A Brief Answer to Needham's Grand Question (Forward)

HistoryMarch 12, 20198 minutes read

Ancient China had glorious technological achievements, and for the application of almost every important invention, the Chinese could proudly claim that the West In particular, the "Four Great Inventions", which were so earth-shattering that they revolutionized Europe and even the world at the end of the Middle Ages. The face of the world: gunpowder blew up the fortresses and armor of the feudal chivalric class, the compass opened up new shipping routes between the 5 continents, and the Paper-making and printing broke the cultural monopoly of the feudal church... However, after the modern era, Chinese science and technology stagnated. Instead, the door was opened by the Newton Faraday's who were originally far behind the Chinese. China, once a leader in the history of science and technology, has since almost disappeared, and science and technology have been dominated by the West. Why is that? --This is the unparalleled answer that Joseph Li, the famous British sinologist who wrote the History of Chinese Science and Technology, was unable to give throughout his life. The Obsession: "The Joseph Lee Conundrum".

At the same time, a look at the economic history of China and Europe shows that it is not only in the field of science and technology that such doubts exist. Chinese feudal societies were also far ahead of the West in their methods of production, with agriculture, urban commerce, finance and even navigation before the Ming dynasty. The West cannot even hope to match China. The two major waterways, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, irrigated large-scale, mature agriculture in the Central Plains; in the most agriculturally developed areas of Jiangnan, Hanzhong, Guanzhong and Sichuan and other regions are dotted with a large number of cities with magnificent architecture and flourishing commerce and industry. The world's first banknotes appeared in Sichuan, while Zheng He's voyages to the Atlantic gave China a half-century head start on the West's large-scale ocean expeditions. and trade... Similarly, after the modern era, when the Chinese economy was struggling under the yoke of feudalism, the capitalist mode of production began to To create more wealth for the West in a hundred years than all the wealth created by the entire human race in the last 5,000 years. If Joseph Lee had been an economist, he would have asked a similar question: why, around the 16th century, was it that the original far What about the fact that leading China was not able to take the lead in the capitalist phase and was instead dramatically overtaken by Europe?

Of course, with the author's current scholarship, it is not possible to provide a complete and rigorous answer to this question, and the purpose of this paper is to Summarize the author's thoughts on this "Joseph Lee problem" of economic history and suggest a possible solution.

Let's first analyze the geographical and climatic differences between China and Europe. Ancient Chinese civilization originated in the Central Plains, the predominantly temperate and subtropical climate Yangtze and Yellow River valleys. The length and flow of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are very large, and in their middle and lower reaches of North China, Central China, Hanzhong and Jiangnan regions, there is also rainfall. Abundant, fertile, and easily accessible Great Plains; and, on a macro level, China's geographic location in the Central Plains is close to one another The periphery of the linked Great Agricultural Plain: the cold and barren Siberia and the barren and dry Mongolian plateau in the north, not to mention Siberia. It is that the powerful nomadic peoples that have historically risen in Mongolia and the northeast, such as the Xiongnu, Jin, and Mongolia, are either not the developed Chinese Agrarian economic rivals either had to assimilate into the Middle Kingdom by accepting its methods of production and cultural traditions when they entered the country; East and Southeast is the vast and expansive Pacific Ocean, which in the Middle Ages could not have been the birthplace of a powerful foreign enemy; to the southwest are the lofty mountains of the Tibetan Plateau and the Southeast Asia's environmentally dangerous tropical jungles, its ethnic minorities and its inability to threaten China because of its own backward social development, and The mighty ancient Indian civilization of the South Asian subcontinent, shielded by the Himalayas, had little contact with the Central Plains; to the west and northwest, the It is the deserts, Gobi and Pamir Plateau of Central Asia, the minorities of the ancient West who were unable to counteract the Middle Kingdom, and the great eclipse and Bosnians of Western Asia, although the It was not easy to invade China on a large scale across the vast and harsh western region. So, what ancient China had was a vast great plain that was very conducive to agricultural production and yet almost closed and safe all around. Europe, on the other hand, is very different: Europe, especially Western Europe, is fragmented, with a winding coastline and mountains in the interior. There were no large alluvial plains, and northern Europe was alpine; at the same time, European civilization faced Turkic, Mongolian, and other influences from the east. The powerful threat of nomadic peoples, all of whom have historically dealt fatal blows to European civilization. So the geography of Europe is fragmented and vulnerable to invasion by powerful enemies.

