Sheng Li (gmachine1729) wrote,
Sheng Li

More on history of Chinese and East Asian science and technology

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.

This is in response to

There is already digital RMB in the form of WeChat payments, something America lacks. Reminds me of how China was also first in the world to come up with paper money in the 11th century using woodblock printing, which only expanded with movable type during the Yuan Dynasty and the Mongols. In contrast, a rich Stanford kid raised 20 some million seed for a mobile payments startup that failed miserably around 2012. However, China’s not having credit cards widespread then made this development easier.

Something else at least tangentially related to what Steve Hsu is doing with genomics is that PRC was for almost a couple decades the world leading in cloning to my surprise. They cloned fish in 1963 and did interspecies nuclear transfers in 1973, when the next cloning after 1953 and 1958 to happen in the West was in 1981. There is English translation in the paper published, which I uploaded here: TongDiZhouCloningPaper1973-PRC

As for a summary of the results,

In 1973, they did an experiment where they compared, for two types of fish G and B the results of 1) nucleus of G injected in G (control) 2) G-B hybrid into G 3) B -> G 4) G -> B 5) G -> B -> G. The results were that the survival rates of 1, 2 were way way higher than 3,4,5, and of four samples of 5 that survived, one had the phenotypic features of G, and the remaining three had the phenotypic features of those of 2). Interestingly Wiki says that in 50s the guy leading it Tong Dizhou supported Lysenkoism, which is used by the West as an example to undermine Stalin and USSR.

It’s a pity that the guy behind it Tong Dizhou was somewhat forgotten afterwards. Maybe even more Chinese know about Dolly the Sheep in the 90s than about him and his cloned carp. Had he not been attacked and forced to do some non biology experiment menial labor during the Cultural Revolution, PRC would have only advanced further in cloning.

My opinion of Chinese science only increased after learning about some of their results. Including four Song/Yuan Dynasty 13th century mathematicians by the names of Yang Hui, Qin Jiushao, Li Ye, Zhu Shijie. The ancient Chinese in spite of their shortcomings in mathematical proof or theory developed independently decimal system, Gaussian elimination, and polynomial interpolation. The decimal system the West got in Middle Ages from the Islamic world which got it from Indians. And the Russians until early 18th century were still not using decimal system! A book of Zhu Shijie was lost in China (the Yuan to Ming transition appears to have done some damage towards mathematical scholarship), but fortunately, it was transmitted to Korea in the 15th century, and then to Japan in the 17th century, which was much the basis of that Japanese genius Seki Takakazu who figured out determinant and Bernoulli numbers, computed pi to 10 decimal places, etc. It was only in the late Qing that the Chinese recovered that book via Korea.

After knowing all this, I only have more confidence in Chinese and East Asians when before, my opinion of East Asians in mathematics was rather low. Also, the Koreans did invent an alphabet in the 15th century and earlier the first metal movable type. If not for contact with the West, the two combined eventually would have ushered a printing revolution in Korea, which would have later influenced Japan and China as well. It is totally untrue that East Asians never invented an alphabet by themselves. The Koreans created a fully phonographic writing system independently. Before that, the Khitan (a Mongolic group) and the Jurchens (the precursor to Manchus) also based on Chinese characters invented writing system that was mostly phonographic, as did the Japanese with hiragana and katakana.

Something else I’ve noticed is that Mongols, Manchus, and Japanese unlike the Han Chinese do have a strong appetite for knowledge and conquest of outside world. The Ming after Zheng He restricted travel overseas much because of a problem of wokou pirate raids on the coasts of China and Korea, much done by the Japanese. Koxinga’s father was also a Chinese pirate. Mongols also landed soldiers in Japan and Indonesia but they were not able to conquer those places. Sure, the Qing Dynasty was resistant to scientific knowledge from the West, a totally alien culture, and some intellectuals came up with a theory that such Western knowledge was actually of Eastern origin. With some historical perspective now, it is more understandable to me why they acted that way; in some sense, it was actually not so unreasonable or at not completely ridiculous. I do believe that China would have hypothetically been much more receptive to the wasan of Seki Takakazu, et al from Japan, due to Japanese culture’s much being a derivative of China.

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