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?

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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!

Was Hercules an Indian?

The following extracts are from the Graham Hancock website displaying an article by Bibhu Dev Misra (published in 2014).

“This article is a continuation of a couple of previous articles that I have written on the topic of Hercules and Balarama, and their Egyptian counterpart Khonsu. In this two-part article, I shall explore the lasting impact that Hercules had on the institution of Kingship in ancient Egypt. But, before I begin, here is a brief outline of what I had discussed in the previous two articles.

In the first article article titled “Hercules and Balarama: The Symbolic and Historical Connections”i, I have pointed out that the Greek historians such as Arrian and Diodorus Siculus (who were quoting from the still earlier works of Megasthenes) have represented Hercules as a native of India, who was depicted amongst the Indians with his club and lion’s hide, and was worshipped by the Surasena tribe at the city of Mathura, on the banks of the Yamuna river. These descriptions suggest that the Grecian Hercules was Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna. A number of Oriental scholars of the early 19th century, including Captain Francis Wilford and Colonel James Tod, have provided further insights in support of this association, and my own research has led me to identify some more commonalities between these heroic personalities.”

“ In a subsequent article titled “Balarama and Khonsu: Comparisons between the Indian and Theban Hercules”ii, I have investigated the purport of Arrian’s statement that the “Indian Hercules shares the same habits with the Theban Hercules”, and come to the conclusion that the Theban Hercules was Khonsu, who was one of the members of the Theban triad of divinities, along with Amun and Mut. Herodotus referred to Khonsu as Heracles-Khonsu, and a shrine to Heracles-Khonsu was found in the submerged ruins of Heracleion in the Abu Qir bay, located off the cost of Alexandria. Khonsu, like Hercules and Balarama, was regarded as a great “Traveler”, a “Protector” and a “Defender of the King”; as a god of fertility, agriculture, and virility; as a great healer; and as the Great Serpent which took part in cosmic creation.”

“While Khonsu shares many symbolic elements with Hercules and Balarama, the ancient Egyptian sources do not tell us whether he performed any heroic deeds like Hercules. The ancient Greek historians, however, provide us with some accounts of the events that transpired on the arrival of Hercules in Egypt, many thousands of years back.”

(Comment: Food for thought?)

 

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)

Will the West be overtaken? (Part 2)

‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris is interesting while challenging. His representation of China as the East is somewhat selective; he ignores any significant historical developments in mid-Asia. How could the Indian civilisation be the oldest continuous culture on post-Deluge Earth? Indic philosophy, not being consumer-oriented, allegedly developed an understanding of mankind in the universe a long way back in history.

Morris also conflates West Asia (“the first Westerners”) with Europe and the USA (the latter two normally known together as the West).

Then, is consumption of food the best criterion for comparing social development? A high average figure of consumption may cover vast disparities within the community. Is there not a place for moral or spiritual progress? Man shall not live by bread alone.

Yet, the Morris thesis is worthy of attention. There is this question: Did not Europe develop industrially and philosophically much later than the core cultures of Asia? Only after the 15th century CE was Europe joined by Morris to Western Asia as ‘the West’, except for the 500 years from 250 BCE when Rome was first linked to West Asia as ‘the West.’ A new nation created by European emigrants, viz. North America, was subsequently added to ‘the West.’ Ultimately, it is the USA, as ‘the West’, which is compared with China.

Morris, who writes in a very erudite manner, is most knowledgeable about all the major events of human history. He shows how ‘the West’ was ahead of China for at least for 2,000 years until 541 CE in terms of social development (as defined by him). Then China moved ahead until 1773. Industrialisation and battle-capacity subsequently enabled the West to get ahead again. China will, however, soon catch up, he expects (a somewhat unavoidable conclusion).

The reality is that China already contributes to consumption in the USA. Its recent economic, technological, and military advances, allied to a probable future in association with most of East Asia and probably all of Southeast Asia, while simultaneously linked to Central Asia through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, will soon equal the military and industrial might of the West (the USA and its satrapies and NATO).

While Morris’ analysis is most impressive, his scenario seems to be much ado about little. A combination of economic success and military power (subsuming the necessary information technology and organisational competence) will probably result in China, Russia, and the USA eventually forming a tripartite global system of power-based governance – – by necessity.

Like the poor in developing and developed nations, the rest of humanity will survive, hopefully in peace; with energy consumption more equitable than at present, in the penumbra of this most probable governance relationship.

How will geography, impacted also by sporadic cosmic catastrophes, respond? Would the presence of 3 powerful nations, eyeing off one another with some suspicion, provide more protection than hitherto to the smaller, weaker, and unprotected nations?

Will the West be overtaken? (Part 1)

When I watched the video on ‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris, an archaeologist/historian, I was intrigued. Morris gives the West no more than 3 generations before it loses its lead on the East on ’social development.’

The West is initially the ‘Near East’ or Western Asia; ultimately it is the USA. This is confusing. The term ‘Eurasia,’ which seems to me to represent an ambition by some modern Eurocentric writers to expropriate for Europe the early achievements of the cultures of the former Fertile Crescent of West Asia, is also used by Morris.

The East is consistently China, because it was allegedly the first culture to grow rice. However, Stephen Oppenheimer asserts that rice growing began in the terrain of the now-sunken Sundaland of Southeast Asia. Oppenheimer’s historical cultural pathway is based on genetics, a more reliable way of reading the movements of cultures or peoples through history.

