Importance of Scientific and Technological Development in China
Countries are defined by a lot of factors, which include its geography, demography, technology, economy and military power. Whichever country is superior in all aspects gets to be described as one of the most powerful countries in the world, like America, the British Empire, and Soviet Union, for example. In the history of the world, these mentioned countries were known as superpowers and were capable of influencing other countries in major ways.
In recent years, though, there is another country that is slowly on its path on having such a title as well. This country is China.
China is a very famous country not only because it is one of the largest and most populated countries in the world but also because it is one of the four ancient civilizations of the world. In terms of technology in the ancient world, China was probably not far behind. After all, China was to the ancient world like America is to the rest of the world today. And in the present 21st century, China is starting to progress again as it continues to improve its technology. After all, technological development can produce a better environment for the people of a country since it could make them happier and have good, satisfying lives (Spring 119).
And truthfully, technology is one of the key factors for a country to be called successful or powerful. Whoever has the advanced technology is capable of holding the world in its grip. And since this paper is about the importance of scientific and technological development in China, then it is only proper to discuss first how the science and technology of China developed from the early times to the present. Anyway, China is an emerging power that given probably a decade or so, at least, will be able to compete with America on equal footing. And that statement is not an unfounded assumption.
After all, there are now books like China: Friend or Foe by Hugo de Burgh (2006) and China, Inc. : How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World by Ted C. Fishman (2006) that fully discuss and explain the facts behind that assumption. Importance of Science and Technology in China Pre-Imperial China China’s science and technology had been booming since the fourth century BC1. According to David Wright in his book The History of China, pre-modern China, which was 1840 and earlier, already had advanced technology in the aspects of engineering, agriculture, and warfare, to name a few.
Apparently, there were a lot of inventions, discoveries and innovations that the Chinese already made years before the Western world did the same thing. For example, in agriculture, the Chinese were the first to develop the trace harness. This was a very important agricultural invention, since prior to its invention, the farm animals that were used to plow the fields were harnessed around their throats and stomachs. (40) Of course, one can only imagine the pain those animals must have gone through.
Not only would such a painful experience create an uncooperative attitude for the animal, but it probably could choke the animal if it carries a heavy load. With the trace harness, a yoke was placed “…across the animal’s chest from which traces or shafts connected it to a carriage. 1” He adds that it was only nine hundred years later that medieval Europe harnessed farm animals in the same way. At around the same time, the Chinese also did straight-line cropping, which was only practiced by Europeans in the 18th century AD, and in the sixth century BC, started using an iron plow.
In medicine, the Chinese already understood that the blood circulates around the body and that it is pumped by the heart around the second century BC. This knowledge was obtained by the Arabs who later spread it to Europe. Also two centuries earlier, they were already using natural gas as a means for heating. They were even able to transport and store it after a few innovations. And even more amazing is the fact that around the same time, someone in China already thought of the first law of Newton and defined a circle properly as shown by Mo-ist writings (Wright, 41).
Then, in 14th century BC, they were already using the decimal system and already understood and used the concept of a zero. The compass and crossbow also came from the Chinese. In addition, they were also the first ones to use chemical and poison gas as weapons in battle (Wright, 42). Early Imperial China During early imperial China, around 221 BC to AD 589, technological innovations in China did not cease. The Chinese were probably the first ones to use the power of rivers and streams and the waterwheel to produce power (Wright, 64). The fact that they already had this technology during that time is already amazing.
Then add the fact that they actually used this to power huge bellows for iron-casting (Wright, 64). When I imagine the movies I watch were there are medieval blacksmiths, all I can visualize are the smiths themselves or their assistants doing the bellows work. The Chinese were also the first ones to use suspension bridges. It wasn’t really a flat passage then because the “bridge followed the curved contours of the suspended rope. ” (Wright, 64) But later, the Chinese were able to remedy this after their invention and use of iron-chain suspension techniques1.
Then, when they first invented paper, the first kind they made were so durable, rough and hard it was not only used for writing but also for clothing, light armor, mosquito nets, and curtains (Wright 65). They were also the first ones to develop the stirrups for horses in third century AD (Wright 65) and invent and use a seismograph (Wright 66). The seismograph did not really measure the intensity of an earthquake but it could provide the direction which helped the government officials to efficiently provide help to the affected area. The Chinese were already hang gliding and using parachutes long before da Vinci sketched his design of one.
