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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tiger Bone Wine

April 28, 2015

Every country has poorly written laws with loopholes that allow industrious entrepreneurs to make money anyway possible, and exploiting wild animals is one way to make that money.

For instance, in May 2003, the San Diego Wild Animal Park in the U.S. came under intense criticism from animal welfare group, and in February 1999, the San Jose Mercury News published a series of articles by Linda Goldstein entitled “Zoo Animals to Go”.

Goldstein alleged that major U.S. zoos in the United States purposely overbreed some animals to produce babies that are popular with the public and bring in crowds. Older and less popular animals are quietly discarded and often end up at rundown roadside zoos and exotic animal auctions.

In addition, unwanted but healthy animals were euthanized at the Detroit Zoo during the 1990s, and a handful of dealers preferred by the major zoos have become wealthy from the sales of unwanted exotics given or sold to them by the zoos, Goldstein claimed. – Entertainment Animals – Zoos

In China, animal welfare activists allege that a wildlife park in southeast China has been farming tigers. The Guilin tiger park then claims it is a research establishment devoted to the welfare and survival of the big cat.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reported from Guilin that the tigers are declawed and defanged and threatened with sticks to perform tricks for audiences.

However, Chinese animal welfare activists claim that this is nothing more than a farm producing tigers for their valuable body parts. To support that claim, in January 2015, Yale’s environment360 reported, “The number of tigers living in the wild has dropped to the shockingly low figure of 3,200, down from 100,000 a century ago. But nearly as shocking is this statistic: An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being farmed today in China, their bones steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their meat sold, and their skins turned into rugs for members of China’s wealthy elite.”

Hua Ning of International Fund for Animal Welfare says people hear about these farms and think that the tigers will not perish. She says the truth is this park has about 1,500 tigers and many are abused.

Al Jazeera’s Birtley says that killing tigers in China is illegal and offenders face stiff jail terms, but allowing tigers to die from starvation and neglect is not technically killing. That is the loophole in China’s law that critics say is being exploited at one wildlife park in Guilin.

The reality is that tigers are worth more dead than alive.

There are only a few hundred tigers at this park on display for visitors. Birtley was told the rest were used for research in a large section of the park closed to the public.

One product this park sells is wine made from tiger bones. One bottle may sell for $250 dollars.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses all parts of the tiger, but the bones are the most valuable part of the animal. It is believed these bones prolong life, cure rheumatism, arthritis and solve sexual problems.

Twenty-five kilos (55.1 pounds) of tiger bones will make enough wine to earn $300 thousand dollars.

Meanwhile, Animal News reports that China’s government has urged zoos to stop serving wild animal products and holding wildlife performances in an attempt to improve the treatment of tigers, bears and other animals amid concerns over widespread abuse in zoos and wildlife parks.

______________________________

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.

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Comparing China’s Tiananmen Incident to the U.S. War on the Philippine People

April 22, 2015

China has admitted that some of its citizens and troops were wounded and killed during the unrest known as the Tiananmen Incident and/or Massacre. On Wiki, you will read that there were 241 – 2,600 deaths and 7,000 – 10,000 injured. In addition, on June 19, Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing reported to the Politburo that the government’s confirmed death toll was 241, including 218 civilians (of which 36 were students), 10 PLA soldiers and 13 People’s Armed Police, along with 7,000 wounded (5,000 soldiers and police along with 2,000 civilians).

Now for the barbaric war the United States waged on the Philippine people. If you haven’t heard about this war before, don’t be surprised, because it has been suppressed (not censored). I mean, when’s the last time you’ve heard about it in the U.S. media compared to the number of times you’ve heard of China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. In fact, when I posted What really happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Michael Brant left this comment, “This could have been written by the PRC media spin department.”  I wonder what Brant would say about the U.S. war against the Philippine People—if he’s ever heard of that brutal war.

After the Spanish American War, America took possession of the Philippine islands and waged war against the native people killing between 300k – 1 million noncombatants. This conflict was caused by the struggle of the First Philippine Republic to gain independence from the United States following the latter’s acquisition of the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish–American War.

There is a 2010 film about this war called Amigo. I think the odds favor that you have never heard of this film that doesn’t portray the U.S. as the freedom loving country most Americans think it is. In fact, the film’s widest release in the U.S. was in 10 theaters and total domestic earnings were $184,705.  The production budget for the film was $1.5 million, and it never had a global release. The film is available through Amazon as an instant video to stream, but no DVD is available. I haven’t seen this film yet, because I’m still waiting for the DVD.

I think it’s always good to have the facts before passing judgment, and history does count if you are aware of it as long as it isn’t suppressed or revised.

Jesus Christ said, So when they continued asking Him, He lifted Himself up and said unto them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

If we take what He said seriously, then does any American have a right to annually condemn China for what happened during the Tiananmen incident in 1989 without also condemning the United States for what it did in the Philippines?

______________________________

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.