Overcoming my scepticism, I read on. What is social development? “… social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organisational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power. Social development … measures a community’s ability to get things done, which, in principle, can be compared across time and space.”

“The simplest way to think about energy capture is in terms of consumption per person, measured in kilocalories per day.” Then one needs to organise the energy capture, aided by information, and a capacity for war. It seems to me that, in the history of mankind, war is as important as geography, Morris’ initial causal factor in energy capture.

Geography, subsuming climate, determines social development, which then affects geography. So says Morris. Biology is irrelevant; people everywhere behave in much the same way. Sociology (group behaviour) explains how development occurred.

Further, similar things happened to both East and West; and in the same order. But the West had a 2,000 year advantage. Where was this West? West Asia, not Europe (the latter presumably recovering from the residual effects of the last ice age). Perhaps, the Universal Flood (mentioned in about 70 and more cultural histories) of about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, had a role in enabling the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea to create what is known as the first post-Deluge civilisations.

In this context, Oppenheimer speculates that the escapees from Sundaland, not only went north to seed the cultures of Vietnam, China and neighbouring terrain, but also went west; having become skilled in managing water (rising seas), they may have been the ‘dark-headed people from the East’ to control the Tigris and Euphrates. Like so much of early history, that is mere speculation.

Morris identifies the geography of the Hilly Flanks (the re-named Fertile Crescent of yore) as the original site of energy capture. He describes this area as Western Eurasia. How so? One would expect Western Eurasia to fringe the Atlantic coast, not the Mediterranean.

However, leaving aside the challenging terminology, how credible is Morris? Refer Part 2.

Why the West rules – for now

‘Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future’ is a history book by a British historian Ian Morris, published in 2010.

The following is an extract from Wikipedia:
“The book compares East and West across the last 15,000 years, arguing that physical geography rather than culture, religion, politics, genetics, or great men explains Western domination of the globe. Morris’ Social Development Index considers the amount of energy a civilization can usefully capture, its ability to organize (measured by the size of its largest cities), war-making capability (weapons, troop strength, logistics), and information technology (speed and reach of writing, printing, telecommunication, etc.).

The evidence and statistical methods used in this book are explained in more detail in Social Development,[1] a free eBook, and by the published volume, The Measure of Civilization.

Morris argues that:
When agriculture was first invented, areas with reliable rainfall benefited most.
Irrigation benefited drier areas such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

Plants and animals more easily domesticated gave certain areas an early advantage, especially the Fertile Crescent and China. (See cradle of civilization.) Development of Africa and the Americas started on the same path, but it was delayed by thousands of years.

With the development of ships in Eurasia, rivers became trade routes. Europe and empires in Greece and Rome benefited from the Mediterranean, compared to Chinese empires (who later built the Grand Canal for similar purposes).

Raids from the Eurasian Steppe brought diseases that caused epidemics in settled populations.

The Social Development Index shows the West leading until the 6th century, China leading until the 18th century, and the West leading again in the modern era.

After the development of ocean-going ships, the significantly greater size of the Pacific Ocean made trans-Atlantic exploration and trade more feasible and profitable for Europe than trans-Pacific exploration and trade for East Asia. Though the mariner’s compass was invented in China in the 11th century, Chinese exploration was less successful than the European Age of Discovery and subsequent colonization.

Eurasian diseases to which people in the Americas had no immunity were a by-product of Eurasian development that devastated Native Americans after contact, in addition to superior European weapons.

Globalization and advances in information technology are leveling differences between civilizational areas.

This is an incomplete outline. Below are extracts from a review in ‘The Telegraph’ of 25 Feb. 2018.

His theorem runs as follows. There is no biological reason why the West came to dominate. People in large groups are much the same everywhere – lazy, greedy and scared, and always looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things, “in the process building stronger states, trading further afield, settling in greater cities”.

He portrays the rise and fall of empires as amoeba-like movements, in which individuals have little long-term influence. Collapses follow the same cruel pattern: conquest, riches, babies, competition, starvation. The struggle to control the core brings in people from the margin, who then take over – viz the Phoenicians, the Mongols, the Goths, the Huns.

Geography, Morris argues, is the main reason why the West rules.

Not that China didn’t catch up. In fact, for 1,200 years (between 550 to 1776), China pulled ahead of the West. Marco Polo described China’s commerce as being “on such a stupendous scale that no one who hears tell of it without seeing it for himself can possibly credit it”. Sound familiar? Long before we did, the Chinese had compasses, paper, guns – and maritime superiority.

The future that Morris anticipates is not conventional or reassuring.

He leaves us with two scenarios. In the first, China Easternises everyone by 2045. “All over the world, people will forget the glories of the Euro-American past. They will learn Mandarin, not English, celebrate Zheng He, not Columbus, read Confucius instead of Plato…”
In Morris’s second scenario, thanks to technology we stand to become machine-enhanced, post-biological creatures. We will become like Däniken’s aliens – so destroying the premise of this enjoyable and thought-provoking book. “The ancient distinctions between East and West will be irrelevant to robots.”

(Comment: In his video, Prof. Morris gives the West less than 3 generations before China catches up and overtakes the West, viz. the USA. Refer my 2 posts –to come – titled ‘Will the West be overtaken?’)