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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    China & the Origins of Culture & Inventions

    This is a split from How could Japan and China improve their relationship ?, since I don't want to disrupt that discussion. Because the posts' contents were on 2 or more matters, I simply copy the related content here.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Qwertyu's 1st post:

    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    Hi! I'm new to this forum and must say I am very pleased that most posters seem well-informed. First, I must clarify that my family is of mixed heritage, Asian-German, so I see things from both sides - Asian and European.

    Maciomo did a good job in the first post. That is exactly what would make a first step towards rapproachement. The only fault I can find with his post is when he dismissed China as having contributed much to modern society. History is a continuum, and the development in science/tech/philosophy/religion etc. is a long straight line. Without Chinese invention of type, books will not be as easily available during the age of European Enlightenment. Without Arabic numerals and their invention of Zero, Mathematics will not be what it is today, and perhaps there won't be an internet! It is important to give each culture its due because we start to see others more humanely, less racist and stereotypically. The Arabs are not just a bunch of bloodthirsty barbarians! The Chinese gave us all a fabulous start, with Math [eg.Pascal's Triangle], the compass for travel, astronomy, paper, paper money, culture, East Asian Buddhism [it is different from India's], etc.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forum! Nice post althoug a bit lengthy. Don't feel threatened by my response, I'm simply a nit-picker who can't let certain things stand.

    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    History is a continuum, and the development in science/tech/philosophy/religion etc. is a long straight line.
    A continuum yes, but no straight line. This is a very simplified view, which wrongly uses modern times as the root & follows the path backwards. If you look at it the other way round, you will find many branches with dead ends (some flourished for a while, others never grew very much), branches that grow parallel up to modernity & branches that after a while of parallel growth coalesced, a.s.o.

    Without Chinese invention of type, books will not be as easily available during the age of European Enlightenment.
    Pretty improbable. There is no evidence that Gutenberg copied a Chinese or Korean (which AFAIK had a greater influence than the Chinese one) invention.

    Without Arabic numerals and their invention of Zero
    Each culture its "due": the Western zero most probably originated in India (but other cultures had similar ideas).

    It is important to give each culture its due because we start to see others more humanely, less racist and stereotypically.
    I disagree. What about a culture where there is not much of a due? What have the Papuas given our modern culture? Are they less worth because it might be nothing?
    It is interesting where certain things originate, but it is in no way important. Even less, if you consider that it doesn't make much sense to attribute an invention in the distant past to a modern nation.

    The Chinese gave us all a fabulous start, with Math [eg.Pascal's Triangle], the compass for travel, astronomy, paper, paper money, culture, East Asian Buddhism [it is different from India's], etc.
    The Chinese gave us culture? You're sitting on a quite high horse here (since you're half-German you may understand: Du sitzt auf dem hohen Ross). Other cultures developed earlier than the Chinese, hence I can't see how that could be "China's due." East Asian Buddhism takes on various forms & I doubt that all originated in China, mathematics & astronomy can also be found earlier in other cultures than in China.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Qwertyu's response:

    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    Hi bossel, I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but also have some points :

    A continuum yes, but no straight line. This is a very simplified view, which wrongly uses modern times as the root & follows the path backwards. If you look at it the other way round, you will find many branches with dead ends (some flourished for a while, others never grew very much), branches that grow parallel up to modernity & branches that after a while of parallel growth coalesced, a.s.o.
    True for a lot of history, but with regard to Chinese contribution to Modernity, it is a straight trajectory. I was reading Robert Temple's The Genius of China which detail the inventions from Science, Agriculture, Mathematics. A lot of the technology invented by the Chinese are still in use today. It is a fascinating read, and is supported by excellent illustrations and research. And of course there're Leibniz & Jung.


    Pretty improbable. There is no evidence that Gutenberg copied a Chinese or Korean (which AFAIK had a greater influence than the Chinese one) invention.


    In his book The Invention of Printing in China and Its Spread Westward, T. F. Carter argues that the ingenious idea of printing spread westward from China in the wake of the Mongol invasions, first of Turkistan and Persia, and then of Russia, Poland and Hungary. Carter provides strong circumstantial evidence to prove his point, a point that has come to be shared by many scholars. Try googling.


