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 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.



Countering Indigenous disadvantage

Australia’s politicians talk frequently about ‘bridging the gap.’ This gap refers to the relative socio-economic status of the First Nation People of Australia. They represent the underclass of society. There are, however, quite a few achievers of note within this community, mainly through personal effort.

One Prime Minister said “Sorry” on behalf of the nation. Other politicians come across as sincere in their wish to reduce indigenous disadvantage. Against that, a State Government was once accused of deflecting federal funds to other policy objectives. And there was a lot of talk once of fly-in and fly-out consultants.

Remarkably, an African-American established 8 years ago an organisation in Australia involving the private sector, “Career Trackers,” which “mentors indigenous university students into professional jobs.” Its success has attracted the attention of Maori and Pacifika leaders.

Here are extracts from an article by Caitlin Fitzsimmons in the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 Feb. 2018.

Modelled on the INROADS program for African-Americans, Career Trackers provides support for participants during their studies and matches them with paid internships during university holidays.

Despite being 2.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians compose 1.7% of the workforce. Career Trackers is trying to change that – and it’s reporting amazing results. There are 1354 students in the program and 108 corporate partners. A number of companies have committed to take paid interns from the program for at least 10 years, including major law and engineering firms.

Less than half of Indigenous university students make it to graduation, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research, but Career Trackers says nearly 9 out of 10 of its participants do.

Career Trackers says a whopping 95% of its alumni are in full-time employment within three months of graduating.

 The median weekly income for all Australians is $662 and for Indigenous Australians only $441 – but for Career Trackers alumni it is $1192.

It would be naive to think Indigenous disadvantage will be solved by a few corporate internships.

(Comment: Some real progress – at last. This comment is based on 70 years of observation of Australian society.)

The Alexander mythos (2)

“Indian civilization is distinctive for its antiquity and continuity. Apart from its own vitality, the continuity of Indian civilization is largely due to its ability to adapt to alien ideas, harmonize contradictions and mould new thought patterns. Her constant contacts with the outside world also gave India the opportunity to contribute to other civilizations.

Whilst other ancient civilizations have long ceased to exist, Indian civilization has continued to grow despite revolutionary changes. The ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia have not survived. But in India today, Hindus seek inspiration from concepts similar to those originally advanced by their ancestors.

Jawaharlal Nehru says in his book The Discovery of IndiaTill recently many European thinkers imagined that everything that was worthwhile had its origins in Greece or Rome. Sir Henry Maine has said somewhere that except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not originally Greek.”
However, Indian contacts with the Western world date back to prehistoric times. Trade relations, preceded by the migration of peoples, inevitably developed into cultural relations. This view is not only amply supported by both philological and archaeological evidence, but by a vast body of corroborative literary evidence as well: Vedic literature and the Jatakas, Jewish chronicles, and the accounts of Greek historians all suggest contact between India and the West. Taxila was a great center of commerce and learning. “Crowds of eager scholars flowed to it for instruction in the three Vedas and in the eighteen branches of knowledge.” Tradition affirms that the great epic, the Mahabharata, was first recited in the city.” (An Advance History of India, R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychanduri p.64) Buddha is reputed to have studied in Taxila. Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy owe their origin to Indian thought and spirituality.

Alexander’s raid, which was so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. From the Indian point of view, there was nothing to distinguish his raid in Indian history. Jawaharlal Nehru says, ” From a military point of view his invasion, was a minor affair. It was more of a raid across the border, and not a very successful raid at that.”

“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
(Source: ‘Ancient rishis’ pathway to Hinduism)


The Alexander mythos (1)

Alexander is supposed to have invaded the Punjab in 326 B.C. Every schoolboy is taught and is expected to know, that he invaded India’s Northwest. Strangely, this event, so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. (source: India Discovered – By John Keay p. 33).

British historian Vincent A. Smith, conservatively appraised the impact of Alexander’s invasion as follows:
“The Greek influence never penetrated deeply (into the Indic civilization)…On the other hand, the West learned something from India in consequence of the communications opened up by Alexander’s adventure. (source: In Search of The Cradle of Civilization: : New Light on Ancient India – By Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley p. 252-253).

British historians used to talk of Alexander as “the world conqueror” who “came and saw and conquered” every land he had visited.
However, the facts as recorded by Alexander’s own Greek historians tell a very different tale. And Marshal Zhukov, the famous Russian commander in World War II, said at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, a few years back, that India had defeated Alexander.

