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)

From back cover. The inside front cover states as follows.

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 extracts 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 charts “describing 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.

 

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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?

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?’)

 

 

An Asian-Australian reviews post-war Australia

In this whitish outpost of the West, set in coloured waters, and surrounded by worrisome foreign faiths, myth meets reality in challenging ways. Myth – Australia is a Middle Power. Reality – Australia is a satrapy of the USA. It rushes behind its hoped-for protector into wars which have no bearing on its existence.

An octogenarian Asian-Australian author (Raja Arasa Ratnam) would like to see his adopted nation (of which he is strangely proud) become the next state of the USA. Why? Australia would become less welfare-oriented and more enterprise-driven; it would enjoy the military protection it seeks (while not having to pay for its armoury); it can strut the world stage without being uncertain about the way it might be viewed by its major export customers; and less subservient to foreign investors (the nation will not survive without an on-going inflow of foreign capital); and it will become a republic which elects its presidents directly (a majority preference).

Myth – Australia is multicultural, with more languages and ethnicities within its borders than any other nation; and it upholds human rights. Reality – the ‘ethnics’ being broadly spread throughout its electorates, the nation is well-controlled by Anglo-Celts. Its social policies are dominated by the values of the Vatican. Voluntary euthanasia is anathema; a legislated charter of human rights is opposed by those ‘of the faith’; and race discrimination legislation offers (sort of) protection against being offended, even by spoken words!

‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ (published 2012) presents a rear-vision mirror assessment of Australia after the author’s highly interactive and contributory life of more than 6 decades in his adopted nation. It was only after a professor of history and politics had written (in summary) “There is wisdom here” that the author decided to publish this book. It was then recommended by the US Review of Books.

The book covers a range of issues: religion; the Cosmos; professional ethnics and multiculturalism; migrants, refugees and unlawful arrivals, viz. asylum seekers; racism and tribalism; national identity; governance; family and society; empires – gone and going; subservience (of the political class vs. the stand-tall workers); and biculturalism. It is hard-hitting but fair. The analysis is deep, the commentary incisive.

The author is a communitarian small-l liberal (thereby a political orphan). He has an extensive record of contribution to civil society: national president of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters); foundation chairman of a school board (when he wrote an accepted outline of a program for teaching primary school children about religion – no indoctrination); founder of a public speaking competition for primary school children in the national capital and surrounding townships; chairman of a union committee which established merit protection procedures in the federal public service (receiving a Meritorious Service Award); co-founder of a national public speaking competition for secondary school students; and an appointed member of the health advisory committee in his shire. There were sundry other contributions. His activities led to him being a luncheon guest of the Governor-General; and as co-guest of honour with a State Governor in two cities.

The author’s 2 memoirs ‘Destiny Will Out’ and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ show that the spirit world ‘hijacked’ him to Australia, and kept him there. His experiences include the wheels of his life-chances cart falling off from time to time; and him falling into holes which were not there! The US Review of Books recommended ‘The Dance of Destiny.’

It was after a significant psychic experience – when the spirit of his favourite uncle materialised to offer him spiritual guidance – that the author began to write. This was in response to his uncle’s advice that he could “contribute to building a bridge from where you came to where you are.” ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflected both his own settlement experiences and his work – over 9 years – (at the level of Director) on policies relating to migrant integration.

‘Destiny Will Out’ was so well received by senior academics and a wide range of readers that he wrote ‘The Karma of Culture’ (2003) and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (2004). Both were recommended by the US Review of Books. The supportive pre-publication endorsements by senior academics and other appropriate notable persons have since been confirmed. Both books cover issues relating to successful migrant integration.

‘The Dance of Destiny’ describes (in Part 1) life under British colonialism, the Japanese military occupation of Malaya, and an interesting but short stay in Singapore by the author and his Anglo-Australian wife. Part 2 of this book covers the author’s travails during the White Australia era. The book ends with a strong spiritual overlay.

‘Pithy Perspectives: a smorgasbord of short, short stories’ (2011) reflects the author’s whimsical approach to life. It was reviewed favourably by the US Review of Books and, most strongly, by the New South Wales state president of the Federation of Australian Writers.

