China, technology superpower

The US media have been buzzing today about China having created the world’s most powerful supercomputer, which takes up a third of an acre. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t stir up yet another wave of panic that China is emerging as a threat.

A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower.

The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.

Although the official list of the top 500 fastest machines, which comes out every six months, is not due to be completed by Mr. Dongarra until next week, he said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine.” He added, “We don’t close the books until Nov. 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster.”

We all know the dichotomies, that China is now a technology superpower while also being largely impoverished and, some big cities aside, a third-world country. But this does help put to rest the notion that all China can produce are shoes and toys you buy at WalMart. (And I promise, I know some people who still view China that way.)

So once again China successfully invests a huge amount of money and effort to become No. 1, at least for the moment. They have to be given credit for achieving this, and from all I heard on National Public Radio tonight, this is a truly dramatic achievement, one that must be taken seriously. Now we just have to see what they do with it, and whether they can hold onto their No. 1 spot. No matter what, this was a PR coup and a big boost to China’s ego.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 87 Comments

I hope the fear and worry this incites will turn constructive, and renew American interest in science and engineering.

October 29, 2010 @ 7:29 am | Comment

Welll… Techinally they just assembled it (from parts that are built using mostly US know how).

Still, it’s a nice achievement.

October 29, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Comment

The bleeding edge in computation is now in quantum and optical computation.

You can only do so much with classical deterministic Turing machine computing model.

October 29, 2010 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

Still, they got the whole world buzzing, and their supercomputer is the world’s fastest. I have to give them credit.

October 29, 2010 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

Fastest computer in the world, a zillion pentaflops. But it probably runs on pirated software and can’t get Facebook or Youtube to work.
No point in having super computers if you have a mediocre research/intellectual property environment and no access to the real world networks and apps.

October 29, 2010 @ 4:05 pm | Comment

Just the computing power they need to get through the GFW?

;-)

October 29, 2010 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

You may remember this footnote. Lenovo and the Williams Formula 1 team installed the first Chinese supercomputer outside China, for aerodynamic modeling and wind tunnel simulation, in July 2007 in Grove, U.K.

http://www.f1complete.com/features/behind-f1-general/5301-lenovo-revs-up-supercomputer-power-for-atat-williams

http://insidehpc.com/2007/07/17/laptop-maker-lenovo-builds-formula-one-supercomputer/

October 29, 2010 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

Yes but does it have a USB port? Can it run for 6 hours on one battery charge? Does it have Bluetooth and Firewire?

October 29, 2010 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

A couple of years ago, writer/ blogger Han Han wrote a hilarious article on the Chinese taste for “first” and “biggest” world records. For those who can read Chinese, it can be seen here:
http://tinyurl.com/2f94v7y

October 29, 2010 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

For those who think this was nothing more than an assembly of parts manufactured (or at least designed) elsewhere, the key to making the new class of supercomputers work is to design ever faster, ever more complex control networks that link relatively simple (practically off the shelf) computers together. The Chinese machine uses a newly Chinese designed control network that lets it achieve the speeds that are mentioned. While scientists and engineers who come solely from the Chinese education system are unlikely to innovate, there are now hundreds of thousands of brilliant Chinese scientists, engineers and designers who have been educated in the West and are applying their knowledge and skills to projects in China. The cultural mix of Western innovation and Eastern discipline combined with the resources flowing from the tightly controlled Beijing government (now dominated by engineers and scientists rather than old revolutionary, political ideologues) is a powerful one. Justified protestations about the huge wealth gap aside, we will continue to see more and more innovation in key areas like alternative energy, high speed transportation and high yield agriculture coming from the Chinese in years to come. As the first commenter mentioned, this would be a great time for the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, to reassess their priorities when it comes to education and resource allocation.

October 30, 2010 @ 12:08 am | Comment

I don’t think anyone need see this kind of thing as anything more than a natural consequence of Chinese economic development. I certainly do not think that it requires any reappraisal of priorities in education, either inside or outside China.

