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 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 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!

Depression – social or chemical?

A recently-retired couple asked their doctor for a prescription for the husband; the wife said that her husband was depressed. After a lengthy consultation, the doctor advised them to sit by the sea, about 5 minutes away, as often as possible. He would not write a prescription. The claimed depression soon evaporated.

A young doctor had prescribed medication for clinical depression. A more experienced doctor, however, found no evidence of clinical depression. The younger doctor’s explanation was that the patient had told her that she felt sad from time to time. After losing 2 sons in succession and a pregnancy mid-term, who wouldn’t? She displayed great sadness on the dates of her losses; but then reverted to her normal happy family life.

Against these experiences, psychiatrists seem to have identified an increasing number of psychiatric maladies. The recommended treatment involves a pharmaceutical product, expected to control or treat a chemical imbalance in the brain.

According to an article “Blue by you” by Johann Hari in the ‘Good Weekend’ magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 Feb. 2018: In the US, “… if your baby dies at 10 am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01 am and start drugging you straight away.” The article also said “Between 65 and 80 per cent of people taking chemical anti-depressants become depressed again.” “There is a real effect – but, alas, for many users, it is not enough to lift them out of depression.”

The article quotes Dr. Joanne Cacciatore of Arizona State University thus: “… a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering; we don’t … “consider context.” “When you have a person with extreme human distress, we need to stop treating the symptoms.”

The author of the article ‘Blue by you’ states that “… human beings have natural psychological needs too – but, Australian society, and the wider Western world, is not meeting those needs for many of us, and that is the primary reason why depression and anxiety are soaring.” “There has been an explosion in loneliness.”

To that, social researcher Hugh Mackay adds “The biggest contribution is fragmentation.” “Humans are social animals. We need communities.”

Doctors in Cambodia told African psychiatrist Derek Summerfeld that “finding an anti-depressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place.

Comparably, a doctor in London (Dr. Sam Everington) ‘prescribed’ participation in a group activity. It is a successful approach.

Johann Hari’s book is ‘Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Anxiety – and the Real Solutions.’

Yavanas in India

The following are pertinent extracts from ‘Early India: From the origins to AD 1300’ by Emeritus Prof. R. Thapar. They should put to rest any exaggerated claims about Hellenic Greek influence in ‘India.’ The author distinguishes between Greeks from the Mediterranean (Hellenic) and Hellenistic culture in West Asia. She also makes clear that the word ‘Yavana’ applied (until recently) to all Westerners in the Punjab to terrain further East.

“In 327 BC Alexander, continuing his march across the empire of Darius, entered the Indian provinces. The Greek campaign in north-western India lasted for about two years. It made little lasting impression historically or politically in India, and not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any Indian source.”

“A significant outcome of Alexander’s campaign, that was neither political nor military, was that he had with him literate Greeks who recorded their impressions of India … They sometimes provide a corrective to the fantasies in other Greek accounts, even though in these the imagination of the authors is not always curbed.”

“One of the enduring images was that of Alexander in conversation with sophists … This image was seminal to the view that Indian ideas entered the Hellenistic and Mediterranean world subsequent to Alexander and contributed to various schools of thought that did not necessarily conform to established views in the European tradition.”

“Indians, on the other hand, did not say much about the Greeks, and what they did say varies. The term used for them was Yavana … Yavana became a generic term for people coming from the West and was used as recently as the last century. Some later brahmanical texts were bitterly uncomplimentary and hateful about the Yavanas, perhaps because of a lingering memory of Alexander’s hostility to the brahmans during his campaign …” (Note: allegedly, he had a large number of them put to death.)

“The mingling of Hellenistic Greeks and Indians in the second century BC came about through the Hellenistic kings, who ruled in the north-west as successors to those who had succeeded Alexander. Some differentiate between the Greco-Bactrians who ruled over Bactria and the Indo-Greeks who included India in their domain; others refer to them as Indo-Bactrian Greeks or use Indo-Greeks in a more general sense. Indian sources refer to them as Yavanas.

This term makes no distinction between what some would call the Hellenic Greeks, living on the mainland of the peninsula of Greece, and the Hellenistic Greeks. The latter were those of Greek descent or of mixed descent, but broadly conforming to Greek Culture and living in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. Hellenistic culture drew on Greco-Roman culture of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Iranian sources and some Central Asian influence, and can be regarded initially as Greco-Roman colonial culture.”

“The Greek settlements in Bactria traced their origins to the Achaemenid period (c. fifth century BC) when the Persian kings settled Greek exiles in the region. These were reinforced by Greek artisans settling in the cities of Bactria.”

“The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins. … The coins are symbolic of an intermingling of Hellenistic with Indian or Iranian cultures.”

Indian thought and the West

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, has said,

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 350).

There has been too much inclination among Western writers to idealize the Greeks and their civilization, and they have tended to discover too much of the contemporary world in the Greek past. In fact almost everything was traced to ancient Greece. In all that concerned intellectual activity and even faith, modern civilization was considered to be an overgrown colony of Hellas. The obvious Greek failings, their shortcomings and the unhealthy features of their civilization, was rationalized and romanticized.

In the words of Sir Charles Eliot, who affirms that “it is clearly absurd for Europe as a whole to pose as a qualified instructor in humanity and civilization. He writes: “If Europeans have any superiority over Asiatics it lies in practical science, finance and administration, not in philosophy, thought or art. Their gifts are authority and power to organize; in other respects their superiority is imaginary.”

(source: Hinduism and Buddhism – By Sir Charles Elliot Curzon Press ISBN 0700706798 volume I (1920), pp. xcvi and xcviii )

Modern research, however, has marred this comforting image and is helping to put Greek culture into its proper historical perspective showing that, like any other culture, it inherited something from preceding civilizations, profited from the progress of its neighboring cultures (like India and Persia) and, in turn, bequeathed much to later generations.

We are not completely in the dark on the question of Indian influence on Greece. Speaking of ascetic practices in the West, Professor Sir Flinders Patrie (1853-1942) British archaeologist and Egyptologist, author of Egypt and Israel (1911) observes:
” The presence of a large body of Indian troops in the Persian army in Greece in 480 B.C. shows how far west the Indian connections were carried; and the discovery of modeled heads of Indians at Memphis, of about the fifth century B.C. shows that Indians were living there for trade. Hence there is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 150).

The Greek Philosopher Saint: Apollonios in In India
Philostratos says Apollonios (6th century BCE) of Tyana thought Indians had influenced Pythagoras. So going to India was an effort to improve his moral education. He followed the road of Alexander the great to India, probably entering the country through the Khyber Pass and going to Punjab, where he met the wise men of India on a forested hill not far from the Ganges River.

He delighted in their company and their lengthy discussions.
He said: “I saw the Indian Brahmins living on the earth and not on it, walled without walls, and owning nothing and owning everything.”

Clearly, Apollonios was impressed by the spiritual power of the Brahmins who had foreseen his coming. He spent four months with them. They lived exemplary lives very close to the gods. They ate what he ate and shared his love for the natural world.
But what impressed Apollnios the most was the Indians contact with Hellenic culture. The Indian wise men spoke Greek, and were well versed in the Greek philosophical tradition and Greek culture. Both the Indian philosophers and Apollonios worshipped the gods and a supreme god, a divine being like Zeus, who was the father of the gods and humans. The wise men, however, described themselves as gods in the sense of being good.

(Source: Surya’s Tapestry; ancient rishis’ pathways to Hinduism)

(Comment: Eurocentrism and colonial superiority demolished?)

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)

The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.