There were actual recorded events that the Chinese really did so like an emperor requiring prisoners to jump from unbound kites or an instance of a Chinese jumping from a height and landing safely with the use of “several large conical straw hats tied together to his body” as written by the Chinese historian Sima Qian (Wright 66). Middle and Late Imperial China According to Wright, the technological ingenuity of the Chinese ceased after Mongol conquest. However, it was also during this time that the Chinese invented and perfected one of the most important inventions that had a great impact to the world, the gunpowder.
The effect of this invention is an undeniable fact and further discussion on it will be made later in the paper. Then, the Chinese also were the first to print books, but not printing itself, via woodblock printing and invent the first movable type printing. They did the latter around 1040s, four hundred years earlier than Gutenberg’s invention, but did not make further efforts on it since it was impractical to use due to the thousand individual characters present in the Chinese writing. Then, they also made the first working mechanical clock and Mercator map projections (Wright 96).
In addition, the Chinese made the first vaccines against smallpox and the first phosphorescent paintings (Wright 97). Spread of the science and technology outside China From the study of world history, one can determine that there are a number of factors responsible for how a certain country is today. For example, trade between people and countries in the early times were an important source not only of livelihood but also of science and technology. Knowledge, customs and cultures can also be spread to a certain area of the world via, ironically, war or conquests and religious activity.
For a number of the inventions and innovations of the Chinese, some were spread to other parts of the world, both intentionally and unintentionally, probably by trading with other people and war. For example, despite efforts of the Chinese to prohibit its spread, the crossbow and secret of papermaking still spread anyway. Especially, the papermaking techniques, which was said to have been guarded by the Chinese for centuries, were supposedly shared to the Arabs when those who knew it became prisoners after the Tang dynasty were defeated by Arab armies (Wright 65).
Then, there are the stirrups that were probably shared with Westerners by the Avars, whom the Chinese also knew (Wright 66). For the most part, it was revealed that Europe, the Arabs and the countries near China, Korea and Japan, were the beneficiaries of the science and technology of China. For example, for Europe, it was probably because it was then the superpower of the world. From world history, up until World War II, Europe had a lot of Asian colonies and having read parts of the history of China, it can be seen that Europe was interested in China as well.
After all, it repeatedly tried to have both a friendly and not-so-friendly relationship with China. As for the Arabs, they were basically known to be desert nomads and thus it is not impossible for them to have been to China and traded with them. And since there also came a point in Arabic history that they were able to build their own dynasty that spread by conquering in Asia, they must have been to China as well and tried to conquer parts of it. And of course, Korea and Japan are just neighboring countries of China. Eighteenth century to the present China
Unfortunately, I was unable to find more technological inventions or innovations that the Chinese have made during this time. As Bodde mentions in his book, it is indeed puzzling that the Chinese did not have the same scientific and technological revolution that really changed Europe and the rest of the Western world (3). After all, the Chinese did have a civilization that had existed for so long and produced so many useful inventions and technology that are actually the groundwork of today’s advancing science and technology way before the Westerners did.
To think that if the Chinese continued on with their work, it is interesting to think where they would be at this point in time. Would they be the superpower instead of America? But as Bodde writes, such decline may have something to do with the mindset of the Chinese during that time. After all, the Chinese do adhere to their Confucian beliefs which are opposed to war and competition (3). Then, there’s also the Taoist distrust of innovative technology (4). The social aspect was probably partly a reason for the decline.
Or maybe, as Bodde said, the Chinese recognized the hazards of an advanced technology (4). After all, technology is like a double-edged sword. It is capable of defending one’s self and at the same time attacking others. Technology can help man have an easier life but it could also be used for his destruction. One of China’s most important inventions: Gunpowder Speaking of technology that had been used both for the good and bad of mankind, we’ll now talk about gunpowder.
