Historical China (was RE: Fw: Ted Kacyznski)

From: James Rogers (jamesr@best.com)
Date: Wed Jun 21 2000 - 05:27:49 MDT

On Tue, 20 Jun 2000, altamira wrote:
> There are in history some examples of civilizations which gave up major
> technologies. I believe it was China, where gunpowder was invented, where
> people gave up guns after having them for some time.

The Chinese never really used gunpowder as more than a curiousity, and
they never invented anything that could properly be considered a gun in any
conventional sense. It was the Europeans (the English first, I believe)
who figured out how to use it as an effective propellant and explosive for
military and other purposes.

Historically, the Chinese have a rather strange record of invention. They
made many important discoveries and developed many exceptional
capabilities, but very rarely did they expand or exploit these
developments. Part of it was cultural -- there was little room for
profit-making on invented technologies.

Another example of this is Chinese shipbuilding in the late 15th and early
16th century (IIRC), which was around the time the Portugese were the
dominant European sea-faring nation. Towards the end of the 15th century,
the Chinese took an interest in shipbuilding and proceeded to produce very
fine ships, some of which were over twice as long and had ten times the
displacement of the largest European vessels being produced at the time.
They sailed these around Asia and into the Indian ocean, trading with
local merchants and occasionally with the Europeans by proxy. By the
1530's though, the Powers-That-Were decided that there was no value to
being an sea-faring society and had the enormous ships dismantled. Had the
Chinese exploited their excellent shipbuilding technology to its fullest,
the world might be organized differently today.

The Chinese are an interesting example of a society structured in such a
way that the impact of technology on the social order is reduced to an
abolute minimum. I don't think most of us would be comfortable in that
type of environment, but it does describe a stable form of change
suppression that has a long history of working well in isolation. If they
had not been faced with the more aggressively competitive environment
created by the Europeans, I suspect China today would have changed little
from its historical forms.

(While I think I got all the dates and facts correct, I didn't check them
against my references, so I may be off a bit.)

-James Rogers

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