Shanghai Love – a book review

June 15, 2016

From the title, Shanghai Love, we already know that Layne Wong’s story is about love in Shanghai, and it doesn’t take long to discover who the two main characters are.

It is 1938, and in chapter one in China we are introduced to Peilin. In chapter two we meet Henri in Nazi Germany.

The love story isn’t what made this novel worth reading. It was the journey the two characters take to find each other. They are both doctors. Henri is Jewish and trained in western medicine. He has to leave his family behind in Germany and flee to China to avoid Hitler’s Nazis who are hunting for him because he dared to love a woman who was not Jewish.

Peilin was trained by her grandfather in Chinese herbal medicine, and by the time Henri meets her, she has already been married to a ghost.

As a young girl, a marriage was arranged to a boy almost twice Peilin’s age, but when he was a young man—before the marriage—he was killed in combat fighting the Japanese who invaded China in July of 1937. By the time Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese in December 1941, China has already been fighting Japan for more than four years. To give you an idea of how horrible it was, by the end of World War II, China had lost ten to twenty million people (troops and civilians) to the war compared to 418,500 for the United States.

One would think with her fiancé dead, Peilin would be free to move on with her life, but no—because in China at the time it was expected that Peilin must still marry the man’s ghost, stay a virgin for life and live with her in-laws who bought a baby for her to raise as if she was its biological mother and the dead man its father.

In addition, the story is set in an era when both the Chinese and Europeans disapproved of interracial relationships. In Germany, there was racism against the Jews. But in China, there is prejudice from some Chinese because Henri is white. In addition, many of the Jewish refugees look down on the Chinese culture and disapprove of Henri spending time with Peilin. It seems that these two can’t win and are fated to be star-crossed lovers.

I recommend reading this story because it offers a reminder of the horrors of war and racism. During World War II, more than 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world that put no limits on the number of Jews it accepted.

Another plot thread that runs through the novel is the focus on Chinese herbal medicine and how different it is from the western concept of medical care. The Chinese were studying advanced medical care long before the West. In fact, Chinese medical tradition is more than 5,000 years old including herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise and dietary therapy—concepts that the West didn’t pay serious attention to until near the end of the 20th century.

I’m not going to tell you how the love story turns out between Henri and Peilin. You’ll have to buy and read the novel to discover what happens.

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

Where to Buy

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

Advertisements

Stealing the Secrets of Tea Built a Bloody Empire

April 26, 2016

If you are interested in a real-life 19th century collision between the West and China, I highly recommend Sarah Rose’s nonfiction work For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. You will discover that the British Empire and its merchants were successful, because they were more ruthless and devious than anyone else on the Earth.

In fact, you also might be interested in the list of wars that involved the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1701 – 2011. Be prepared for jaw dropping shock if you don’t already know this history, because the price of empire is lots of spilled blood.

At its greatest extent, the British Empire was known as the largest in history, and it covered more than thirteen-million square miles (20,921,472 square kilometers), which is about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area, and it ruled over more than 500 million people—a quarter of the world’s population at the time.

The British Empire spread the English language—not the United States that Donald Trump wants to make great again (whatever that means)—and English is the second most-widely spoken language in the world today  According to Statista.com, 1.5 billion people speak English, and Chinese, ranked second, is spoken by 1.1 billion.

But to make English the most spoken language on the planet, the British Empire became a thief and the largest drug cartel in human history.

In her book Sarah Rose wrote a fascinating story of Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) and one of, if not the largest, acts of corporate espionage and theft in history. Her book is about how the British stole tea plants and the method of producing tea from China and successfully transplanted this industry to India.

For example, if you drink Darjeeling Tea from India, you are drinking a product that was a result of theft from China by Robert Fortune in the early half of the 19th century.

But there is much more to this story than the theft of tea from the country that may have invented it almost five thousand years ago. In fact, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BCE.

First, I want to dispel a misconception I discovered from a two-star Amazon reader review of the book that said, “I was a little skeptical about her comment in the notes ‘As this is a work of popular history, not a scholarly undertaking, I have avoided the use of footnotes and tried to steer clear of mentioning sources in the body of the text. Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction …’ ”

That unfair review left off the rest of Sarah Rose’s quote: “Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction, and anything in quotes comes from a letter, memoir, newspaper or other contemporaneous sources.

“I have relied heavily on Robert Fortune’s four memoires, his letters to the East India Company and other company documents housed in the British Library. Over five hundred books and documents were consulted in putting this project together.” (pg. 251, hardcover)

On page 227 of the hardcover, Rose wrote, “By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them, it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices.”

