A few Chinese inventions (Part 1)

A few of the far-reaching Chinese inventions which changed the world
(From ‘Humans are free’ article “22 Chinese inventions which changed the world”)

Abacus   The Chinese developed the abacus, a counting device, around 100 AD. By the 1300’s it was perfected and given the form it still has today

Alcohol   Newly unearthed evidence suggests that we have the Chinese to thank for inventing alcohol. Analysis of 9000-year-old pottery shards found in the Henan province revealed the presence of alcohol, 1000 years before inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, previously believed to be the first brewers.

Canals and Locks   Imperial China’s construction of waterways to connect different parts of its vast territory produced some of the world’s greatest water engineering projects

Clock   One of the greatest inventions of the medieval world was the mechanical clock.

Compass   Recognized in Chinese as Si Nan, this early version of today’s compass came in the form of a two-part instrument, the first one a metal spoon made of magnetic loadstone, the second one a square bronze plate, which featured, in Chinese characters, the main directions of North, South, East, West, etc., symbols from the I-Ching oracle books, and the finer markings of 24 compass points with the 28 lunar mansions along the outer edge

Crossbow  The use of the bow and arrow for hunting and for war dates back to the Paleolithic period in Africa, Asia, and Europe. It was widely used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Americas, and Europe until the introduction of gunpowder.

However, over two thousand years ago in China, the crossbow was invented as an innovation to the basic bow and arrow that extended the use of mechanical hand weapons throughout the world.

Gunpowder and Fireworks   Gunpowder is the first explosive substance mankind learnt to use and also one of the four great inventions of ancient China.

Iron and Bronze    Coming much earlier than it did in other civilizations; the Bronze Age in Chinese history was especially significant. It was during this period around 3000 BC that Chinese metal workers discovered how to make bronze from copper and tin, producing an easier casting method that allowed them to make sharper cutting tools.

Kite    Two thousand years before the European discovery of flying sails, the first Chinese kites were already in flight.

Movable Sails & Rudder   The Chinese maritime forces, therein including the sailors as well as the shipbuilders, had no comparable equals in the ancient world. They were learned, widely traveled and technically advanced. The Cape of Good Hope, Australia, trade with Africa, a possible landing in the Americas-all of these achievements have at one time or another been attributed to these formidable men.

In addition, the ancient Chinese maritime forces were responsible for the invention of the rudder and watertight compartments for ship’s hulls. Likewise, they are credited with innovating the use of masts and the replacement of the basic square sail with the fore-and-aft rig allowing the ship to sail into the wind.

Musical Breakthroughs   The Chinese court musician Ling-lun created the first reed instrument, the bamboo pipe, sometime between 3000 and 2501 B.C. By 2500 B.C., Chinese music grew more complex, employing a five-note scale.

In subsequent dynasties, the development of Chinese music was strongly influenced by foreign music, especially Central Asia..

Paper, Printing and Publishing   In almost every respect, the Chinese were at the forefront of developing the printed word. In 105 A.D., Ts’ai Lun invented the process for manufacturing paper, introducing the first use in China.

Paper Money   The Chinese invented paper money in the 9th century AD. Its original name was flying money because it was so light it could blow out of one’s hand. As exchange certificates used by merchants, paper money was quickly adopted by the government for forwarding tax payments.

Porcelain   The invention of porcelain was China’s great contribution to the world civilization.


China in the 15th Century AD

We, Zheng He and companions, at the beginning of Zhu Di’s reign received the Imperial Commission as envoys to the barbarians. Up until now seven voyages have taken place and, each time, we have commanded several tens of thousands of government soldiers and more than a hundred oceangoing vessels. We have … reached countries of the Western Regions, more than three thousand countries in all.

We have … beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising sky high, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away, hidden in a blue transparency of light vapours, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds, day and night continued their course, rapid like that of a star, traversing those savage waves.”

(Stone inscriptions in the Palace of the Celestial Spouse Chiang su and Liu Shia Chang, dated 1431)

“On 8 March 1421 the biggest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di’s eunuch admirals. Their mission was to proceed all the way to the end of earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. That journey would last over two years and circle the globe.”

“… They had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years before the Europeans.”

The above are from ‘1421. The year China discovered the world’ by Gavin Menzies. He is a retired Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer, born in China. He spent 15 years tracing the astonishing voyages of Admiral Zheng He’s fleets.

The book contains many pages of supporting evidence; eye witness diaries; key chartsdescribing the first navigation of the world”; and the “determination of longitude by the Chinese in the early 15th century.” A somewhat comprehensive presentation.

As said on the inside front cover “His compelling narrative pulls together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators. It brings to light the artefacts and inscribed stones left behind by the emperor’s fleet, the evidence of sunken junks along the route and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in thanks to Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.”

