The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 3 of 4

April 26, 2018

The invention of movable type during the Song Dynasty also helped. The Dream Pool Essays (still in print more than a thousand years later) records most of the scientific achievements of the time, which included knowledge of petroleum and geological changes. The most important achievement recorded in the ancient encyclopedia was the invention of movable type by Bo Sheng.

The first printed characters were engraved in tiny cubes of baked clay.

The age of paper in the history of human civilization started in China. Papermaking had been developed during the Han Dynasty in 105 A.D. However, the quality of this paper was poor and was not ideal for writing. Later, during the Song Dynasty papermaking was improved to a high level.

Thanks to improved paper and printing presses, Song era books were printed in large numbers. Even today, original Song Dynasty books tell the world about the innovations and achievements of that era. At the time, Hangzhou (almost 110 miles southwest of Shanghai) was the greatest printing center in the world.

Movable type printing became widespread and had an important role in the cultural development of the time. The shape of books also changed. During the Tang Dynasty, books were rolled. However, with movable type, books were printed in volumes similar to modern books.

Han Qi, a research fellow at today’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that the development of Neo-Confucianism during the Song Dynasty was due to the widespread availability of printed books.

Those printed books also promoted the development of science, technology, and education, and during the Song Dynasty, both private and public school spread at a faster rate.

This was also the age of the scholar-bureaucrat. A scholar from an impoverished background could become a member of the higher social class by scoring high on the imperial examinations.

China was also the first country to introduce bronze-block printing for advertisements.

Porcelain from China during the Song Dynasty also helped make China a well-known trading partner with the West.

Continued in Part 4 on April 27, 2018, or return to Part 2

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 2 of 4

April 25, 2018

The Song Dynasty was responsible for innovations and prosperity that doubled the population from 50-million at the end of the Tang Dynasty to 100-million.

Here are a few examples of what happened. A new type of canal lock was invented in 1373 AD, four hundred years before someone in Europe invented a similar lock. This enabled China to finish building the Grand Canal, the longest canal in the world that is still in use.

The focus on astronomical observations helped improve agriculture and the Song Dynasty’s grain yield was ten to twenty times that of Europe at the time. In addition, methods to fertilize land that was not suitable for growing crops was also developed leading to two or three annual harvests that helped support the large population. For a comparison, the 3rd edition of Introduction to Medieval Europe reports, “Bold estimates for the whole of continental Europe (including Russia and the Balkans) place the number of inhabitants in the year 1000 at 30 and 40 million.”

Although China’s four greatest inventions came long before the Song Dynasty, it wasn’t until then that papermaking, the large-scale application of printing, the compass, and gunpowder made their mark about four hundred years before the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1440 AD.

It was also during this dynasty that the compass was improved for navigation making it less likely for ships to get lost at sea and allowed ships to travel farther from China.

To preserve these innovations, Shen Kuo published his Dream Pool Essays in 1088 AD (still in print today), a huge encyclopedic book that covered a wide range of subjects, including literature, art, military strategy, mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, geography, metallurgy, engineering, hydraulics, architecture, zoology, botany, agronomy, medicine, anthropology, archeology, etc.

Continued in Part 3 on April 26, 2018, or return to Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 1 of 4

April 24, 2018

Fifty-three years after the Tang Dynasty collapsed (618 – 907AD), the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) was born and established its first capital in Kaifeng City, Henan Province.

The Song Dynasty survived for 319 years — thirty years longer than the Tang Dynasty.

Reference.com says, “While the Tang and Song dynasties shared much in common, there were a couple of major differences in the way they ruled over the populous territory of China. During both periods China experiences political, cultural and social blossoming. Some common traits include the development of trade, the flourishing of painting and poetry and the improvement of bureaucracy. Even though both Tang and Song were Chinese dynasties, they did not rule over the same territory. The Song power was centered on the southeastern part of the country, whereas the Tang power extended over much of modern China, as well as Manchuria, Tibet, and Mongolia.”

In addition, during the Song Dynasty, astronomy was one of the areas where advances were made. In July 1054, an unknown nova appeared in the sky. The sudden appearance of this nova alarmed the bureau of astronomy. A year later, the star vanished. The nova was important because Chinese astronomers discovered the Crab Nebula near Taurus and careful records were kept that still benefits science today.

In fact, the world’s largest and earliest star chart was carved on a stele in Suzhou, Jiangsu.

Continued with Part 2 on April 25, 2018

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Judaism in China

April 18, 2018

The Jews settled in Kaifeng, Henan Province in 960 AD after arriving along the Silk Road.  The Jews who first arrived in China were welcomed by the Imperial government, which encouraged them to retain their cultural identity by building a synagogue that was finished in 1163 AD.