In addition, “Tea likewise revolutionized Britain’s capital and banking systems and influenced the rapid growth of trade networks in the Far East. It was instrumental in extending the reach of British colonialism as the empire expanded to include countries such as Burma, Ceylon, East Africa and others where tea could be grown …”

On page 178, we learn that, “It was through drug-based commercial enterprises such as the tea and opium trade that Britain became the greatest of all hegemonic empires. The British campaign to sell opium in China was tremendously profitable. … Britain’s all-conquering naval fleet was able to be constantly improved with newly minted capital from the sugar, tea and opium trades. Without opium, the India trade would not have flourished and without India, Britain’s post-Napoleonic global ascendency could well have collapsed.”

These few quotes do not do justice to Robert Fortune’s adventure in China. He successfully passed himself off as a citizen of the Qing Empire dressed in mandarin robes. He even had a queue, a braid of hair worn hanging down behind the head, sewn to his scalp and had his head shaved to match the style of the time.

“He eventfully became proficient enough with speaking Mandarin that he was able to adopt the local dress and move among the populous largely unnoticed. By shaving his head and adopting a ponytail, this rather gruff Scotsman was able to effectively blend in. So well in fact, that he was able to enter the forbidden city of Souchow (now Wuhsien) unchallenged.” Source: Planet Explorers.com

Besides being loaded with facts, this book is also an adventure and/or spy thriller based on a real person and his mission of intrigue—if caught, he would have been executed. To pull off the biggest heist of all time, Fortune traveled to areas of China that no foreigner had ever visited before, and his only companions were Chinese that he had bribed to work for him.

Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world combined– including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol. In fact, China is still the leading tea producer in the world, and in 2010 China produced 1,467,467 tons (32.5% of the world’s tea) compared to second place India at 991,180 tons (21.9%). Third place went to Kenya at 399,000 tons (8.83%).

In addition, consumption of tea in 2010 grew at a faster rate than global production. In the United States alone in 2011, the US tea industry’s gross revenue through all foodservice and retail outlets was greater than $27-billion (and twelve countries consumed more tea than the US). That makes tea more popular than Hollywood, because ticket sales for the US domestic movie market were only $11.1 billion in 2015.

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

Where to Buy

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


Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 2 of 2

February 24, 2016

In the first 122 pages of Country DrivingPeter Hessler sets out to drive the entire length of the Great Wall in a rented Chinese made Jeep Cherokee, and he achieves his goal. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians claim it was. Yes, in several thousand years, the wall failed a few times but it served its purpose and did protect China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall but he wrote that there are amateur experts, and we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China.

In Part II, Hessler takes us into a small village a few hours drive outside Beijing where he rents a house and becomes accepted by the insular-rural village community. Along the way, he makes friends and becomes involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the Chinese Communist Party (there are about 80 million CCP members in China) and uses this to his advantage as he continues to improve the quality of his family’s lifestyle.

In Part III, Hessler travels to the city of Winzhou in Southern China where he spends time developing relationships with factory bosses and workers.  In this section, the Chinese people he meets are open and friendly. Hessler sees a side of China that few witness, and it is obvious that the factory workers are not victims because of low pay and long work hours. Instead, they see this new life as an opportunity.


Peter Hessler discussing his novel “Oracle Bones”

When I finished Hessler’s memoir, I walked away feeling as if I had experienced an in-depth taste of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China since Mao’s death in 1976. Since China’s critics mostly focus on the negative, which is the corruption and/or authoritarian one-party system, and never admit the good that the CCP has accomplished, most people would not understand what I discovered.  To understand what I mean, one must compare China before 1949, by reading such books like those written by Hessler and his wife.

Before 1949, more than 90% of the people in China lived in severe poverty, more than 80% were illiterate, the average lifespan was 35, few people owned land, and the risk of death from famine had been an annual threat for more than two thousand years. In fact, most rural Chinese were treated as if they were beasts of burden and not humans.

Today, according to the CIA Factbook, about 6.1% of Chinese live in severe poverty (living on $400 or less annually), and they mostly live in remote, rugged, and difficult to reach areas of China.  The average  lifespan is now 75.4 years and Helen H. Wang writing for Forbes.com (February 2011) reported that China’s middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States and is expected to reach 800 million in by 2026. In addition, no one has died of famine since 1959-1961.

I highly recommend Country Living for anyone that wants to learn more about today’s dramatically changing China from an unbiased and honest perspective.

