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.

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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!

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 1 )

In 2012, when I felt keenly that I could hear the whisper of the wings of Death, I wrote 44 articles (of a somewhat intellectual flavour) for exinearticles.com. I wished to leave my thoughts on some serious topics.

Since then, each month, a number of readers have looked at my articles. The article attracting the most interest is titled “The pros and cons of British colonialism.”

That anyone could find any benefits to a subject society from European colonialism must attract some attention. To then find that the author is a former colonial subject who is avowedly anti-colonial (but clearly not anti-British), would be more surprising.

The principal benefit I and my age cohort received in British Malaya was a sound education in English. This was based on a curriculum in Britain. It was truly broad-based. My classmates succeeded in various disciplines post-school, studying in Britain and certain colonial outposts offering competitive professional qualifications. One classmate became a professor at Harwell, UK, the atomic research institution.

Our education was, in my experience, superior to that provided to my offspring in Australia. This assessment is based upon my substantial involvement in the education system in the national capital. My children’s education was superior to that offered to their children. By then, there were many fads creeping into what should have been a focused preparation of the nation’s youth to become viable in a highly competitive global realm.

My first grandchild, near the end of her second year in school, could not read. Why? Phonics was out – by fiat, by the teaching profession. The rationale? Semantically unclear verbiage of such a high abstraction that one would need a bank of anvils to ground the attempted rationale to an operationally-definable level. We do have many, many excellent teachers – but they had to toe the line. In two 20-minute sessions with me, my grand-daughter could read. She turned out to be a bookworm. What a waste of 2 years!

The second benefit of colonialism which I accepted was British law, codified, and based on precedence. That justice does not always match the intent of the law, is covered in another post.

The third benefit is the concept of democracy. It has surface merit. However, regrettably, from my 70-year exposure to Australian democracy, I now assert that what is known as Western democracy is a sham. Yet, as the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) showed, there are other viable versions of democracy. Refer my later post.

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.

 

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.