Alexander fared badly enough with Porus in the Punjab. Indeed, Porus put him on the spot when he told him: “To what purpose should we make war upon one another. if the design of your coming to these parts be not to rob us of our water or our necessary food, which are the only things that wise men are indispensably obliged to fight for? As for other riches and possessions, as they are accounted in the eyes of the world, if I am better provided of them than you, I am ready to let you share with me; but if fortune has been more liberal to you than to me, I have no objection to be obliged to you.” Alexander had no reply to the questions posed by Porus.

Instead, with the obstinacy of a bully, he said: “I shall contend and do battle with you so far that, howsoever obliging you are, you shall not have the better of me.But Porus did have the better of Alexander. In the fighting that ensued, the Greeks were so terrified of Indian prowess that they refused to proceed farther, in spite of Alexander’s angry urgings and piteous lamentations. Writes Plutarch, the great Greek historian: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India….

Alexander not only offered Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” Porus emerged from his war with Alexander with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. So much for Alexander’s “victory” over Porus. However, what was to befall him in Sindh, was even worse. In his wars in Iran. Afghanistan, and north-west India, Alexander had made so many enemies that he did not dare return home by the same route he had come. He had, therefore, decided to travel via Sindh. But in Multan the Mallas gave him hell.
(source: Alexander’s Waterloo in Sindh – By K R Malkhani).

(From Surya’s tapestry)



The value of history

The examination of events which had occurred in the past, or are believed to have occurred, in (say) 5-year rolling cycles (a useful statistical approach) can, I believe, provide a more meaningful vista than a parade of individual events. To be adequately explanatory, one would also need to understand motivations.

That is, what were the triggers? A unilateral initiative or a reaction? The personal ambition of a leader? A tribal thrust reflecting historical memories, including rancour at past injustices? Tribo-religious greed for land, souls, and other resources? Expectations of gain? National stupidity? The economic forces at play? Or the imperatives of suvival?

A broader issue relates to leadership, whether in an offensive or defensive mode. Does a great leader arise from the prevailing circumstances or does a leader-in-the-making create the circumstances he or she needs? I am reminded of 2 female leaders in recent times – Mrs. Golda Meir of Israel and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Then there were Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. I believe that these ambitious leaders surfaced only because the flow of the political current was propitious. Ditto Adolf Hitler.

On the contrary, while I received a sound education under the colonial British in Malaya, my study of history was partly wasted on what I thought of as ducks and drakes. The ducks were the dukes, earls, et al of Britain. The drakes referred to were notables in Europe, eg. Charlemange, Loyala, and others.

It was only when, after the end of WW2, I read Harold Lasky and others of like mind, that I realised that taught history was totally irrelevant for an adequate understanding of humanity-on-the-hoof. Sundry tribes had been rushing here and there all over the world, including Europe; and tribal and (later) national boundaries were shifted freely.

Official history, or only some prevailing historical presentations, seem Eurocentric – and some of it truly foolish. For example, that the Greek (not Macedonian) Alexander the Great had conquered India. The Encyclopaedia Britannica had Hindu Indians praying to a range of gods, but there was no mention that these gods were only manifestations of the one and only Creator of mankind.

Then there was Muller who apparently could not accept that Hinduism is older than Judaism. There are others who cannot accept that learned Athenians and their philosophers may have learnt from Egyptians and Persians, whose civilisations also go back a long way.

In contrast, I found a series of books on history by Cambridge University about the origins of cultures all over the globe most educational.

We do need to know the long-term trends of significant events which have occurred over long periods of time, their motivations, and their consequences. I found Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of world history,’ which provide brief outlines (and their significance) of major trends throughout recorded history; Jacques Barzun’s ‘From Dawn to Decadence – 1500 to the present’; Martin Bernal’s ‘Black Athena: The Afroasiatic roots of classical civilisation’; Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley’s ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’; Allan& Delair’s ‘Cataclysm: compelling evidence of a cosmic catastrophe in 9500 BC’; Stephen Oppenheimer’s ‘Out of Eden: the peopling of the world’; and sundry other authors of relevance, to be illuminating.

Since the past is embedded in the present, we do need to know how we were shaped. When in doubt, let us keep our minds open.

An ethnic approach to minority communities

Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, an eminent sociologist, and Chairman of the federal government’s Ethnic Advisory Council, said (in a published article) that the policy of grants to ethnic groups pays disproportionate attention to one of the many dimensions of multicultural policy. It promotes “an ethnic approach to minority groups”, by emphasising the things that divide us, instead of the things that bind us. The policy also extends the scope of equality of access (to the nation’s resources) to the equality of outcomes.

