Re: Islam and history

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 15 Dec 2002 - 17:18:47 GMT

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    >Date: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 00:10:22 -0500
    >Grant, you are a student of China. What is your sense of the comparable
    >question, posed of China?
    >Scott, Steve, Jeremy?
    Ahh. Right back at me. Fair enough. But as you know you can't summarize several centuries of history in a simple post. But I can point to two memes that writers I respect have brought up over and over.

    One meme is philosophical and had a lot to do with why China rejected the scientific and political advances (if they can be called that) of the West. The Chinese had a strong belief in personal advancement and a contempt for using "machines." The man who needed a machine to increase his abilities was less of a man. A man should, the sages said, seek perfection within. And so things like clocks and guns and our concepts of science were rejected as a way of advancing society. They weren't able to see past the clock as to a concept of time and precision that superceded man's grasp of such ideas. The gun was a stronger bow and arrow, but they weren't interested in what made the gun superior to what a skilled archer could do. In fact they didn't believe it measured up to a skilled archer. They couldn't see past the early musket and cannon to the machines we built on our concepts of time and space that superceded what human skill could accomplish. Our skill was in seeing beyond ourselves and they placed their bets on seeing within themselves. The machine was not the path to the future but a crutch that got in the way of personal development.

    The other meme was expressed in the name of China: Jung Guo or the middle kingdom. They had dominated their hemisphere so completely and for so long that they felt like they were the center of the universe and everything revolved around them and their culture. All other cultures were inferior and there was little for them to learn from barbarians. This despite the fact that at the time they were being ruled by a barbarian (in Chinese eyes at the time of the Ching conquest) tribe. The Manchus themselves believed it, along with all the other mythology about the superiority of man. After conquering China, the Manchus became more Chinese than the Chinese themselves. The emperors became masters of calligraphy and Chinese poetry and Chinese history and philosophy. It was much like the German tribes that overcame Rome and then built their own kingdoms on Roman memes.

    I can't pull the names out of my mind right this minute, but writers have been referring to China as the sleeping giant for centuries now. And at the end of the Ching dynasty, it was sleeping. The country was ruled by mythology and politics based on that mythology. A woman took over the empire and treated it like her own private fairy land. She took money raised for a navy and built a terracotta boat in her garden that she could walk around on. She tried to use the West to defeat the rebels of the boxer rebellion and they did. But mainly because the boxers were as wrapped up in the Chinese mythology as she was. The boxers were believers in martial arts or what people today call Kung fu. That, again, was the worship of personal development over external things.

    It's an interesting contrast between the personal developmen of the Christians that would allow them to enter into heaven and be with their God and the personal development of the Chinese who believed it would make them superior here on earth. Seeking a heavenly God took the Christians out of themselves and caused them to look to heaven and discover the universe, while seeking perfection within kept the Chinese locked within themselves and a desire to make themselves one with nature rather than to understand nature in an objective sense. It's funny that we have now come around to a similar point of view that man and nature are one and inseparable.

    What this caused in China was the rejection of ideas that were not Chinese and thus, compared to what was happening in Europe, the Chinese were asleep.
      The West had nothing to offer that the Chinese wanted because their search for perfection was inward rather than outward. This does not mean that every Chinese person felt this way, but that the people who were running the government and came to their positions through the civil examination system that was built on a knowledge of Confucian ethics and a worship of the old masters and a deep understanding of poetry rather than science felt this way. A man could spend his life studying the classics and then pass an examination that would place him in a position of power within the government. China became a country governed by poets.

    I think you can get a good feel for this in Spence's book, Treason by the Book. It is one of the best examples of Chinese thought and government in the 1700s that I have come across and demonstrates all the memes that ruled China at that time.

    The overthrow of the Chings by the followers of Sun yat-sen and Mao tse-tung is the story of China awakening but it is only now coming fully awake. Deng Xiao-ping figured out how to absorb the more useful memes of the West into the Culture of China and set the country on a course of coming fully awake. America is the country that is performing the transfusion of memes into their culture at incredible speed. You can credit IBM and Microsoft with more of the change than the American government. They led the computer revolution that spread the memes to the people.

    The communist government had picked up ideas like atomic physics and rocket science, but these ideas were forbidden to the general public. Everything that might advance the people over the party was forbidden to the people. Even statistics on economics were kept secret. People went to jail for telling foreigners what was passed between the cadres in the party newspapers. Therefore, most of what was in those papers was wrong. It was based on inadequate science. Western economic science was kept from the public and thus could not be used except by academics who studied it to find weaknesses in our system.

    The free exchange of ideas was a crime in China and was only encouraged
    (reluctantly) by the party over the last 20 years. The adoption of the IBM PC and the Microsoft system of Chinese for Windows opened a floodgate of change and the development of computer piracy and the internet spread new ideas like a virus that became a plague leading to the death of a Chinese way of looking at the world. If not for the computer and the internet, I think these concepts would only have made their way into China reluctantly with the advent of civil war. Hong kong, Singapore and Taiwan were the carriers of the virus (if you'll excuse the metaphor) and you can map the spread of the influence of the West from these sources.

    It's too bad the Mullas are following the lead of the Communist Party at the time of Mao and rejecting the memes of modern science, economics and technology. But then, from an ecological point of view, China is becoming another America in the sense that they are now building roads and cars and power plants and factories at a rate that threatens to overtake us in the next decade. There's an article in the January issue of Wired titled: The First Cloning Superpower, Inside China's race to become the clone capital of the world by Charles C. Mann. The largest FAB companies in the world are now Chinese and are being transplanted from Taiwan (TSMC and UMC) to Shanghai. Instead of conquering Taiwan, China is absorbing it into their economic sphere. The old Chinese memes are what you hear in the rattling of sabers and shooting of rockets into the ocean near Taiwan.


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