Based on this geography, ancient China and Europe began to follow different paths of development. Farming developed very early in the Central Plains, and it was in China that the world first began to cultivate rice and raise silkworms. The fertile alluvial plains and humid climate of the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers nurtured ancient China's developed agriculture and its dependence on it. handicrafts, which provided a good economic and social basis for the feudal superstructure; and because there were no large moats in the Central Plains, the people in the A unified square script and cultural ideology gradually emerged from mutual interaction. People interact and integrate with each other in agricultural work and in cooperative work, especially in the construction of aqueducts, canals, and waterways that are essential to large agricultural societies. The river embankments and other large-scale irrigation projects gradually organized themselves into scattered villages, city-states, and even small and large villages throughout the Middle Kingdom. The Marquis. China had a hierarchical system of separation and feudalism based on the wellfield system during the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, and the entire Central Plains began to be Direct and indirect control by a central authority; developed in the Qin and Han dynasties, when centralized power began to be established and the world was unified under imperial authority; Han and Tang dynasties Below, until the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the centralization of power was perfected and strengthened to the extreme, and the feudal superstructure developed surprisingly well and solidly. At the same time, the Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, and the system of obtaining scholarship by means of the imperial examination, accompanied by the Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, had a great effect on the maintenance and consolidation of the feudal regime. These are directly or indirectly related to the particular geography of the Central Plains: the interconnected Great Plains suitable for agricultural development, the A unified square hieroglyph, a unified religious totem, a settlement of the people necessary and inevitable for the great agriculture, and even a close union. Unlike Europe, whose geography was not conducive either to the development of an agriculture as advanced as that of ancient China, or to the establishment of extensive Unification regime. So medieval Europe was divided by the English Channel, the Pyrenees, the Alps and other moats into relatively independent England, the France, Germany, Spain, etc., have no common language or script, and their agricultural productivity has been low Hovering, agriculture, handicrafts and technology and culture lag far behind China, which is geographically blessed. Thus, the form of political organization in ancient Europe, inherited from the Roman tradition, also tended to be more decentralized and democratic, and has always retained a similarity to our own Separation of feudal regimes similar to the Xia, Shang and Zhou regimes, and the relationship between the feudal aristocracy and the king was not one of absolute obedience and domination; land system The king could only control a small piece of land owned by the crown and had little practical control over the land granted to the nobility and the people on it. Control. So instead of establishing a well-established and consolidated centralized authority, as in China, the European countries for a long time practiced a de facto The so-called "aristocratic democracy".

Therefore, social and economic factors, which are fundamentally determined by geographical and climatic reasons, determine the different feudal political systems of the East and the West.

History is a chain of events. Such foundations and premises have determined the different paths of development of the East and the West in the future. In the late Middle Ages, there were further important changes in the political institutions and economic development of the East and the West from the original foundation. The consolidation of the regime was further improved by a series of "perfect" institutions established by the old feudal aristocracy, which ensured that the entire state apparatus served faithfully. Their interests served, from the shores of the East Sea to the snowy mountains of the West, from the forbidden imperial city to the small villages of the wilderness, the feudal gentry of China, through the preservation of armor The system, Confucian dogma, and village officials and tax collectors have a firm grip on this vast land. At the same time, the powerful and unified Chinese Empire largely conquered the ethnic minority regimes around it, from Siberia to the Southeast Asian peninsula, from the From the Himalayas and the Pamir Plateau to Taiwan and the Ryukyus overseas, they are all subjugated to the central power, and when you look at the sea, there seems to be no What outside force could challenge and threaten the mighty "Central State" - if there is one, it's civil unrest - and at the same time! Since all that remains around the Central Plains are deserts, plateaus, tundra and oceans, there seems to be no room for further cultivation. Although the southeastern coast was facing harassment from Japanese pirates and early Western European colonists, this was irrelevant to the central regime. At the same time, the more the Japanese and other sea robbers harassed the rulers, the more the rulers had to tighten up the maintenance of the original ruling order and the stricter the ban on people going to sea. The vigorous dynamism of the Qin Shi Huang and Tang Taizong rulers, who were enterprising and eager to expand, was no longer found, but was replaced by suspicion. The "ambition" of the ministers around them to "seize power", desperately trying to maintain the old order and restrict new things that might disrupt the old "prosperity"... Ancient! Mencius' statement 2,000 years ago, "There is no enemy outside and no danger outside, but there is no enemy within", is a good example of how the Chinese empire is moving towards stagnation, old-fashionedness, decadence and decay. The prophecy that "without Gathering and Pilgrims, the country will never be able to survive" is coming true... Meanwhile, Europe is heading towards the dawn of time. From the Song Dynasty onwards, the European economy began to outpace China's: from the 11th century to the mid-16th century, the volume of Chinese agricultural products It grew 0.5 times, while Western Europe grew 1.7 times. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some serfs with skills, tools, and capital had fled from their estates to places of easy access, or to the castle district. engage in handicraft production, thus separating themselves from agriculture and establishing new towns. They set up guilds and city councils based on the democratic system of the clan communes, and gained their independence by various means, from then on. The civic class etc. on the stage of history. The development of commerce and industry demanded the elimination of the anarchic and decentralized state of an aristocratic democracy and a gradual alliance with the monarchy. At the same time, the monarchy made use of the so-called "third class" in order to weaken the power of the feudal aristocracy and thus consolidate and improve its position. and in the late Middle Ages undertook a series of weakening exercises supported by the growing power of the industrialists (early capitalists) local aristocracy, strengthening of the military, development of commerce and industry, widespread cultural and educational reforms, the establishment of an autocratic monarchy and the beginning of a strong Pursuing mercantilism. One reason for this difference between the East and the West during this period is the very different structures and functions of the two regimes: China represents the feudal old The aristocracy tightly controlled a highly centralized, authoritarian monarchy in all aspects of society; Western Europe was just partially built on the emerging industrialists' The, relatively loose and weak monarchy. Another reason is that the political maps of East and West are different: China is a unified great empire with a clear sea and no external problems, while Western Europe is Fragmented, there is a protracted competition between nations.

source: Tianya

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