Joseph Needham, the Cambridge Don who opened the door to China’s lost history

May 5, 2015

I was once an avid reader, but then I became a writer and eventually an author. I preface this exploration of Simon Winchester’s “The Man Who Loved China” with that opening sentence, because I want to make it clear that when I decided to become a writer back in 1968, I went from reading one or two paperbacks daily to reading maybe one or two a month. It takes time to learn the craft of writing and more time to write, edit and revise.

For that reason, I’ve been aware of “The Man Who Loved China” for several years, and put off buying and reading it due to how much time I actually have to read.  Then, one recent Sunday, after eating at Herbivore in Berkeley, California, I walked to Half Price Books and also stopped at Pegasus Books where I found a used, unabridged copy of the audio book and bought it—9 hours on 8 compact discs.

I was on the last disc when I decided to buy the paperback and add it to my China collection.

To borrow the blurb on the cover of the paperback, I found this biography to be “The fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.” I was blown away with the story of Joseph Needham’s life—he was an incredible, free thinking genius who refused to conform.

I totally agree with this pull quote for the YouTube video above: “In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman (“Elegant and scrupulous” —New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa (“A mesmerizing page-turner”—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world’s most technologically advanced country in THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA.”

Because of what I learned about Joseph Needham and his Science and Civilisation in China (1954–2008), a series of books initiated and edited by this British biochemist and self-trained Sinologist (1900–1995), I want to share a hateful, ignorant, mean, trollish, biased, racist comment that arrived recently for one of the posts on this Blog.   The reason I’m doing this is because this one comment represents the thinking of far too many ignorant fools outside of China and specifically in the United States.

****

The post this comment was left for was Amy Chua talks to China’s Tiger Women. That comment will never be approved for that post.

“Tiger parenting is great if you want your child to be as dull-witted as the 1.4 billion people in the PRC. It is also great if your desire is to rear morally void sociopaths who walk by people dying on the streets rather than helping them. Those same people traded their children and ate them during the ‘great leap forward’. Any race which can feast on the flesh of their children should not be emulated. China has been around for 5000 years and to show for this they have ‘death by 1000 cuts’, infanticide and insolence.

“If tiger parenting is so great then what are the results? China is an innovation laggard, (sure they write patents but for the most part they are junk. See how many they write but fail to monetize those patents).

“Aside from this, where is China’s Einstein, Van Gogh, Davinci, Plato , Homer, etc. Five thousand years of history, twenty percent of the world’s population and two great thinkers. What a pathetic shit-stain.
Have a great time there you sell out piece of shit.”

****

Science and Civilisation in China deals with the history of science and technology in China, and the series was on the Modern Library Board’s 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1954, Needham—along with an international team of collaborators—initiated the project to study the science, technology, and civilisation of ancient China. This project produced a series of volumes published by Cambridge University Press. The project is still continuing under the guidance of the Publications Board of the Needham Research Institute (NRI), chaired by Christopher Cullen.

If you visit this page at Cambridge.org, you will read: “Dr. Joseph Needham’s account of the Chinese achievement in science and technology will stand as one of the great works of our time. It has been acclaimed by specialists in both East and West and also by readers with wider and more general interests. The text, based on research of a high critical quality, is supported by many hundreds of illustrations and is imbued with a warm appreciation of China. … He begins by examining the structure of the Chinese language; he reviews the geography of China and the long history of its people, and discusses the scientific contacts which have occurred throughout the centuries, between Europe and East Asia.”

Needham left us with a question that he never answered, and real China experts—not the trollish fool who left that comment on my Blog I’m sharing only in this post—are still debating that answer today, an answer to the curious fact that after centuries of scientific and technological creativity, everything in China suddenly ground to a halt in approximately 1500 AD. Needham wanted to know what happened, but he never answered his own question.

Needham’s research on China discovered that the ancient Chinese who lived before Europe’s Christian era (Before the birth of Jesus Christ), the old Chinese living when Europe had its Dark Ages, and the medieval Chinese en masse of the twelfth and thirteenth European centuries—did essentially all the inventing (an average of 15 important innovations a century for a total of more than 1,500). Then came the sixteenth century, when the Renaissances was fully under way in Europe, and the creative passions of China suddenly seemed to dry up; the energy began to ebb away and die.

Some critics claim the reason for this is because China is not a democracy, but that can’t be right because China has never been a democracy—especially during the fifteen hundred years it was the wealthiest and most scientifically and technological advanced country on the planet. Starting with the brutal Qin Dynasty (221 BC—206BC), followed by the Han (206 BC – 220 AD), then the Tang (618 – 907 AD) and Song Dynasties (960-1127 AD), China was ruled by emperors and a rigid imperial bureaucracy with a brutal legal system. To discover more, I suggest reading Duhaime’s Timetable of World Legal History—“China has the oldest continuously operating legal system in the world.”