The reviews shown by amazon.co.uk had an average rating of 4 (out of 5) from more than 500 reviewers.

Eurocentric readers, fed on Columbus and Magellan (both of whom had maps to follow), will need to rely on the achievements of European colonialism from the 15th to the 20th century AD, and today’s neo-colonialism. Ironically, the former colonial powers are now led by a new nation created by European emigrants within this colonial period.

Did China spark the Italian Renaissance? (Part 2)

China had been collecting tribute from south-eastern and southern Asia for some time. This process involved ambassadors from these lands being taken to China as valued guests, treated most favourably there, and then returned home with gifts. The visiting ambassadors would have delivered valuable gifts to the Emperor as tribute.

Admiral Zheng He was sent, with 7 Treasure Fleets, to identify and investigate all the barbarian lands; and to offer their leaders the opportunity to pay their respect to China by bringing tribute to the Emperor. To that end, they were given maps and shown the way to China. In this process, the Admiral or his deputies, while suffering a huge tsunami (near South Island, New Zealand) and other fatalities, calculated longitude (hitherto beyond the scope of previous mariners), and mapped the world.

The inside front cover of ‘1434: The year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed into Italy and ignited the Renaissance’ contains these extracts.

“… Menzies makes the startling claim that in the year 1434, China – then the world’s most technologically advanced civilisation – provided the spark that set the Renaissance ablaze.”

“Fifteenth century Florence and Venice were hubs of world trade, attracting merchants from all over the globe. In 1434, a Chinese fleet – official ambassadors of the Emperor – arrived in Tuscany and met with Pope Eugenius IV in Florence.”

“… the delegation presented the influential pope with a diverse wealth of Chinese learning: art, geography (including world maps which were later passed onto Columbus and Magellan), astronomy, mathematics, printing, architecture, civil engineering, military weapons, and more.”

“The vast treasure of knowledge spread across Europe, igniting the legendary inventiveness of the Renaissance, including Da Vinci’s mechanical creations, the Copernican revolution and Galileo’s discoveries.”

Why would the Chinese delegation hand over to the barbarian Pope (and his people) more than the maps required to reach China with tribute? To show the extent to which China was ahead of other people, both industrially and culturally?

Or, did the Chinese hand over a book containing all this additional information, without realising that much of it might be plagiarised by key individuals each proclaiming his inventiveness? Menzies suggests this may be the case.

Nearly ten years have passed since 1434 was published. Have there been any factual rebuttals?

Did China spark the Italian Renaissance? (Part 1)

“In 1434 a sophisticated Chinese delegation visited Italy. After that date the authority of Aristotle and Ptolemy was overturned, and Chinese knowledge ignited the work of geniuses such as da Vinci, Copernicus and Galileo. China’s influence sparked the Renaissance. The course of Western civilisation was changed forever.

Following on the bestselling 1421, Gavin Menzies’ controversial new book 1434 charts the final voyage of the Imperial Chinese fleet. His astonishing discoveries about China’s legacy in Europe rewrite the history of our modern world.”

The above are from the back cover of ‘1434: The year a magnificient Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and ignited the Renaissance.’

Credible? A Western historian is on record saying that he had difficulty suspending his misbeliefs about Menzies’ tentative conclusions. About what? The gifts of new knowledge to the then Pope from the Emperor of China delivered by Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He); and how the Renaissance arose from the spread if this high-value knowledge.

Anyone who had read the book will be impressed by the vast scope of Menzies’ investigations. His details about the principal players in this drama, what they did or contribute, and their relationships with one another are incredible. So much research!

Menzies is a former mariner, who “visited 120 countries, over 900 museums and libraries, and every major sea port of the later Middle Ages” in the course of researching his previous book ‘1421.’ Through the massive investigations by his research teams into the pathways the contribution by China seem to have led to the Renaissance in Italy, Menzies has again drawn upon the work of many earlier reputable researchers and relevant documents in major libraries.

Disbelief and probable Eurocentrism are one side of the coin. The other side requires demonstrating an alternative explanation for Italy’s sudden Renaissance in the realm of the technologies, maps, art, etc., etc. which Menzies refers to.

Is there any value in just asking “Where’s the evidence?” That allegedly happened when some historians in Australia examined ‘1421: The year China discovered the world.’ Most of the evidence is obviously in China. Go look!

My identity

In British Malaya, the land of my birth, we were classified according to the territory from which we had come. I was therefore Ceylonese. In post-war White Australia, I was initially described as a black man, occasionally black bastard. Later, I was an Asian student, with Immigration authorities ensuring that we did not become over-stayers. Then I became an Indian, because everyone brown in colour, other than the indigene, was Indian; although I was occasionally asked when my Afghan ancestors had arrived in Australia.