It’s probably weird to say that it was actually used for the good of mankind when it has been primarily and most efficiently used in war. Well, according to Embree, the Chinese weren’t looking for gunpowder when they discovered it during the Tang dynasty. In actuality, they were in search of a pill that could fight aging (849) and prolong life, in short, a form of the fabled elixir of life. The product was able to treat some skin diseases, fevers and ringworm. Its recipe was even included in some pharmacology texts.
They called it huoyao, or firedrug, because of its explosive tendencies that led to fire in the alchemists’ laboratories. It was then later used for firecrackers and blasting and thus, its military applications were immediately realized. Conclusion It is ironic that the Taoists, who are known for their practices in prolonging the lives of its devotees, were the ones who produced the gunpowder which was able to do the exact opposite. As mentioned earlier, its application was mainly in the military that used it to make bombs, grenades and cannons.
Earlier designs of cannons used bamboo barrels. But they were probably able to improve it since bronze cannons that date back to 1332 were unearthed and are now at the Chinese History Museum. However, it was also discovered that as early as 1128, metal bombards were already used. Then, gunpowder was also used for its rocket-propelling capabilities which the Chinese used to develop “. . . more than thirty different kinds of fire-arrows designed to rain down on the enemy, explode, and catch everything around on fire. ” (Embree 850)
The invention of gunpowder did not have as much impact to Chinese society as its introduction to the Western world did. After all, with gunpowder, Europe was able to move out of its medieval era via destroying the frontiers of the feudal castles that ruled it then and establishing a monarchy. This monarchy then further utilized gunpowder to strengthen and stabilize its position in Europe. It was later on innovated and used in guns and artillery and as the years go on in bombs, grenades, and everything else that explodes. But with the Chinese, the gunpowder did not have such an impact, as mentioned.
Embree adds that it was because during the Tang dynasty, China was already a united empire and thus did not have feudal castles to destroy like the Europeans. Of course, the Chinese did not want to share the gunpowder and the other things they invented or innovated with it. What country would? However, they were unable to stop its spread. After using it to fend off invaders like the Jurchen from forests in the northeast and the Mongols, the Chinese still lost to them anyway in 1127 and 1234, respectively. Then, the Mongols ruled “. . .
China and used gunpowder against the Southern Song, the Japanese, and kingdoms in Southeast Asia. ” (Embree 850) As for the spread of gunpowder to the west, the Arabs are certainly not the ones responsible, even if it appeared suddenly in Italy during the fourteenth century. Embree quotes an article by Lynn White, Jr. titled “Tibet, India, and Malaya as Sources of Western Medieval Technology. ” Although the article does not explicitly mention gunpowder, what he says in his article is a probable explanation of how at least the technology of gunpowder suddenly appeared in Italy.
White explains that it might be because of the slave trade in Italy. Since the Muslim slaves were gruff and almost always escaped and due to canonical prohibitions, the Genoese merchants thought of securing slaves from central Asia and made it the main source of slaves. It is not impossible for the Genoese merchants to do this since they are known to have been the first Europeans to have traded with the Mongolians, Russians and the Chinese (Embree 853). In addition, the slaves that were sold were of both sexes and were relatively old enough to have accurate memories of their own homelands.
A study on the records of the slaves also revealed that the majority of the slaves came from areas near Tibet and China (Embree 852). Thus, it certainly implies that the technology of the gunpowder may have been carried through to Italy and into the Western world by the Asian slaves. And gunpowder is still relevant today as the other inventions that the Chinese came up with centuries ago. In connection with that though, the thought of what the world might have been today if it was the Chinese who did it continues to bug the mind.
Anyway, it certainly seems that after a long rest, the Chinese government is taking steps to revive its scientific community. China has now established its new science and technology management system that integrates science and technology with industrial and agriculture production. And with their opening up policy, its scientists and engineers concentrated on the world’s advanced level of scientific and technological development. Thus, international exchange and cooperation is now the priority of China since technology acquisition will continue to bring about changes in China’s own technology (Yu 222).
An example of this is the increase in the information and communication technology in China, which has one of the world’s largest telecommunications market. Its information technology industry has also been helping the economy triple its gross domestic product (Qiang 2). Indeed, the reforms and opening up that China did brought positive effects, with a fast economic growth. With its continual development and improvement of its science and technology policies, it will certainly close the gap between those with other countries in the near future.