I think the answer to Needham’s question starts with the Mongols—the first ethnic minority to conquer and rule China—that founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and that led to a revolt by a number of Han Chinese groups, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a Buddhist secret society. The first Ming emperor started out as a penniless peasant and a Buddhist Monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352. As the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), he established a network of secret police from his own palace guard. They were partly responsible for the loss of 100,000 lives in several purges over the three decades of his rule. In addition, it was under Ming rule that the first Europeans, the Portuguese, established trade with China and settled Macau in 1557 as a permanent trade base in China—and this would turn out to be a horrible mistake for China.

It didn’t help that in the early 17th century, because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season—effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age—famine, alongside tax increases, widespread military desertions, a declining relief system, and natural disasters such as flooding and inability of the government to manage irrigation and flood-control projects properly caused widespread loss of life and normal civility. The central government, starved of resources, could do very little to mitigate the effects of these calamities. Making matters worse, a widespread epidemic spread across China from Zhejiang to Henan, killing an unknown but large number of people. In fact, the deadliest earthquake of all time, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor’s reign, killing approximately 830,000 people.

Then the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD)—another minority from north of the Great Wall, the Manchu—swept aside the Ming, and the Manchu were very suspicious of the Han Chinese. To avoid a revolution like the one that rid China of the Mongols, the Qing Emperors and their Manchu armies brutally suppressed the Han Chinese and deliberately kept competent people from rising to vital position in government and the military. Before the Qing, the most common method used to promote Han Chinese from within was through meritocracy using a university exam system that dates back to the Han Dynasty.

But even suppressing the Han Chinese and keeping them from positions of leadership in almost every sector of the government—note that it was mostly Han Chinese who were responsible for all of the impressive scientific and technological innovations that Needham documented taking place in China for more than fifteen hundred years before the 16th century—didn’t stop the rebellions. Under the Qing Dynasty, China suffered a series of devastating rebellions that claimed more than 60 million lives. The most devastating was the Taiping Rebellion led by a Christian convert who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ—if European Christian missionaries had not forced their way into China following the first Opium War, this rebellion would have never happened. Then there were the two Opium Wars—started by Christian countries—the Boxer Rebellion, the 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) followed by the second and most devastating Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) that alone caused more than 20 million deaths in China.

How can anyone expect a country to prosper and continue to lead the world in innovation during an era starting in the 16th century that was plagued by natural disasters, rebellions, and wars that culminated with the Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists ending with Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution that destroyed its business and education sectors?

When Mao died in 1976, China’s education system was all but gone and had to be rebuilt from scratch, and many of the country’s public school teachers were dead from suicide or execution. In addition, if you read “The Man Who Loved China,” you will also discover that during World War II, one goal of the Japanese was to destroy China’s educational system, and the Japanese armies did all they could to destroy China’s universities, burn China’s libraries, and execute China’s scholars whenever possible.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


From China’s Modern Gobi Stonehenge to Beijing’s Ancient Observatory

April 29, 2015

In August 2008, The Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco sent a team to China to film a total-solar eclipse. While in China, Pauld Doherty, a physicist, teacher, author and rock climber, visited China’s modern Stonehenge in the Gobi Desert.

chinesestonehenge600

Pauld says, “The Gobi Stonehenge is made with a central pillar where a viewer stands and 6 pillars that mark the positions of sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes and the solstices. There are also pillars to mark due north and south. When the sun passes over the south pillar, it marks local-solar noon.”

“The shape of an observatory like this one depends upon the latitude,” he says, “and my calculations show that the excellent Chinese astronomer who designed this one did a superb job.”

Patsy Burns left a comment, “The Stonehenge and center of Asia markers note Chinese have long been studying the skies. … Have you been to the remnants of the Emperor’s observatory just east of Tiananmen Sq by the Gloria Plaza hotel … if it is still there? Supposedly Marco Polo’s star gazing Jesuits matched calculations with the Emperor’s people there and that knowledge gave Marco Polo guanxi, credibility.”

To answer Patsy’s question, yes, the Ming Emperor’s observatory is still there and a recent planetarium has been added.

To study astronomy, the Ming Dynasty built an observatory in Beijing in 1442. The observatory covers 1,000 square meters (more than 10,000 square feet).

Eight bronze astronomical instruments stand on a platform. The design of the instruments reflects both the influence of oriental craftsmanship and the European Renaissance demonstrating an understanding of measurements and physics.

In 1955, a new hall covering 7,000 square meters (more than 75,000 square feet) was built, and it opened to the public two years later. It has an exhibition hall, a video projection room and observatory for everyone.

