 from his Chinese mistress, later traveling to China with her.
“The door opened on an immensely complicated and utterly alien civilization, and he became utterly fascinated by it,” said Winchester. “He began asking, what went wrong in China? If they invented gunpowder, printing... why are they so poor?” He said Needham went on to compose 17 immense volumes on “what it is that makes China, China.”
“We have long thought that China was a sort of irrelevant, mysterious part of the world that didn’t play much of a role, good for tea, rhubarb and ceramics, but not much else,” said Winchester. “But Needham discovered they invented so much … China really created human civilization.”
Winchester's research on Needham is deepened by his own global view on China gained through decades of work abroad: he fled for his life with Irish protestors during the infamous 1972 'Bloody Sunday' massacre in Northern Ireland. He corresponded from New Delhi from 1977-1980, “driving the family Volvo to India from Oxford, in the days when it was entirely possible and congenial to drive through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” In 1982 he was captured and imprisoned for three months in Argentina.
After working as the Asia Editor of Conde Nast Traveler magazine, he moved to New York in 1997 and began publishing books. Winchester's 21 tomes include “Krakatoa,” “Atlantic,” “A Crack in the Edge of the World” (about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) and “The Fracture Zone” (about the Balkans).
Tickets to the event are $10, available at www.orcascrossroads.org.