October 30, 2010 @ 1:03 am | Comment

Formerly Not a Sinophile: You are spot on. Well said!

October 30, 2010 @ 1:29 am | Comment

I certainly do not think that it requires any reappraisal of priorities in education, either inside or outside China.

Agreed. A supercomputer being built in a country doesn’t necessarily mean anything wider about the country. Sure China isn’t just about toys and disposable chopsticks. But I agree that this isn’t something surprising.

October 30, 2010 @ 4:14 am | Comment

Does this have a practical meaning? Or is it like the Guiness records for such things as how many cigarettes a person can hold in their mouth? This is not a snark. Its a serious question. As suggested above by ecodelta, the judging criteria may not be relevant anymore.

Also, please note that this record only applies to civilian computers. I would suggest that various militaries (including China’s) possess faster units.

October 30, 2010 @ 5:22 am | Comment

From what I’ve read and heard, especially on NPR last night, this does indeed have meaning, and it’s not akin to building the world’s tallest ferris wheel. This was, I read, a brilliant technical accomplishment and I second what Not a Sinophile says above. The scientists I’ve seen quoted on this in multiple stories all say this was noteworthy, and it led in most of the dailies today. But like I said, it has to be seen in perspective. This new supercomputer doesn’t define China or erase its huge challenges.

For anyone who has doubts, I’d suggest they first carefully read the article linked to in the post.

October 30, 2010 @ 6:00 am | Comment

This appears to be a significant technological achievement, and I know nothing about supercomputers. They didn’t just nip the old standard by the skin of their teeth; they kicked the old standard by 40%.

On the one hand, it’s the usual race for bigger/faster/taller. It seems to happen with supercomputers, just like it happens with buildings, cruise ships, cars and airplanes, among a list of many others.

On the other hand, such computers have practical applications. I mean, who knew about the Pringles. So building such capacity can provide downstream real-world benefits, and that should be applauded.

Based on that article, probably the biggest impact will be the “if you build it, they will come” factor. If such an accomplishment will entice other elite minds to go to China, that will provide further real benefits for Chinese people over time.

However, as Former has noted, the questions haven’t necessarily been focused on what top-end Chinese can attain, or what resources they have at their disposal; it’s the improvement of the quality of life for “average” Chinese citizens that requires attention, and this supercomputer may not, in and of itself, go very far in addressing those concerns.

October 30, 2010 @ 7:14 am | Comment

I Believe That Chinese Involvement In the Korean War Helped Save 500 Million Lives

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

After World War 2, America had the strongest military, strongest combat ability, and have a large stockpile of nuclear warheads. This led to an arrogance of power in the minds of American policy makers and citizens. Therefore, after world war 2, America took on the role of the World Police – that is, whenever there’s the anger of resistance in the world, you’ll find the American military suppression there. Up until 1950, American troops had not lost a single war. America was the unconquerable, the ever-victorious. In other words, America saw the rest of the world as soft eggplants – he believe he could eat any one for lunch any time he pleases.

If we replay history, and imagine China did not intervene in the Korean war, and instead listened to Stalin’s advice and sacrificed North Korea and appeased to the Americans, then given the overwhelming military advantage America had over the North Korean army, it was inevitable that the North Korean people’s revolution would be brutally suppressed by the American military machine. After this successful suppression, would America simply stop? Of course not, it would be further emboldened, and considered Soviet Union, China, the entire Socailist camp as toothless and weak, and would be convinced to push ahead with full military engagement across the globe to “roll back” Communism. This would most likely lead to World War 3. What happens when the American fascists start World War 3? It would probably be more brutal and bloody than what the German facists were capable of. At the end, it’s very possible that 500 million people would die in this World War 3, including Chinese, Koreans, Soviets, Americans, and many other innocent citizens of the third world.