The Kaifeng Synagogue had a Torah written on sheepskin. The architecture of the buildings reflects Jewish culture. Evidence indicates that the Kaifeng Jews were very traditional and obeyed Kosher dietary laws and practiced circumcision for males.

The Jewish community in China thrived for centuries before it was assimilated into Chinese culture through intermarriage. But by the middle of the 18th century, little survived of that Jewish community.

In 1849, the Yellow River flooded causing what was left of the Jewish community to break apart. Today there are about five hundred descendants of the Kaifeng Jewish community that want to reclaim their Jewish traditions.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Religious Influence in China

April 17, 2018

The Financial Times reports, “Christianity first reached China in the 7th century AD, brought by Nestorian Eastern Syriac believers.” The Review of Religions.org says Islam arrived about the same time, but in the 17th century, The downturn for Muslims began with the rise of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. Qing Emperors made life very hard for Muslims. First they prohibited the Halal slaughter of animals, then they banned the construction of new Mosques and the pilgrimage for Hajj. Conditions grew bleak for Islam in the second half of the 19th Century when rebellion led to the slaughter of possibly millions of Chinese Muslims.”

This helps explain why China has never had an organized religion dominate the culture as religions have in Western and Middle Eastern countries.

In fact, when organized religions meddle too much, the Chinese eventually strike back. During the Tang Dynasty in 878 A.D., a rebel leader named Huang Chao burned and pillaged Guangzhou (better known in the West as Canton) killing tens of thousands of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Then there were two Opium Wars during the middle of the nineteenth century where France and England invaded to force opium and Christian missionaries on China.

That resulted in the Taiping Rebellion, which was led by a Christian convert, Hong Xiuquan, known as God’s Chinese son. Hong claimed to be Jesus Christ’s younger brother. Estimates say twenty to thirty million Chinese may have died during this religious war to rid China of opium and turn China into a Christian nation, far more than all the Crusades combined.

The culmination of a series of campaigns against organized religions starting in the late 19th century, including Mao’s Cultural Revolution, destroyed or forced Christians, Jews, and Muslims to hide their religious beliefs.

More than thirteen hundred years have passed since Christianity and Islam were introduced to China, but after all those centuries only 0.45-percent of the Chinese population follows Islam while about 2.5-percent are Christians. That means about 97-percent of the population does not belong to an organized religion like Christianity or Islam that often has an influence on politics.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The repeating Chinese crossbow led to the modern machine gun

April 11, 2018

Vendian.org reports, “The crossbow was invented in Ancient China during the Zhou dynasty, around the year 700 BC. … They had a range of up to 650 feet. The crossbow had a firing mechanism, which was so complicated that it would have been nearly impossible for an enemy to understand how it worked, thus reducing the chance that the crossbow could be copied by hostile civilizations. …  And, in the eleventh century, rapid-firing crossbows were developed that could fire 20 arrows in only 15 seconds.”

The mechanism that made this Chinese eleventh-century repeating crossbow work was the forerunner to the modern machine gun.

The Chinese also invented the stirrup around the fourth century A.D. Before that invention, all of the people on earth rode horses without stirrups and staying on horseback while fighting was a challenge. Scientific American says the “Invention of the stirrup may rival that of the longbow and gunpowder.”

Thanks to stirrups, the horse became a more stable platform for war. Prior to the stirrup, it was common for a man to ride about seven miles a day. After the stirrup, that distance was extended to as much as seventy miles a day.

The invention of the stirrup along with the repeating crossbow created powerful weapons. The Chinese could also manufacture items in mass, quickly and efficiently. The Chinese used pottery molds to accomplish this—even to build the advanced trigger mechanism for the crossbow. When it came to cast iron, the Chinese were a thousand years ahead of the world.

However, by the time of the Sung Dynasty, the world was catching up because China’s enemies were stealing their technology.  It’s ironic that today, many in the West accuse the Chinese of stealing innovations. If so, China is only doing what was done to them centuries ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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For more than a thousand years, China traded tea for Tibetan horses

April 10, 2018

If Americans count the colonial era before the U.S. Revolution as part of their history (not counting more than 15,000 years of the native civilizations that were already here when the colonists invaded from Europe), we start with the first colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. That’s 411 years of history for the United States, but China’s recorded history stretches back more than 3,000 years.

What that means is China’s history is overwhelming rich with stories and one of those stories is about the ancient Tea Horse Road.

How many of you have heard of the ancient Tea Horse Road? I didn’t know about it until I first read about it in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine (NGM).

Tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for Tibetan horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the NGM piece. For more than a thousand years, Chinese men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea across the rugged Himalayan Mountains to Lhasa. Some froze solid in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed to the clouds.

This ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. “It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket that the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.

Did you know that the British stole the secret of making tea from China? That’s another story from China’s history.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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