In 2004, a new hall covering about 20,000 square meters (more than 215,000 square feet) was added.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


A brief history of Chinese Herbalism

February 24, 2015

The use of herbal medicines in China has been traced to the Zhou Dynasty, late Bronze/early Iron Age, about 2500 to 3000 years ago.

In 1596, hundreds of years before the age of modern Western medicine, Li Shizhen spent decades documenting the vast knowledge of herbal lore.

His book, the Ben Cao Gang Mu (1596), has been used as a pharmacopoeia, but it was also a treatise on botany, zoology, mineralogy and metallurgy.

The Ben Cao Gang Mu mentions 1,892 different herbs and is divided into 6 sections, 52 scrolls and 60 different categories.

It has been reported that Darwin had a copy of the Ben Cao Gang Mu with him on his voyage of discovery in 1831.

The World Health Organization says, “Traditional herbal medicines are naturally occurring, plant-derived substances with minimal or no industrial processing that have been used to treat illness within local or regional healing practices.”

I think that today’s profit-based corporations that produce modern medicine probably don’t want people to be free to use herbal medicine. because it cuts into their profits, but—if given a choice—I’d rather use herbal medicine first and modern medicine as a last resort.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

Kindle_LR_e-book_cover_MSC_July_25_2013

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

 

 


The Earth was Flat Once

July 30, 2014

In 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, the Starry Messenger, about discoveries he made with his new telescope. He was attacked for his theory because it seemed to contradict Scripture and what the Church told people to believe if they wanted to get into heaven.  Because of this, in 1633, Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy.


Have you heard of the Flat Earth Society?

Fifteen hundred years prior to Galileo’s discovery that the earth was round and orbited the sun, there is evidence that Chinese mathematicians had calculated the size of the earth on the basis that it must have been spherical (round). However, similar to what happened to Galileo, the Chinese people would continue to believe the earth was flat for centuries.  It’s possible that when Qin Shi Huangdi (259 – 210 BC), China’s first emperor, had the great book burning, he burned the evidence of earlier Chinese mathematical texts.

In addition, older Chinese creation myths included details that accounted for the tilt of the earth and other astronomical facts.  Several existing, ancient Chinese applied mathematics texts prove the Chinese were the first to use some of the most basic and advanced mathematical principles and concepts utilized in modern times. Two of these texts are the Chou Pei and Chiu Chang (these texts date from the period of the Zhou Dynasty from 1046—256 BCE).

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China’s boiled peanuts

April 30, 2014

The first time I tasted boiled peanuts was in China in 1999. Since I was use to oil-roasted and salted peanuts, it took time for me to acquire a taste for the Chinese way of cooking peanuts.

Although archeologists have dated the oldest known domesticated peanuts to Peru back about 7,000 years, it was Portuguese traders in the 17th century who introduced peanuts to China.

Peanuts then became popular there and are featured in many Chinese dishes, often being boiled, which enhances the health benefits of the peanut.

What scientific studies have proven about the boiling process is that peanuts prepared this way are preserved and the presence of phytochemicals are enhanced having the same qualities as antioxidants, which are noted for protecting the body’s cells against heart disease, diabetes and several different forms of cancer.

In fact, a 1990 Harvard study determined that women who ate five ounces of more of nuts per week were only 65 percent as likely to suffer from coronary heart disease as women who avoided eating nuts.

Another study in 2007 at Alabama’s A&M University’s Department of Food and Animal found that the health benefits for boiled peanuts were far healthier than oil-roasted, dry or raw.

The Chinese boiling process brings out and enhances the health benefits of the peanut.

In fact, the Chinese eat more boiled peanuts than any country.

However, in the US, the states of Florida, Mississippi, George, Alabama, and North and South Carolina also have a tradition of eating boiled peanuts.

Today, China leads the world in peanut production with about 40% of the crop followed by India, which produces about 19% of the globe’s peanuts. Sources: ehow and tititudorancea

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China’s Silicon Valleys (plural)

March 25, 2014

In You Can’t Build a New Silicon Valley Just Anywhere by Margaret O’Mara, writing for Foreign Policy magazine (August 16, 2010), she said, “for many of the would-be silicon cities being constructed by the Russias and Chinas of the world; with their long histories of centralized control, they are still convinced they can order up success.”

O’Mara’s theme is that the success we have seen in California’s Silicon Valley is due to the freedom America’s republic—now a democracy—offers along with loads of money from the government and venture capitalists with no strings attached.

However, there’s evidence that democracy isn’t needed for innovation, because China (ruled by Emperors under an autocratic imperialistic monarchy) was more technologically advanced than any country on earth for almost two thousand years.