Return to or start with Part 1

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

Where to Buy

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


Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 1 of 2

February 23, 2016

Most books that I’ve read of China cover its history up to Mao’s death and after 1949, it is difficult to trust almost anything one reads in the West or in China, since most of this work is either biased and/or propagandized in the West or propaganda in China since the mass media is owned by the State.

However, I’m glad that I read Peter Hessler’s memoir of China, Country Driving. Rarely does Hessler intrude with his own Western bias—if there is one—which appears to make a slight appearance near the end. I suspect that his editor at Harper Collins suggested that he add it to the story, and he complied, because the few opinions he expresses near the conclusion of his memoir do not match the experiences that he shares with his readers in the rest of the book. In fact, while reading the book, I grew to trust Hessler’s perspective of today’s China.

It is obvious that Hessler honestly loves/respects China and its people and this infatuation runs throughout the memoir. He also carefully or unintentionally avoids mention of what he thinks about his own culture.

Maybe the reason why he continues to return to China in his writing is because of this infatuation with a culture that values family more than most Western cultures do.  In fact, in the memoir’s acknowledgements, I discovered that Hessler was married to Leslie T. Chang.

Hessler’s wife is the author of Factory Girls, which is also about today’s China. Chang is Chinese-American and a graduate of Harvard. She is also an accomplished journalist and was raised outside New York City by immigrant parents, who forced her to attend Saturday-morning Chinese school.


Leslie Chang discussing her novel “Factory Girls”

Both Peter and Leslie have published work that went on to be honored as New York Times Notable Books.

Much of Hessler’s book was connected to projects he wrote at The New Yorker or National Geographic. The memoir is divided into three sections:  Book I, The Wall; Book II, The Village, and Book III, The Factory.

Throughout the book there is a common theme: the independence and individuality of most Chinese and the failure of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, that’s there but often ignored by most of the people unless they can use the CCP to their own advantage.  That doesn’t mean the propaganda has no influence but the people seldom let it get in their way as they work to improve the quality of their lifestyles.

In fact, it becomes clear in Hessler’s memoir that there are three Chinas: there is rural China, urban China and the Chinese Communist Party and many shades of gray between them.

Continued on February 24, 2016 in Part 2

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

Where to Buy

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 Answer to Harry Potter

July 15, 2015

Guest review by Tom Carter

China’s love affair with superstition, pseudoscience and the fantastical may be traced back over five millennia, whence some of history’s oldest myths and legends originated.

Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), published anonymously by scholar Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century Ming Dynasty, remains China’s most beloved fantasy story.  Considered one of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature, the 100 chapters of ‘Journey’ are replete with monkey kings, flesh-eating demons, immortal sages and celestial battles.

When science fiction became all the craze in 1950’s America, Red China followed suit by founding its first sci-fi periodical.

However, unlike the west, where rapid advances in the tech sector fueled science fiction, China promoted sci-fi to help inspire its own dormant technological progress.

Conversely, about the same time during the 70s when American director George Lucas was preparing to film a little space opera called Star Wars, the Cultural Revolution was banishing all China’s scientists to hard-labor communes.

Indeed, where the Chinese have categorically failed in speculative fiction (programming on the Communist-controlled CCTV is evidence enough that future perspective is held in little regard here: of China’s 19 official television channels, all feature serials set in olden times, some in the present, none about the future), they remain masters of mythology and purveyors of the past.

Present-day PRC is seeing a renaissance of the fantasy genre.  The wuxia-inspired Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a critical and commercial success, generations of young, Chinese cyber-punks are hopelessly addicted to the virtual sorcery of World of Warcraft, and Harry Potter remains China’s “most pirated novel ever”.

Even so, no Chinese author has ever been able to replicate the success of Journey to the West; as a result, publishing houses in the Middle Kingdom prefer to translate western best-sellers such as Lord of the Rings and Narnia rather than take their chances on local fantasy fiction writers.

Enter Zee Gorman (nee Yan Zi-hong) China’s response to J.K. Rowling.

Born in Guangdong province during the Cultural Revolution (both her parents were exiled to the countryside for being “intellectuals”), Zee was raised on a literary diet of propaganda and scar literature.

Rather than publish a clichéd daughter-of-the-Revolution memoir about her hardships, the aspiring author opted for the escapism of fantasy. Hence, her decades-in-the-making debut novel, The Altethlon Chronicles.

A high-fantasy fiction set in a parallel universe either far in China’s future or in its past, The Altethlon Chronicles is a complex blend of military, history, romance and sorcery.