Later, much later, like everyone else, I was defined by my work, with passing reference to my origins. Occupation and status were standard delineations of identity. However, when my wife and I mixed with middle-range diplomats, I was assumed to be a foreign diplomat; brown-skinned Asian Australians were a missing species. I guess we scrubbed up well too, and spoke ‘proper like.’

Among the academics, I was assumed to be one of them; my tendency to speak in jargon from the social sciences may have misled them all. I was a mere public servant. In this arena, one’s social contacts were obliquely, yet inevitably, set by one’s position in the pecking order!

When I retired, to live alone in a small fibro-and-tin house in a low-income district, and drove an old Corolla, initially I seemed to be viewed as a blackfellow. That is, many of the local whites looked askance at me, reminding me of the White Australia era. Even when I was dressed relatively expensively, some locals looked at me, as in earlier times, as if I might suddenly bite them; they had that wary look. The local Aborigines would not, of course, accept me as a ‘blackfella.’ I was, to them, a ‘whitefella.’

Then, when my community discovered that I am a bicultural immigrant writer from Asia, of an unclear ancestry and religious affiliation, I was (thankfully) ignored as a non-identity. Because I did not fish, play golf or bowls, I obviously did not fit in as one of them; that was in spite of my visible involvement in civil society, often in leadership positions.

I guess I am a rolling stone collecting a variety of replaceable identities.

Do intolerant religious bullies represent an institutional religion?

In mid-2017, one of the Australian States was reportedly about to legislate the availability of physician-assisted death, with necessary safeguards to avoid anyone being killed, and preventing an avalanche of deaths rushing down a slippery slope. Up pops someone protesting against this availability.

He does not want this right, but I do. He has no right to speak for me or to represent the whole population. No one has, not even a bioethicist or a theologian representing a church of choice. In fact, over many decades, more than 80% of the Australian populace has sought what was once described as voluntary euthanasia, now defined more specifically as physician-assisted death under the most stringent conditions.

His defence in seeking to interfere with my right is that his God, through the medium of his priesthood, denies such a right – which is based on compassion. Since his God is surely the universal god of all mankind, how could he claim that his priesthood has sole right to interpret God’s wishes? In the absence of revelation, has not his priesthood made an arbitrary judgement – an assumption – on this matter?

This church, whose spokesmen have persistently opposed voluntary euthanasia (as well as certain processes related to the nether-regions of women), is based on a claimed authority, and had exercised strong control (as evident to me during my residence – as an adult – for nearly 70 years in Australia).

Those who belong to this church are entitled to live by the codes of conduct set by its priesthood. The rest of us should not be required to do so.

Thus, no more than 20% of the Australian population can be claimed by their church to oppose the right to voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted death sought by more than 80% of the population over decades. The 30% of the population who stated in the last Census that they had no religion can surely demand that religious institutions (or their spokespersons) do not interfere in their lives by claiming to speak for a God they deny. These people are atheists, with a right to be so.

Australia is officially a secular nation, in spite of the apparent control of national policies by Roman Catholic politicians currently. Hopefully, State Governments will allow compassion as a human right, by challenging any church-determined policies to the contrary. We do need choice, not rule by religious bullies!

On the sea of life, let us all paddle according to our respective rhythms. Do respect my right as I respect yours.

Denial of freedom for sectarian religious reasons

A minority religious community (a Christian one) has allegedly denied freedom of choice in certain key areas of Australian social policy to fellow citizens not sharing their dogma. With an exaggerated emphasis on the procreative aspects of women, this community’s preferred restrictions in these areas of social policy impinge upon all residents, irrespective of their divergent religious beliefs and associated social values.

How had this minority been able to have its religious dogma-based values over-ride the clear boundary between faith and politics which should apply in a modern democratic Western nation?

Is Western democracy, as practised in Australia, the allegedly superior version of accountable government, now being sold with much vigour to non-Western cultures in Asia and the Pacific, responsible for this unrepresentative and unbalanced outcome? Isn’t Western democracy secular, with diverse communities of believers free to practice, or not, their faith (with all or some of the associated dogma)?

What is the rationale, ethical or legal, for denying members of other Christian sects, or of other religions, or non-believers in institutional religion, or even atheists and agnostics, freedom of choice as to how they live their personal lives, and without interference in the lives of others? Who should decide, and on what criteria, that a right or practice unacceptable to a religious minority should be taboo for all citizens? What can one say about a political process which enables this inequitable outcome?

In a secular society displaying a variety of religio-cultural value systems, should not freedom of choice according to personal conscience be granted to all residents by legislation, and indeed captured by a national bill of rights? How does a Western democracy based upon representative government permit the oppression of alternative values as recently applied in the former Soviet Empire?