In fact, a recent December 4, 2013 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that “Beijing’s Zhongguancun district is “studying the style, personality, management and funding of (America’s) Silicon Valley. What’s more, they reject China’s traditional top-down corporate model, deference to management and emphasis on size.” In addition, successful high tech companies in China want to branch out to be more than just a Chinese company.

After all, the Chinese invented the stirrup for saddles which revolutionized warfare on horseback, gunpowder, the multistage rocket, the compass, paper, the printing press and pasta along with a long list of other innovations that changed the world.

Without the Chinese, where would the world be today? See Chinese Crossbow and other Inventions

China may not offer the same individual freedoms the West does, but “face”, which is important in Chinese culture, is a strong motivator to improvise and invent so one gains “face” and becomes powerful and wealthy.

Before Deng Xiaoping and the “Getting Rich is Glorious” generation that he gave birth to, I would have agreed with Margaret O’Mara but not now.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


Is China really responsible for all the lost jobs in the United States?

February 25, 2014

The reason for this post is because I left a comment for “Google robots, iPhone trackers—which sci-fi movie is coming true?” and a guy named Dave [I think it’s a guy] left a reply.

Dave pulled this quote from the comment I wrote: “If we don’t do something soon, the day will come when there are no jobs and no consumers because every job will be automated.” And Dave replied, “What? Have you any proof for this baseless assertion?”

Yes I do, Dave, and I’ll get to that, but first I want to deal with China getting the blame for jobs vanishing in the United States.

Heritage.org says, “Those who attack China often do not examine real economic events: They do not measure actual failed businesses and actual job losses. Instead, they assume the U.S.–China trade deficit means that both production and production jobs are moving from the U.S. to China. … Imports do not cause unemployment; quite the opposite, they are a signal of prosperity and plentiful jobs.”

Cato.org supports what Heritage says: “In the quarter century between 1983 and 2007, as real GDP more than doubled and the real value of U.S. trade increased five-fold, the U.S. economy created 46 million net new jobs, or 1.84 million net new jobs per year.”

If what Heritiage.org and Cato.org says is true, then what’s causing lost jobs in the United States?

First, after the 2007-08 global financial crises caused by US Banks and Wall Street greed, trade between the United States and the world shrunk by 12 percent and six million jobs were lost—jobs that were not lost to China where jobs were also lost.

Did you know that the United States has the largest manufacturing sector in the world, and that China is only number two? (Greyhill.com)

I wouldn’t be surprised if you said no.

Just how large are US exports to the world? NPR.org reported: “In 2011, the U.S. exported goods and services worth $2.1 Trillion”—more than what China sold to the world by about $80 billion. “China exported goods worth an estimated $2.021 Trillion to the world [in 2012] and imported goods from other countries that added up to an estimated $1.78 Trillion.”

At this point you may be confused and ask, “How can the U.S. be the world’s leader in manufacturing when millions of jobs are being lost in that sector?”

Bright Hub Engineering.com offers one answer: “Robots have replaced a lot of activities formerly carried out by a human, with one robot replacing as many as ten workers.”

“In the last fifteen years, manufacturing in the United States has undergone a fundamental shift,” Arena Solutions.com reports. “As millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost to … automation, output has steadily continued to grow. And while U.S. manufacturing output has decreased by only 1% since 1990, manufacturing jobs have decreased by over 30% in the same time period.”

Losing manufacturing jobs is not only happening in the US. The Harvard Business Review.org says, “Manufacturing employment decline is a global phenomenon. As a Bloomberg story summarized: “Some 22 million manufacturing jobs were lost globally between 1995 and 2002 as industrial output soared 30 percent.”

Instead of bashing China, blame the real culprits for millions of lost jobs on robots and the greedy rich who are behind the decisions to replace humans with automation. If one robot can replace ten humans, that’s a lot of money saved leading to increased profits and wealth for the rich.

After all, Robots don’t need Social Security, medical care, retirement plans, paid sick leave or vacations—in fact, they don’t earn any money, even minimum wage with no benefits.

One way to stop this from happening is to pass laws that protect humans from losing jobs to automation.

Other choices are to stay in school and work harder to earn a better education leading to jobs that robots can’t replace any time soon—and stop blaming teachers for a student’s lack of interest, cooperation or laziness. The other choice is to end up working for poverty wages in the fast-food industry or retail stores like Wal-Mart—that is until those jobs are also replaced by robots.

And if you drive an 18 wheeler; work for UPS or FedEx, be warned, Google—for instance—is working hard to take driving cars and trucks away from humans and turn driving over to robots. Meanwhile, Amazon is working on another project to turn delivery of goods bought from its Website over to automated drones that will fly in and deliver what you buy.

Sounds cool until you realize that means an end to a human’s job.

Also discover STEEL (no, not steal) FROM CHINA

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,502 other followers