The need for some short-term affirmative action or positive discrimination “specifically targeted to refugees and other victims of oppression” is, however, not denied by the professor. He went on to say that wooing the ethnic vote “represents a grave distortion of multiculturalism for all Australians. It measures the success or otherwise of multicultural policies by the amount of special funds and programs directed specifically to ethnics, irrespective of whether they lead to a cohesive or fragmented society”.

He says also that multiculturalism is seen here as an instance of public policy developed for the benefit of minority groups and not as Australia’s legitimate response to the demographic reality of our society.

This view is confirmed (also in a published article) by Sir James Gobbo, an eminent community leader (later Governor of the state of Victoria), when he says that the philosophy of multiculturalism “calls for respect for differences but not their perpetuation at public expense”.

I am grateful to these two eminent leaders (with whom I once had a close and warm working relationship) for articulating my views so succinctly and in such a timely manner. But stacked against the three of us in our approach to funding for ethnic groups (and implicitly to the plural service structures so endowed) and the divisiveness of such an approach, is a multitude of ethnic leaders. Of course, these claim to speak on behalf of their people.

However, it is difficult to know if their constituencies are consulted regularly and whether, in any such consultations, each community has considered how its grandchildren will relate to the grandchildren of other Australians, and to what kind of nation they will belong.

(This is an extract from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of multicultural Malayan in White Australia, written in 1994. Following Prof. Zubrzycki’s positive review of the book, he wrote to me a personal letter. He said “I agree with everything you have said, except on the issue of voluntary euthanasia.”

All the reviews of the book were fabulous. Refer book pages for Raja Arasa Ratnam on’s kindle books. Refer also my other WordPress posts on multiculturalism. To me, multiculturalism simply defines ethno-cultural diversity; no policy is needed.)

The hegemonic empire – cheap to manage

A hegemonic empire is an empire of influence; not of direct control. The current hegemonic empire of relevance is that of the USA. Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA has kept the buccaneers of Europe (including Britain) away from Central and South America.

The nations of this southern region rule themselves. Democracy and human rights are far less important than the profits accruing to the USA through the latter’s over-sight, and some intervention – militarily or in a clandestine manner – of politics and production.

Since the end of the Second World War, the USA has extended its economic, political, and military influence throughout the world, enjoying its role as Sheriff of the ‘International Community’ of Western nations and their acolytes. It apparently made Britain the Deputy Sheriff of Europe, presumably because, as President Roosevelt said (in 1945) of Britain “Now we own the bastards” (through Lend-Lease arrangements). Presumably there are other deputy sheriffs, especially Australia (for the Pacific).

As I wrote in ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ in the chapter titled ‘On empires gone – and going’:

It appoints so-called ‘deputy sheriffs’ to safeguard the interests of the West in their respective bailiwicks; it has trade and mutual-defence agreements with nations which seek protection from imagined foes; and it has military bases here, there, and everywhere to protect the nations of the West and their allies. The USA will fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere; defend itself from attack by enemies, real or creatively conceived; keep the sea routes open, thereby making other navies unnecessary; sell armaments (its primary objective?), and contain political threats, even imagined ones. This has given it the right to have a foothold in all sorts of places; we Aussies are grateful for such protection!

It also makes generous grants as strategically needed, to keep unpopular, even undemocratic, foreign leaders in power. Their job is to ensure that the needs of the USA, viz. oil and other resources, bases, access routes and export opportunities, are met. Its deputy sheriff Israel is furnished with the latest weaponry to prevent an Islamic resurgence. This includes the intended breakup of Iraq into three ethno-religious regions; so wrote an Israeli scholar recently.

A strong foothold on Iraqi soil will give the US power to oversight lesser nations and overlook the more powerful. The US has reportedly installed its satrap in Afghanistan to enable that desired oil pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean to be achieved one day. The US will also enable Israel to recover Judah and Samarra as that pure Jewish nation that their God decided was OK, even as it works assiduously to bring about ‘peace’ between oppressor and oppressed. Justice? Only the Court of Cosmic Justice can ensure that. And it will!

Ethnic cleansing, like ‘rendering’-with-torture, and assassination are acceptable, but only in the interests of protecting Western democracy. Australian politicians who visit Israel without being able to notice the plight of stateless Palestinians couldn’t possibly have any concern with this view of the Middle East of the future.” … …

“How long will this new empire last? Since it is only about 60 years old, who can tell? Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA assumed indirect control of South and Central America a long time ago. Would the US now install Monroe Mark 2 to keep any rising power away from its current spheres of interest? If so, how?” … …

“Yet, this neo-colonising nation is the only major power which has shown any inclination to protect a minority here and there in the world from being butchered.” … …

“Thus, the USA can become a moral leader for mankind. Should we Aussies hold to this hope?”