However, China did intervene. And in the 3 years that followed, for the first time in human history, the military of an agricultural society forced the military of an industrial society to a draw and negotiations. I believe this was the first “cross-generational” military victory, what is, an army one generation behind in terms of weapons and training defeated an army one generation ahead. This was good for China, but also good for America. It gave a valuable education to the American warmongers, and made them realize that not all countries in the world were soft eggplants. From that point onward, this American paper tiger became very careful when choosing eggplants to eat. It would always inspect to make sure it’s indeed a soft eggplant before eating, and would eat slowly and gingerly as to avoid another disaster like in the Korean war.

And so the Chinese victory of the Korean war led to the start of the Cold War instead of a Hot War, and saved several hundred millions of lives as result of an American fascists-led World War III.

October 30, 2010 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Ummm, your arithmetic is a little off. Doesn’t “Math” encompass arithmetic? You would think so. Anyhow, it’s the 60th year since the start of the Korean War, and 57th year since the armistice. Not sure where you’re getting 50 from.

On some level, I agree that America not winning a war may have made her think twice about entering another one. Not that that made much difference when it came to Vietnam less than a decade later.

The 500 million sounds like a nice round number you picked out of thin air.

October 30, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

Msth Derail!

Formerly a Sinophile’s logic seems a bit off. If the Chinese engineers were all trained in the States, surely that confirms that system’s superiority.

The problem isn’t the educational system; it’s the anti-intellectual culture that it exists in — the Right-wing Yahoos who are pushing all sorts of anti-science nonsense, from Creationism to denial of human-driven global warming, that have fed a culture that always rejected the life of the mind, the transmogrification of universities into appendages for football teams, the slashing of funding for science and education, etc etc etc.

Michael

October 30, 2010 @ 3:13 pm | Comment

SCMP reports today that the Tianhe-1, capable of 2.5 trillion calculations a second (2.5 “petaflops”), was criticized by a Chinese computer scientist as being “useless” for most practical supercomputing applications such as nuclear weapons development and weather simulations.

The design of the Tianhe-1 relies heavily on graphic processing units (GPUs), which make graphic displays “faster, smoother and more colorful, [but] had inherent disadvantages when given a mainstream scientific computing task that required not just speed but also stability and precision.”

Dr Cao Jianwen, an associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Software, Laboratory of Parallel Computing (http://www.ios.ac.cn/english/openCategory.action?categoryId=112) made “scathing [comments], likening Tiahhe-1 to a super games machine. ‘I am not saying it is utterly useless,’ he said. ‘It can play video games’.”

(See http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2c913216495213d5df646910cba0a0a0/?vgnextoid=9e5777f6a48fb210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=teaser&ss=China&s=News) (registration required)

*****

I think Dr Cao’s comment is misguided.

After all, using the world’s fastest supercomputer for game playing would be the most practical and useful application I can think of. Why not use it to host a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) connecting every gamer in the world (or at least in China)? According to wiki, a typical server can only handle about 10,000-12,000 players simultaneously.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_multiplayer_online_game#Technical_aspect

The Tianhe-1 relies heavily on U.S. made Intel CPUs and NVidia & AMD GPUs, which is also the same approach taken by Oak Ridge National Laboratory supercomputer (now no. 2 in world). However, the Tianhe-1 version has a uniquely Chinese design – an “interconnect” – as described by Jack Dongarra, professor at the U. of Tennessee in this recent interview:

*****quote******

What makes the Chinese supercomputer so fast?

Dongarra: The Chinese designed their own interconnect. It’s not commodity. It’s based on chips, based on a router, based on a switch that they produce.

Is that in essence the secret sauce?

Dongarra: It’s similar to Cray. Cray’s contribution, besides the integration and software, is the interconnect network. They have a very fast interconnect that makes that machine perform very well. Though [the Chinese] project is based on U.S. processors, it uses a Chinese interconnect. That’s the interesting part. They’ve put something together that is roughly twice the bandwidth of an InfiniBand interconnect [which is used widely in the U.S.]

