Re: Historical China (was RE: Fw: Ted Kacyznski)

Date: Wed Jun 21 2000 - 11:22:23 MDT

In a message dated 6/21/00 9:33:37 AM, writes:

>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.

No guns, but they did have cannon, which were a critical part of the
Ming military system against steppe nomads. It's certainly true they
did far less with it than the Europeans did.

>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.

Possibly, although the European were far ahead in a number of seafaring
technologies. They were far better at navigation, sailing into the
wind, and they had designed good shipborne cannon. The Arabs could
also make large sturdy ships in huge numbers, but the Portuguese still
blew them to bits. I often see claims that the European did not catch
the Chinese technologically prior to 1700 or so, but I don't see that
as justified.

It would be interesting sociology to discuss the differences between
the innovative and outward-looking Southern Song and the conservative
and repressive Ming (which government was responsible for the innovation-
squashing you discuss).

>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.

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