Raja Arasa Ratnam’s books are available as ebooks from amazon.com and its international outlets at about $US 2.99 each. They are now receiving customer reviews to complement the earlier endorsements and reviews.

For what it is worth, the author has been described as “an intellectual who cannot be categorised” and his writings noted as representing “a sliver of Australia’s post-war history.” (Refer Prof. Greg Melleuish of Wollongong University, Australia). Although the author arrived in Australia in 1948, when the White Australia policy had sharp teeth, he has no recriminations. Australia is on its way to joining the Family of Man, he says.

Aborigines in my community (mid-1990s)

It is very sad to hear the community at large talk about the Aborigines. There was an armed hold-up at the local service station and a very early question was: “Was the perpetrator black?” There was a break-in at the local shops and six youths were seen running away – four black and two white. Almost everyone, including the police, talked about the black kids. I asked what happened to the white ones. How was it they had become invisible?

Both white and black youth in a seaside fishing village are unemployed; yet an educated retirement community will cluck to one another about the lazy blacks who do not want to work. White migrants and Anglo-Celts hold similar views. Why not see the problem as a class problem (with young whites unwilling to work), instead of a problem of race (meaning colour) …

I walk through the small shopping area of this village and receive smiles and nods from those (Aboriginal and white) to whom I have served petrol, and sold cigarettes and the like in recent times. Some of the Aborigines drive into the service station in new cars and are well dressed. But I never see them on foot anywhere. I presume they work for Aboriginal organisations. Others arrive in old cars and are obviously not well off; they, too, are invariably courteous.

Yet, on some occasions, before I go out to serve them, I can hear some very rough language addressed to one another – but never in my presence. Infrequently, a very inebriated Aborigine has staggered into the shop and, on sighting me, immediately straightened his shoulders and spoken most courteously. On the street, if I am bumped by an Aborigine, or if I have to slow or step aside, the words I hear are, “Sorry, bro” or “Excuse me, brother”, and such like. I could not fault these people in their social conduct, but apparently some police can.

And, in this State, social conduct is not a crime. Yet ‘resisting arrest’, for use of language which allegedly ‘offends’ a policeman, is. Most of the Aboriginals we see are unemployed. An Aboriginal welfare worker told me that there are competent, educated, and trained people in the community. They cannot obtain work in the region in any capacity because, as my contact said, employers are racially prejudiced. Merit has no place where ignorance rules. And I used to think that I had experienced discrimination – little did I know.

… … there was a recent initiative for the community (meaning the whites) to foregather and learn about Aboriginal values. At the first meeting of seventeen people, organised by the local adult education committee of volunteers, including me, there was an Aboriginal lady present. She had been our guest at a literary lunch, when she had read her poetry to us. It was both beautiful and touching; her slim book had, however, to be published privately.

ll the whites attending this reconciliation meeting were joined in their sympathy for the Aboriginal people, i.e. it was only the supporters of reconciliation there. Guided by the poetess and the notes provided by the State bureaucracy, they would have become better informed about the values of the Aborigines. They were also introduced to some of the other members of the local Aboriginal community. In the discussions, we were told that it was the women who made community decisions; that any support for the reconciliation process would have to come initially from the women.

(As the above extracts from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate clearly, in contrast to the broadly prevailing negative views of the indigenous population by Anglo-Celt Aussies, there are other well-meaning white people who wish them a better future. That the prejudiced speak freely in my company is intriguing; I also detect no negative views about me (that may be because of my substantial involvement in civil society).

That competent Aboriginals had difficulty obtaining employment commensurate with their qualifications is deplorable.

Against that, how does one explain those vociferous supporters of economic migrants arriving by boat who, having torn up all identifying papers, seek asylum? Are they unable to see that their own black fellow-citizens could do with a helping hand?)

 

 

Hiding from the actuality of history

“Instead of the cultured Chinese, instructed to “treat people with kindness,” it was the cruel, almost barbaric Christians who were the colonisers. Francisco Pizzaro gained Peru from the Incas by massacring five thousand Indians in cold blood.” So wrote Bruce Pascoe in ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’

As Gavin Menzies has pointed out, when the Chinese sought to cement trade ties in the 1950s, they took envoys back to China, treated them royally, and then returned them to their homelands.