    Each culture its "due": the Western zero most probably originated in India (but other cultures had similar ideas).
    My mistake, in fact, the first zero was traced to China. ok, I'm not trying to make anyone a sinophile, but I do think that credit should be given where it is due. I also hope that future generations will remember the achievements of today's American and European scientists/inventors too, in the areas of biotech, cybertech, club culture, mind-altering drugs, etc.

    I disagree. What about a culture where there is not much of a due? What have the Papuas given our modern culture? Are they less worth because it might be nothing?
    You misinterpreted my intention. It is more about the vilification of others I am concerned about, especially vis the Chinese and now Arabs/Muslims. They are depicted as barbaric, which is untrue. When the Papuans are vilified in the press, I'll be writing about how the Australians owe them! See, it's not true that they don't contribute to modernity either.

    It is interesting where certain things originate, but it is in no way important. Even less, if you consider that it doesn't make much sense to attribute an invention in the distant past to a modern nation.
    I guess I have a more wholistic view of the world. it is not about demanding credit and respect for any particular culture, it is about understanding the universal aspect of our civilisation, to know where a bit from here, a bit from there, and here we are, re. theory of evolution, complexity, emergence, tao, etc.


    The Chinese gave us culture? You're sitting on a quite high horse here (since you're half-German you may understand: Du sitzt auf dem hohen Ross). Other cultures developed earlier than the Chinese, hence I can't see how that could be "China's due." East Asian Buddhism takes on various forms & I doubt that all originated in China, mathematics & astronomy can also be found earlier in other cultures than in China.
    Is cultural influences something separate from science, knowledge, philosophy, architecture, art, etc? 1 example, VanGogh>Japanese prints>Chinese 2D paintings

    Of course not everything comes from China, I didn't claim that. But to deny that Chinese civilisation have a part in the evolution of the world today is equally preposterous.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    with regard to Chinese contribution to Modernity, it is a straight trajectory.
    Nope. You're still looking the wrong way. Looking backwards it may seem like a straight trajectory, but that's not the way to approach history.

    I was reading Robert Temple's The Genius of China which detail the inventions from Science, Agriculture, Mathematics. A lot of the technology invented by the Chinese are still in use today.
    Temple's book is available here at the university's library & I will have a look at it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    In his book The Invention of Printing in China and Its Spread Westward, T. F. Carter argues that the ingenious idea of printing spread westward from China in the wake of the Mongol invasions, first of Turkistan and Persia, and then of Russia, Poland and Hungary. Carter provides strong circumstantial evidence to prove his point, a point that has come to be shared by many scholars.
    Carter's book is from 1925 (not available in a local library, hence I won't be able to have a look at it) & therefore pretty outdated.
    Movable type (as used by Gutenberg) most probably did not come from China. Perhaps you mistake that for block printing which with some goodwill can be traced back to China? But, then again, block printing can be traced back to the use of seals, probably invented in Mesopotamia & from there introduced in China.


    My mistake, in fact, the first zero was traced to China.
    I hope, you're kidding.

    When the Papuans are vilified in the press, I'll be writing about how the Australians owe them! See, it's not true that they don't contribute to modernity either.
    I see your intention & it may be honorable. Yet, I don't see why any culture would need to contribute to modernity in order not to be vilified.

    Another question is, whether you can credit the culture for inventors who by chance lived in this culture's sphere of influence. I don't think so, inventions are made by individuals (or by small groups of dedicated individuals). The culture at best serves as a stimulating environment, but not more.
    To give credit, where it is due, give it to the inventors!

    I guess I have a more wholistic view of the world.
    I prefer the chaotic world view: a little butterfly here, a little butterfly there.

    Of course not everything comes from China, I didn't claim that.
    Well, OK, but I interpreted "The Chinese gave us all a fabulous start, with [...] culture" as such.

    But to deny that Chinese civilisation have a part in the evolution of the world today is equally preposterous.
    Nobody would deny Chinese contributions, although -again- I don't see why such contributions would be necessary.