Leading the rich cast of green-eyed, purple-skinned characters is the royal yet rebellious teen Ximia (“what kind of princess are you anyway, running around like a wildcat?”) and her forbidden lover, Nikolas, the leader of a rival tribe – a tumultuous relationship most likely inspired by Zee’s own experience with cultural clash when she immigrated to the U.S. and married an American.

Ximia is misled into believing that Nikolas has been killed during an escape attempt, whereby the princess is married off by her father to a dastardly lord.  The two young warriors go on to lead their respective armies until the day when destiny arranges for them to meet again in battle.

Lots of magic, weird names and epic battles of Tolkien proportions (note: this reviewer has never actually read a J. R. R. Tolkien book; I just thought it sounded cool to say that) ensue.

In creating this alternate world, Zee draws heavily on her Chinese heritage.

Kingdoms such as Manchuli, Dalong and Taklaman are each reminiscent of real regions in China.

Nonetheless, Zee, who is bi-lingual and holds dual degrees in English Literature, chose to write The Altethlon Chronicles in her second language and self-publish in America rather than risk having it pirated in China’s nascent fantasy market.

Some realities are worth escaping.

____________________

Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on Amazon.com.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Bernd Hagemann’s “Sleeping Chinese”

May 27, 2015

a guest post by Tom Carter of Bernd Hagemann’s Sleeping Chinese

German businessman Bernd Hagemann arrived in China in 2002 amidst media reports of China’s impending rise to global domination. “News outlets around the world,” he writes, “were warning us about… how fast China is developing, how competitive it is, and what a tense life the Chinese people must live.”

Casual strolls down the streets of China in between boardroom meetings and networking, however, soon revealed to Hagemann a far less threatening side of China. So he took out his point-and-shoot camera and documented what he saw all around him. In just 148 pages, Hagemann’s debut photography book Sleeping Chinese swiftly dispels 9 years of chest-pounding by the PRC propaganda machine.

Sleeping Chinese is a fun little novelty item the exact same dimensions as a postcard that will leave you either laughing out loud or scratching your head in perplexity. The pages are divided into 3 parts: Hard Sleepers, Soft Sleepers and Group Sleepers, a clever allusion to China’s train carriage classification system.

Hard Sleepers: “Those who snooze in hard and uncomfortable places can fall asleep anywhere – even on a pile of bricks in a construction site!” Hagemann defines.

Witness, then, the dozens of people who have drifted into deep slumber atop stones, wood, mortar blocks, concrete and even cold slabs of raw meat. The most comical of the chapter being the dozing shoe repair man balancing precariously on a saw horse with an extra 2×4 for a pillow.

Soft Sleepers: “A little more fussy than their hard sleeper comrades,” the chapter intro explains, “fussy” meaning in plastic wash bins, hammocks slung under freight trucks, sleeping lengthwise across a motor scooter and even a laborer using a tape measure to cover his eyes.

Group Sleepers: “A traveling family needs no pillows when they have each other’s knees.” Truly, the photo of the family of five all huddled together like newborn puppies gives greater meaning to ‘jiating,’ China’s family unit.

 

Some Chinese might take offense to Hagemann’s photographic agenda, but anyone with a sense of humor will see that the book was made out of affection.

“I’d like to express my appreciation of the hard work and effort put in by migrant workers who play a central role in China’s success story but seldom receive the attention they deserve,” writes Hagemann.

Indeed, anyone who has spent quality time in China knows that these laborers, more than anyone else, deserve their rest — anywhere they can get it.

None of the snapshots in Sleeping Chinese were staged. Any foreign tourist in China who bothers to stray from his package tour group or get out of his hotel for a jaunt off the tourist trail will see these exact same sights, and more.

Incidentally, taking and publishing photos of sleeping Chinese people will often land a foreign tourist in hot water if caught by the authorities (the subjects themselves tend not to mind).

People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Politburo, even attempted to put a socialist spin on Hagemann’s revealing imagery in an article about Sleeping Chinese: “If (we) are tired, (we) lie down anywhere and anytime and sleep. This shows (our) society’s accepting attitude.”

Regarding the western media’s scare tactics of China’s “waking dragon,” this reviewer is reminded by Sleeping Chinese of a particular song from old-school hip-hop artists Public Enemy (who I had occasion to watch perform during their 2007 tour through Beijing): Don’t Believe the Hype!

____________________

Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page China photography book, available through Amazon.com

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


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