Pascoe: “… the Portuguese used Chinese cartography to show them the way to the East. Then they stole the spice trade, which the Indians and Chinese had spent centuries building. Anyone who might stop them was mown down. When fifteenth-century explorer Vasco da Gama reached Calicut he told his men to parade Indian prisoners, then to hack off their hands, ears and noses.”

I recall Nehru in ‘Glimpses of World History’ stating that Vasco was shown the way to the East via the cape at the southern of the African continent (the Cape of Good Hope) by 2 Indian sailors he had met in Lisbon. (The Indians obviously knew the west coast of Africa). So much for Vasco’s gratitude. I have always wondered why the Christian explorers and buccaneers of the period were so blood-thirsty.

Pascoe again: “Invaders like to kill the original owners of the soil they intend to plunder, but even better than that, they like to humiliate them. Once that work is over, their grandsons re-write the history of the re-named land and paint their grandfather as a benevolent visionary.”

In contrast, the Bradshaw paintings in the Kimberleys in north-west Australia show a Chinese junk, and people dressed in the traditional long gowns with long sleeves. There has obviously been trade between the Aborigines and Chinese during the 15th century. Yet, modern Aborigines have no memory of such contact. In those circumstances and against the foolish claim that Lt. Cook discovered Australia relatively recently, these paintings may somehow not become known.

As Pascoe said, the “history of colonisation is dense with examples” of fabrication. He continues: “The urge to legitimise occupation is compared by McNiven and Hull to the warping of history and archaeology by Nazis to justify extermination of the Jews. In thinking of the effects of colonisation on Australia, contemplation of the workings of the European mind of that era is inevitable. There were other colonists from other continents, but it was Europeans who attempted to dominate the world, sometimes by dominating each other. “ (Is it any different now?)

“It seems improbable that a country can continue to hide from the actuality of history in order to validate the fact that, having said sorry, we refuse to say thanks.” (Pascoe)

Comment: I wonder how the foghorns on radio and other white supremacists will react to Pascoe’s well-researched words.

Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emus Black Seeds’

Here are the reviews contained in the book. White Australian supremacists, who seem to be thick on the ground, will not like what they say. What explains the derogatory views expressed publicly by white Aussies? A sense of collective guilt? No! One cannot feel guilty on behalf of one’s forebears. ‘Why can’t they be like us?’ is a better explanation.

Since the Irish Catholics were allowed to be a separate people, with their own systems of education and charity, should not the Australian Aborigines (who was here first) be a separate people within an integrated ethno-culturally diverse population?

Would that mean recognising them as First Nation People? Yes, but over the dead bodies of many a whitey. What about giving them a right to have a say in how they are now to be uplifted societally and integrated? Since terra nullius was proven false, could white-man superiority not be up to a requisite standard to ‘bridging the gap’ (a favourite mantra of politicians who prefer words to effective action)?

The reviews:
• “in 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he’s not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily bunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complex civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority. As a teacher – I recommended it as essential reading for any educator.” Lisa Hill, blogger and educator.
• “This very readable, strongly argued study turns the accepted nation of the Aborigines as a hunter-gatherer people completely on its head” Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald.
• “He has done a great service by bringing this material to students and general readers, and in such a lively and engaging fashion.” Richard Broome, Agora Magazine.
• “This is an important book that advances a powerful argument for re-evaluating the sophistication of Aboriginal peoples’ economic and socio-political livelihoods, and calls for Australia to embrace the complexity, sophistication and innovative skills of Indigenous people into its concept of itself as a nation … an important and well-argued book.” Dr. Michael Davis, Honorary Research Fellow at Sydney University.
• “A remarkable book.” Max Allen, The Australian.

The literary quality of Pascoe’s book about the settled lives of his ancestral people is demonstrated by being short-listed for the Queensland Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, both in 2014; the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as ‘Book of the Year’, and the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as winner.

(Comment: The Bradshaw cave paintings show that the Chinese had visited the Kimberleys.

Regrettably, prejudice against the Aborigines by many of the movers and shakers of Australia is quite strong.)