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    Underdogs Unite! qwertyu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    Nope. You're still looking the wrong way. Looking backwards it may seem like a straight trajectory, but that's not the way to approach history.
    Yes, history does meander and make loops, circuits, but there are also trajectories, eg. you can trace the evolution of today's humans directly to homo sapiens, even though other older humanoids existed, today's paper to its original incarnation, or languages to its latin or anglo-saxon roots, etc. Actually, you quoted the butterfly effect, which I think is an apt metaphor of the web of relationships between peoples and cultures that affect eachother. Although I would argue that history is more direct, easier to map and trace than the weather!

    Carter's book is still used as a reference in a lot of academic curricula about the history of scientific inventions. Movable type was invented in China, in the form of clay units, and the Koreans further innovated into metal movable type before Gutenberg. If this interests you, I found a research paper here:

    http://www.slis.ualberta.ca/cap03/st...lis600main.htm


    I was really afraid I would sound sinocentric. I was flipping through the Temple book, and there, the concept of the zero first arose in China, then Indo-China [Cambodia], and then India. I was also thinking it was Al-Khayyam, one of my heroes and a Muslim.


    I see your intention & it may be honorable. Yet, I don't see why any culture would need to contribute to modernity in order not to be vilified.
    Hmm, how about if I put it mathematically? It is a 1-way trajectory : acknowledging the achievements of a people's culture contributes to de-vilification of those people, but not the other way round, i.e. not acknowledging the achievements of a people's culture does not lead to vilification of said people? I'd love to put it in a vector equation, but that's too nerdy.

    Another question is, whether you can credit the culture for inventors who by chance lived in this culture's sphere of influence. I don't think so, inventions are made by individuals (or by small groups of dedicated individuals). The culture at best serves as a stimulating environment, but not more.To give credit, where it is due, give it to the inventors!
    Ah, here I'd jump in and say, I would credit the earliest Chinese system of promoting meritocracy vs European system of aristocracy for their rapid progress. The first Emperor was a horror, but he also instituted the nation-wide examination system which recruited the best brains into the government, regardless of background. The poorest can move to the top based on pure ability, but of course there were also corrupt emperors, etc. This practice continued throughout Chinese history. Whereas in Europe, until the Enlightenment, the bloodline/church dominated power.


    I prefer the chaotic world view: a little butterfly here, a little butterfly there.
    Chaos is a subset of Complexity, which consists of chaos & order in continuous flux.

    I hope I don't come across as privileging science and logic too much, my inclination is to the arts even, but I find it helps to clarify positions even as diverse as contemporary politics for me.

  7. #7
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    you can trace the evolution of today's humans directly to homo sapiens, even though other older humanoids existed, today's paper to its original incarnation, or languages to its latin or anglo-saxon roots, etc.
    Today's humans are homo sapiens, & there is still some confusion where to trace mankind to: one single group in Africa (the favoured & most probable view) or multiple origins. Human evolution is just as much a tree with dead branches as history (we don't know yet whether some of the branches rejoined after a while).

    Today's paper maybe, but we don't know how often paper was invented & forgotten again.

    The roots of languages are an equally complicated field of study: eg. English having Anglo-Saxon roots is a very simplified view.

    I would argue that history is more direct, easier to map and trace than the weather!
    In hindsight, both are equally traceable, I think (what makes it a bit harder regarding the weather is the even greater lack of data than regarding history). You can see & map major currents, but the closer you look the blurrier the picture gets.

    Movable type was invented in China, in the form of clay units
    That's not disputed, but it had a very limited influence (no wonder, if you think of the fact that you'd need millions of these little character stamps to be able to print a book). What is improbable is the transmission of knowledge about movable type to Europe. Even in the paper you linked (BTW, pretty poor. I wouldn't have got a proficiency certificate for something like this) you'll find only blockprinting mentioned:

    "Following the Mongol incursions into Eastern Europe block-printing appeared in Germany (Tsuen-Hsuin 307)." (another BTW: the writer seems to largely depend on this single source, others are rarely quoted)


    I was flipping through the Temple book, and there, the concept of the zero first arose in China, then Indo-China [Cambodia], and then India.
    Perhaps Temple is a sinophiliac. You have these guys in the West, just think of Menzies.
    Anyway, this is the 1st time I hear that the 0 originated in China. I'll have a look at that book & the evidence quoted (if he gives any).

    acknowledging the achievements of a people's culture contributes to de-vilification of those people, but not the other way round, i.e. not acknowledging the achievements of a people's culture does not lead to vilification of said people?
    Of course you have a point there, since there are a lot of eggheads in this world who think that if you didn't contribute to the whole you're worthless. I just don't subscribe to this attitude.

