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.

Advertisements

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?

Laissez-faire parenting vs. ‘tiger mothers’

“If you put up with disrespectful behaviour, if you allow the kids to do what they want, when they want, that’s laissez-faire parenting.” (Michael Carr-Gregg, psychologist and author). This quote is from the article ‘Happiness over-rated: secret life of a tiger mother’ by academic Jenna Price in the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 Feb. 2018.  “… the phrase tiger mother is an unscientific term for parents who practise negative parenting: cold and controlling” (Carr-Gregg)

A friend of Price is opposed to “the close monitoring of the way children spend their time, coaching and choosing an area with good schools. … the hyper-racialisation of selective schools has led to anxiety among white families.”

Price’s response is priceless. “I care not for the race-related anxieties of white families. I care about ensuring children have enough cultural and social capital to be prepared for a life of serious engagement. And if that means they have to complete their schoolwork to the best of their ability, they don’t go out to party.” “We must have expectations of our children and hold them to account. That shouldn’t be reserved for the sporting field …”

More wisdom from Price. “Learning matters. School work matters. Times tables. Spelling. Grammar. Major dates in history. Learning to put in your fair share of effort when you do group work. The need to think out difficult concepts and be able to argue your position. And you can’t do that without reading, reading, reading. Preparing for exams and completing them to the best of your ability. Making a real effort. No poor excuses.

(Comment: The education ‘industry’ seems to be opposed to tests, as these allegedly cause stress to the students. Since tests implicate the efficacy of teachers … …! Are parents not implicated as well? Education Minister Birmingham reprimanded parents recently, insisting we must do more to stem the declining performance of our 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science.)

The following comment by Price is pertinent. “There are tiger parents in Australia, forced to participate in secret because of a national desire to pretend achievement doesn’t matter. We are the land of the laid-back, of stress less, of no worrying.”

(Comment: Since Australia does produce top-quality graduates from school and university – and they are not all of ethnic origin – Price is obviously concerned about those youngsters who are being let down by themselves, parents, teachers and the education system as a whole.)

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.”

Merchants in the temple

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s ‘ Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ secret battle against corruption in the Vatican’ (published 2015) is, according to the author, based on confidential information to which he had been given access.

The back cover says: “Based on confidential information – including top-secret documents from inside the Vatican and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility – Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The cover also shows these reviews. “A truly shocking, shameful story of waste and corruption within the vast network of Vatican finances … a provocative work of dogged investigative research.” (Kirkus Review)

“The author’s analysis of the numbers and account of the byzantine internal politics are thoroughly convincing … These revelations should make the need for urgent reform obvious to the world outside the walls of the Vatican.” (Fortune)

The book includes the role of Australian Cardinal Pell in the Pope’s efforts to effect change.

The book concludes with the question “Will the Pope win the battle?” and the statement “… Italian prosecutors who are expert in organised crime … have repeatedly expressed their fear about threats to Pope Francis’ safety.”

An incredible amount of detail is available in the book, and its ‘Notes.’ Yet, under the heading “Where does the money for the poor end up, the book states  … we know how much has been collected from the faithful but not how it is spent.”

“In other words, of the 53.2 million taken through Peter’s Pence (2012) – to which we would add 3 million in interest payments – a good 35.7 million (67 percent) was spent on the Curia and another 6.3 million (12.4 percent) was not used, set aside as reserves of the Peter’s Pence fund.” “In practice, to date, the offerings for the poor are still a black hole: absolute secrecy on how the money is spent …”

(A fascinating book. But, “corruption in the Vatican”? By religious leaders? Of the largest institutional religion in the world? Whose theology dominates Australia’s social policy?)

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.