Will the Chinese system in fact take the No. 1 spot on the Top500 list in November?

Dongarra: Yes. I saw the machine. I saw the output. It’s the real thing.

Why doesn’t Oak Ridge do what the Chinese are doing?

Dongarra: Oak Ridge doesn’t have the ability or technology to develop an interconnect or a router. We don’t make computers. We buy computers and use them. It’s not within our scope or mission to be in the computer design business.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20021122-64.html

*****end quote*****

Given that video game playing seems to be the application most suited for the Tianhe-1, its developers should explore acting as host server for MMORPG. Global revenues for MMORPG are estimated at US$5 billion in 2009 and US$8 billion by 2014. U.S. gamers paid $1.8 billion in subscription fees alone.

(http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20100810006504/en/Strategy-Analytics-Global-MMORPG-Market-hit-8)

Hosting the world’s gamers would be an excellent way to generate revenue and recoup the CNY600 million (US$90mn) spent putting 10,000 chips into racks covering more than 1,000 square meters. (SCMP)

“Dr Meng Xiangfei, a key designer of Tianhe-1, admitted yesterday that software-incompatibility issues would limit the supercomputer’s future applications. Though numerous state-owned research institutes and companies had signed agreements to use it, their programs could not run on GPUs, he said.” (SCMP)

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

October 30, 2010 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

“Dr Meng Xiangfei, a key designer of Tianhe-1, admitted yesterday that software-incompatibility issues would limit the supercomputer’s future applications. Though numerous state-owned research institutes and companies had signed agreements to use it, their programs could not run on GPUs, he said.”

I still remember one summer course at NYU. Mathematical methods applied to computers.

We had to write programs to implement several mathematical algortihms. At our dispossal we had a Cyber supercomputer and PC with turbo pascal.

Everybody wrote programs on the PC and in Turbo Pascal, because writing them on the Cyber was a pain in the ash.

October 31, 2010 @ 4:59 am | Comment

“Hosting the world’s gamers would be an excellent way to generate revenue and recoup the CNY600 million (US$90mn) spent putting 10,000 chips into racks covering more than 1,000 square meters. (SCMP)”

Not a bad idea. A good way to get into the IT services business

October 31, 2010 @ 5:02 am | Comment

For those with their snarky comments such as Mick, I want to say: Good. That is the correct and healthy attitude towards someone else’s success. Keep thinking that way.

October 31, 2010 @ 5:27 am | Comment

GPUs implement graphics oriented algorithms in hardware. For problems which are compatible with those algorithms you get a good performance boost. When the algorithm does not match well with the problem, you get quite the opposite performance wise.

A solution would be some sort of reconfigurable hardware, that will configure itself depending on the problem to be solved.

Similar problem arises with the topology used to interconect thw different processing units in a computer, certain topologies are better for some algorithms, other topologies are not.
The switching capacity is also a topology characteristic.

October 31, 2010 @ 6:57 am | Comment

Michael, I don’t think my logic is off, but I think you expanded on my comment in a way that I omitted. As more international students take advantage of the great resources to be found in Western universities, the really striking contrast is right here are home in the US where ignorance, superstition and punditry are worshipped and education and scientific processes are belittled or ignored.

November 1, 2010 @ 5:26 am | Comment

So what is the impact of this going to be? Is this a game changer in any area? Is there sufficient demand for this level of computing in China? This machine appears to offer a lot of possibilities.

November 1, 2010 @ 8:21 am | Comment

As always, interesting to see that no matter what news comes out… it merely “reconfirms” the already informed peanut gallery.

GPUs are designed to perform parallel calculations on a huge vector of parameters simultaneously. In a graphics application, this allows a GPU to quickly calculate color/position for a large vector of coordinates simultaneously… the color at any given coordinate is independent of the color somewhere else, for example. But GPUs absolutely translate very, very well to a variety of “suprecomputer” applications. (And no, that doesn’t include MMOGs.)