    I would credit the earliest Chinese system of promoting meritocracy vs European system of aristocracy for their rapid progress.
    Actually, aristocracy originally also means "rule by the best".
    Actually, at the time of the "earliest Chinese system" there was a multitude of different societies (& hierarchical structures) in Europe.
    Actually, the feudal system only developed during the Middle Ages.
    Actually, I can't come up with another actually now.

    Whereas in Europe, until the Enlightenment, the bloodline/church dominated power.
    Here you are slightly mistaken, even in Europe that varied. Eg. in Germanic communities the king/chieftain was traditionally elected, although the function was partly hereditary. But yeah, you could say, in the Middle Ages the blood line gained much too great an importance in most of Europe.

    I hope I don't come across as privileging science and logic too much
    Not at all, I like such debates, although we seem to have slightly differing definitions of logic. But this makes it just interesting.

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    Underdogs Unite! qwertyu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    Today's humans are homo sapiens, & there is still some confusion where to trace mankind to: one single group in Africa (the favoured & most probable view) or multiple origins. Human evolution is just as much a tree with dead branches as history (we don't know yet whether some of the branches rejoined after a while).
    If you are interested, you should look up the Mitochondrial Eve, which in effect projects a mathematical vector to Africa. My source was Richard Dawkins' River out of Eden.

    The roots of languages are an equally complicated field of study: eg. English having Anglo-Saxon roots is a very simplified view.
    Root, sir, the word, root. There might be Latin, Sanskrit, Germanic influences, but there's a distinct root.


    In hindsight, both are equally traceable, I think (what makes it a bit harder regarding the weather is the even greater lack of data than regarding history). You can see & map major currents, but the closer you look the blurrier the picture gets.
    I've thought it over, and since we're mincing niceties here, I propose that my analogy was in fact wrong.

    Predicting the weather is difficult because of the problems with the sheer enormity of the variables, i.e. small changes can bring about huge consequences, butterfly in Brazil and hurricane in China, etc.. Predicting the future is thus just as impossible. Mapping the past is much easier, a matter of forensic and archaeology.


    Even in the paper you linked (BTW, pretty poor. I wouldn't have got a proficiency certificate for something like this) you'll find only blockprinting mentioned
    First, you need to click on all the side links! The origin of the printing press has been covered exhaustively, you just need to google.

    Not at all, I like such debates, although we seem to have slightly differing definitions of logic. But this makes it just interesting.
    Agreeing here for once. It's a nice change from the more contentious ones, and I have been feeling quite ill posting about the Nanjing Massacre and looking at all the evidence, even though it is necessary.

    Oh, one more nitpicking! On one of the threads, you said there wasn't any difference in a baby thrown over the cliff and a baby burned to death. Maybe, but only if the deaths are instantaneous. I would say that being tortured to death, Nanjing/Unit 731 style is much worse than say, being killed in a blast of gunfire.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyu
    If you are interested, you should look up the Mitochondrial Eve, which in effect projects a mathematical vector to Africa. My source was Richard Dawkins' River out of Eden.
    That's 200,000 years & still only looking backwards. If you follow history backward you will always be able to find nice straight ways. That's just how you look at it, though. History works the other way round.

    Even in these 200,000 years not everything is clear. Has HSS interbred with HSN? Where did these Homo Florensiensis originate, how are they related to HSS? What about recent research that showed a single male ancestor some 60,000 years ago? How reliable & representative is the research regarding MtDNA & Y-chromosome?

    This is all far from clear.

    Root, sir, the word, root. There might be Latin, Sanskrit, Germanic influences, but there's a distinct root.
    No, there isn't. There are several roots to English (of course depending on your definition of root). The term Anglo-Saxon alone shows 2 of them. Another question is how far you go back to find the root(s): Indo-European, or even further?