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Stopping Illegal Drug Trafficking in China

April 21, 2015

The expansion of poppy growing in recent years has created problems around the globe.

Even at one of the most remote border inspection stations in the world, the frontier guards must be vigilant against drug traffickers.

For instance, one border post in Xinjiang province along the border of China and Pakistan is at an altitude of 5,100 meters (almost 17,000 feet). The oxygen at this altitude is less than half of sea level. This is where China’s Hongqilafu border station stands.

In the last few years, more drugs have been smuggled across the Sino-Pakistani border because of the expansion of poppy growing in Afghanistan.

In fact, United Nations statistics show that 87% of all illegal heroin in the world comes from Afghanistan.

Khunjerab Pass

Li Shengyu, commander of the Hongqilafu Border Inspection Station says, “They need buyers for the huge amount of drugs. As far as we know, the drug dealers are targeting China as a new market and plan to make their way into China across the border at Hongqilafu.”

Between 2006 and 2008, huge amounts of drugs were intercepted at border stations. The Chinese border guards must be vigilant to discover hidden drugs among the tourists coming into China.

The most common method of smuggling is to hide the opium from Afghanistan in the smuggler’s luggage. The smugglers will also use other tricks to fool the inspectors.

At the Hongqilafu Border Inspection Station, one team of inspectors checks the luggage inside the station while another team inspects the empty bus.

China’s border guards even go under the tourist busses and check the bottom.  Sniffer dogs were sent to the station but the dogs died due to lack of oxygen.

The conditions at the border station have been improved over the years. At one time, the guards lived in trailers.  Now, they live in a new, updated border station in a permanent building.

One officer, who has been at the station for more than a decade, said, “In the past, when it was extremely cold in late winter, we couldn’t sleep at night. Sometimes the temperature fell so low that when I got up in the morning, I found that part of my cap had been frozen to the wall of the camper van.”

Grenztor nach Pakistan am Khunjerab Pass (4730m)

Khunjerab Pass (elevation 4,693 meters or 15,397 feet)

The Khunjerab Pass on the border between China and Pakistan is open from May 1 to October 31. For the rest of the year when the area is covered in ice and snow, the pass is closed. Yet, the border guards must be stationed there during the six months of the off season, and it’s a tough assignment even with improved living conditions.

As China has opened up more to the outside world, the Hongqilafu Border crossing is open to other nationalities than just Pakistanis. Each year, more tourists visit China along this route.

______________________________

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.

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The China Daily, a branch of Xinhua

April 15, 2015

The China Daily is the English language edition for one of China’s state-run newspapers. If you look at the internet address, you will also see Xinhua (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/xinhua/), and Xinhua is the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China. Xinhua operates more than 170 foreign bureaus worldwide and maintains one for each province in China. Today, Xinhua News Agency delivers its news across the world in six languages: Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic.

The editorial office is in Beijing and there are branch offices in most major cities of China as well as several foreign capitals. For instance, one office was established in New York City in 2009. You may also access the paper on-line (click above link).

The paper is regarded in the West as the English-language mouthpiece for China’s central government.

However, don’t think of the China Daily as only a source of propaganda. It’s a serious newspaper, and the people on the staff are professionals who see that the content of the paper fits the collective culture of China.

Any censorship usually doesn’t come from the leadership of the central government but from the reporters and editors of the paper. In fact, there have been times when the paper has been called by the central government and asked to cover a topic considered too sensitive by the staff.

Since China is still changing at a rapid pace, any opinions you hold about China may be obsolete. The country, culture, and lifestyles of the people are changing as fast as the economy.

 
If you are interested in hearing from an insider who worked at the China Daily in 1997, I recommend reading Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana by Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

______________________________

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

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There are almost 600 million Internet users in China

April 14, 2015

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Social Media in China is more powerful than it is in the United States, and if you think that what the Chinese say and think is controlled, think again.

For instance, in 2010, Keith B. Richburg reported in The Washington Post that labor unrest was spreading in China as more workers demanded higher wages. He writes, “Various economists, labor experts and activists said there were many more strikes and work stoppages rolling across China.”

How did that happen if the Chinese Communist Party controls the traditional media? Well, blogging has become the free press of China. The Chinese have more Blogs than any nation on the earth. Watch the next video to discover just how many Chinese are on line and how much time they spend on the internet.

Resonance China, a Chinese Social Media Agency, reported that the numbers of bloggers saw a huge jump in 2008. This is likely due to China’s internet hitting a critical point, combining social networks, with blog networks, with portals, and politically charged events. The drive to express online is a central motivation for the Chinese. Due to China’s strong censorship and control over the traditional media, the internet has become a major destination to receive balanced views, and see how other people think and react to events.

China may never have a political system similar to the United States but freedom of expression has arrived through the Internet and social media.


China has banned Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, WordPress, Blogger, etc. How do people connect, blog and chat in China? Watch the video and find out. You might be surprised.

______________________________

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

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