The problem is an issue of software support. Your application has to be written to take advantage of these vector-based instructions. Otherwise, much of the circuitry will go unused.

As is often the case at this level, software and hardware must develop in parallel. Compilers and runtime libraries will have to be updated to now take full advantage of these GPU-specific instruction sets. Until that happens, applications don’t run “faster”. There’s nothing wrong with this, and has happened with every fundamental change in computing over the last 20 years. The comment that it’s only appropriate for “video games” by Professor Cao is… quite frankly, stupid. There’s every reason to think that GPUs will continue to become faster/less expensive, and that vector-based instruction sets represent the future of so-called “supercomputing”.

As far as what this implies for China… FOARP is right, IMO. This merely validates the fact that most of us accept at face value: China continues to march at a technical level commiserate with its level of economic development… which means economic development will be reinforced, and will likely to continue unabated.

November 2, 2010 @ 2:10 am | Comment

@CCT

Thank you for your comment. I don’t know anything about supercomputing (or computer hardware or software generally) so your comment (assuming it is accurate) is enlightening.

For the lay reader like myself, it’s impossible without a lot of research to evaluate the comment of an “expert” like Dr Cao. His colorful comment about “video games” sounded like trash-talking more than a scientific assessment, but it made for a good counterpoint to the headlines about being “No. 1″.

Perhaps it was meant to be an off-the-record quip, but the reporter quoted it and the paper published it. If CCT is correct that it is a “stupid” comment, then it is now a matter of public record.

There is a lessoin here about being careful when talking to the press. One can be misquoted, come off sounding like a fool, or getting sacked because of it (as US General McChrystal found out after making “unflattering remarks” about politicians in his Rolling Stone interview.)

November 2, 2010 @ 5:13 am | Comment

Creating the fastest computer in the world is a great achievement and of very practical application. This allows university research groups to simulate difficult computational problems such as world climate change, space exploration and others. While it will not directly affect the average Joe (or Li, of “My Father is Li Gang” jk), it is a step in the right direction for advanced research and development.

As with all these technological advancements, this will affect few people, but it still is quite an achievement. Good for the Middle Kingdom, and maybe the Chinese scientist in charge will get a Nobel Peace prize in Science, to match the other one.

November 2, 2010 @ 5:50 am | Comment

Hi CCT

Nice to see you around.

If they are using commodity GPU they may also have libraries and compilers from the manufacturer which can greatly ease the development of software for them.

If that is the case the problem is reduced to fit specific algorithms to that arqitecture, or fit a given problem into the alforithms which best exploit such computing arquitecture

November 2, 2010 @ 6:26 am | Comment

@Don

Your comment brought to my mind the mail exchange between Einstein and the Prussian Science Academy 1th of April 1933

Mein Weltbild (my vision of the world)
Europa Verlag. A.G. Zurich
By Albert Einstein

November 2, 2010 @ 6:33 am | Comment

Math, your missives are pearls compared to most other comment spam I’ve seen. However, you might want to consider the following:

* If WWII, the most bloody conflict in recorded history, led to 50-60 million deaths, then how on earth did you come up with 500 million?
* Stalin opposed an invasion initially, but later changed his mind. Maybe you should thank him as well for the 500 million lives he contributed to saving?
* “whenever there’s the anger of resistance in the world, you’ll find the American military suppression there” – and what about the Soviets?

November 2, 2010 @ 11:02 am | Comment

China also had the fastest commercialized train now, faster than TGV, ICE or shinkansen

November 2, 2010 @ 3:50 pm | Comment

@Math

“This led to an arrogance of power in the minds of American policy makers and citizens…. Up until 1950, American troops had not lost a single war. America was the unconquerable, the ever-victorious. In other words, America saw the rest of the world as soft eggplants – he believe he could eat any one for lunch any time he pleases.”