    First, you need to click on all the side links!
    Trying to insult me? Of course I read the whole stuff & it is pretty poor!
    Most quotes are from 1 (one) source! The whole paper equals 5 (five) A4 pages, including abstract & bibliography.
    To get a certificate at my university I'd have to write 10-15 pages for a proseminar, 20-25 pages in an advanced seminar (excl. abstract & bibliography). & I would have to come up with more than 8 sources, as well as use more than just 1 of these sources for 90% of the text.

    The origin of the printing press has been covered exhaustively, you just need to google.
    Googling wouldn't solve very much, you can find links to prove every crap on Google.
    To find valid sources you need databases with scientific articles. Through one of those I found an article on the Archaeology of Type (Nature; 6/28/2001, Vol. 411 Issue 6841, p997). Quote:

    "The idea of assembling a composite printing surface from small, reusable (or
    moveable) pieces of type had been developed centuries earlier in the Far East, but unlike papermaking, there is no evidence of a slow
    diffusion of this technology to Europe. Printing appears to have evolved independently several times; all modern printing, however, derives from Gutenberg. In distinguishing his invention from earlier Chinese and Korean printing, most scholars cite the introduction of the font: the set of unique
    steel master letters, called punches, used to strike matrices, from which lead letters, or types, were cast in large numbers using an adjustable mould. This underlying multiplicative process, not of printed pages but of metal types, was at the core of typography in the West until the twentieth century."

    Perhaps I'll find the time to get Temple's book tomorrow, but I doubt that I will find compelling evidence in there. We'll see...

    you said there wasn't any difference in a baby thrown over the cliff and a baby burned to death. Maybe, but only if the deaths are instantaneous. I would say that being tortured to death, Nanjing/Unit 731 style is much worse than say, being killed in a blast of gunfire.
    I don't remember the context in which I said this, but I'm pretty sure I meant that the consideration as a crime is the same. The effects on the victim vary obviously. But if you want to follow that road, you'd have to do it thoroughly & differentiate not only between torture & killing, but also between different kinds of torture, length of agony ASO.

    I go the easy way: murder is murder. The judges have to consider the degree of malice aforethought for their sentence, but I'm not a judge.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Temple's book

    Well, I finally got around to borrow it. It doesn't seem as bad as I thought it was (at least not as bad as Menzies' stuff). Yet, as expected, there is no real evidence shown for Gutenberg to have got his idea from China.

    Even about block printing, Temple says that "although no hard evidence exists for its transmission from China, the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to support it."

    For movable type he quotes a certain Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza: "whereby it is evident that manie years after that they had the use thereof [printing], it was brought into Almaine by the way of Ruscia and Moscouia, from whence, as it is certaine, they may come by lande, and that some merchants that came from Arabia Felix, might bring some books, from whence this John Cutembergo, whom the histories dooth make author, had his first foundation. [sic]"

    So, Temple uses the speculation of a guy who wrote more than 100 years after the facts (Mendoza's book is from 1585) as evidence for his point. Pretty poor.

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    Underdogs Unite! qwertyu's Avatar
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    The Mitochondrial Eve is more definitive than you put it, in that it essentially debunks the multi-origin theory. It is also the most statistical, mathematical evidence out there of human origins. I guess until DNA testing on some new groups of peoples provide startingly new and different results, it is accepted as the de facto evolutionary history.

    Mendoza isn't a "speculating" guy but a respected Portuguese historian whose works form the basis of many sinologist historians' research into Sino-Euro contact and relations.

    I believe Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer winning historian, arrived at a similar conclusion which he expanded in a April 1999 New York Times Magazine article about the printing press. I can't find an online copy, just a reference to it by Googling. Carter's book is still used as an academic reference in universities as a background bibliography to the history of printing/books, which means that it isn't debunked and discredited. Anyway, knowing the origin of a particular invention doesn't detract from the achievements of Gutenberg and many others of his contemporaries in Europe who innovated in other ways and made optimum use out of the technology. Printing in China didn't help accelerate literacy in the same way at all because of the nature of the language and culture.

    Ok, back to battling revisionists! I'm curious, are you Japanese or teaching in Japan? How do you accumulate so much knowledge about Japan?

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