This may well have been the attitude of some American leaders, but the more fundamental question is how and why the U.S. pursued a policy of “policing the world”. I don’t think “arrogance” is sufficient to explain it.

The more fundamental reasons are more complex and deeply rooted in the structure of the U.S. economy – this makes it harder for the U.S. to change its policies because it takes more than a change of attitude, or president, to change a system that has been in place for more than 50 years.

Professor Chalmers Johnson, a noted historian of Japan, has written perceptively about the “permanent war economy” in America. For example:

“Bankrupting the American Republic: The Permanent War Economy and Soaring Deficits”
http://japanfocus.org/-Chalmers-Johnson/2643

The basic argument is that the US economy has been on a “war footing” after the end of WWII because of a policy to maintain full employment in the U.S., due to a fear that the U.S. would otherwise return to the economic depression of the pre-WWII years. However, that “permanent war economy” necessitates debt and results in failure to invest in civilian infrastructure. This has the effect of maintaining the military power to police an empire, but hollowing out the civilian economy. The process is unsustainable and will eventually lead to bankruptcy unless the direction is changed.

It’s a long article but well-worth the investment of time to read. My feeling is that Prof Chalmers has well-stated some of the fundamental problems facing the US. However, it seems not to have any resonance at all with any of our political leadership. Instead, our leaders and media seem to focus much more on issues like witchcraft, masturbation, tea parties, birth certificates and whether Obama is a muslim.

Let’s see how this election turns out.

November 3, 2010 @ 1:11 am | Comment

The cultural mix of Western innovation and Eastern discipline combined with the resources

That’s trying to take credit for something you have no hand in. Who told you the scientists are “Western educated”? You have something politically vested against the Chinese educational system as it dares to teach anything other than total subservience to the West, we know.

“Western innovation” is one way of saying “massive R&D spending”. Where was this “Western innovation” when the West was stuck in its dark ages due to its horrifically primitive agriculture, until China’s seed drill, row planting and moldboard plow lifted that burden?

Anyway I don’t want to impose too much on Western delusions.

November 3, 2010 @ 6:25 am | Comment

Rolf, I noticed the flurry of comments you just sprayed on my site, and it’s obvious, and sad, to see you are a stereotypical fenqing troll who is convinced America only hates China and wants it to fail. You’re wrong on all counts, and virtually everything you have to say is horseshit. I wish China only the best and acknowledge its achievements, and its flaws, just as I do with the US. It’s nice to see you drop by, but at the rate you’re going it’s liable to be a very brief visit. Your nasty response about Tibet in another thread was too despicable to publish. So tread cautiously.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:12 am | Comment

Richard
who is convinced America only hates China and wants it to fail. You’re wrong on all counts, and virtually everything you have to say is horseshit. I wish China only the best and acknowledge its achievements

Richard- or should I say Mr. (or do you prefer captain) America, I’d like to thank you for correcting my horribly skewed perception of the American person.

Your nasty response about Tibet in another thread was too despicable to publish.

It actually wasn’t, but whatever you say.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:22 am | Comment

Don’t put words in people’s mouth (that’s in regard to your comment that didn’t appear). You’re a new guest here, I just ask that you honor the rules of the house. Disagree as much as you want, but don’t antagonize and don’t try to derail threads by carpet-bombing them with fenqing talking points.

Until I know you a bit better your comments will be held in the queue. Thanks for your understanding..

November 3, 2010 @ 7:46 am | Comment

Oh, wow! This is an incredible coincidence, Rolf – you have the exact same IP address as our old friend Ferin, aka Merp. Are you working over at his place? Or maybe you’re husband and wife, or father and son? Either way, nice to see that, as usual, those who are nastiest toward the US are the ones who choose to live here.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:51 am | Comment

This is an incredible coincidence, Rolf – you have the exact same IP address as our old friend Ferin, aka Merp.

HOLY SHIT, I think Richard just beat Tianhe-I’s processing speed!

November 3, 2010 @ 7:56 am | Comment

Either way, nice to see that, as usual, those who are nastiest toward the US are the ones who choose to live here.

Maybe exposure to the reality of America, vs that shiny image of it outsiders have crammed down their throats via a litigious and overbearing Hollywood, is what causes this very peculiar anomaly.

November 3, 2010 @ 7:58 am | Comment

LOL.

Not only do they live in a country they apparently so despise while forgoing a country/system they purportedly so admire, but they live in the same place?!? I would do a full haz-mat sweep of that place – asbestos in the insulation? Mercury in the water/air? Lead in the pipes?

November 3, 2010 @ 8:01 am | Comment

HOLY SHIT, I think Richard just beat Tianhe-I’s processing speed!

No merp, I just made the mistake of assuming that most commenters here were participating in good faith, and not using multiple handles, and I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I should have known better, and shouldn’t have forgotten what a dishonest, pusillanimous sack of **** you actually are. Welcome back.

November 3, 2010 @ 8:02 am | Comment

SK Cheung
I would do a full haz-mat sweep of that place – asbestos in the insulation? Mercury in the water/air? Lead in the pipes?

The poutine is getting to your brain.

November 3, 2010 @ 8:02 am | Comment

No merp, I just made the mistake of assuming that most commenters here were participating in good faith, and not using multiple handles, and I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I should have known better, and shouldn’t have forgotten what a dishonest, pusillanimous sack of shit you actually are. Welcome back.

It should have been easy enough to see from the get-go- no other Chinese person would ever post here.

November 3, 2010 @ 8:04 am | Comment

@perspectivehere
However, that “permanent war economy” necessitates debt and results in failure to invest in civilian infrastructure. This has the effect of maintaining the military power to police an empire, but hollowing out the civilian economy.

Well, if this is true, that would make CCP the largest foreign sponsor of this “permanent war economy” and financial backer of the American evil empire with its large holdings of US government debt.

@Richard
This is an incredible coincidence, Rolf – you have the exact same IP address as our old friend Ferin, aka Merp. Are you working over at his place?

The Party is probably economizing on its propaganda work. Instead of one fifty center per IP address, maybe several fifty centers share one IP address working on different shifts?

November 3, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

“no other Chinese person would ever post here.”
—and I guess they still haven’t, since you’re not Chinese. Wow, 3 handles. And not one of them have anything useful to say. That’s not a good batting average.

Maybe one of these days, Merp will say something; Helicopter will issue a ringing endorsement of what Merp said; Ferin will reappear and celebrate the discovery of 2 kindred spirits. Then the 3 of them will live happily ever after…but still with unresolved asbestos/lead/mercury issues.

November 3, 2010 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

Give credit where credit is due. Building the world’s biggest, baddest supercomputer is no mean feat – even when it’s done using Intel and Nvidia chipsets by guys with foreign degrees. Insofar as China’s rise means that everyone else has to raise their game, I’m supportive. Whoever said that progress was easy?

All the recent attention given to this issue reminds me that China would be nowhere without the West. Without the West, China would have no Levis, no airplanes, no (super)computers, no automobiles, no lunar probes or space stations, no advanced medical technologies, no nuclear power… (I assume you get my point.) Indeed, for that matter, without the West, there would be no communism, socialism (w/ or w/o Chinese characteristics) or democracy either. In the end, China’s doing its level best to beat the West at the West’s own game. You might even say that the more successful China is, the more they resemble us. Perhaps we should be more supportive, no?

I submit that October 2 should be declared a national holiday in China – it could be called “Thank the West Day” (感谢西方日), a day for all Chinese to reflect on how much they’ve benefitted from their long association with the modern West – an association without which the Chinese would still be scratching their heads and quoting Confucius. Every ten years, there could be a great parade along Changanjie, with floats honoring the various nations of the West who’ve contributed something important to China’s development.

What a much nicer place this is now that putz_ster is no longer here. Please, Richard, rid us of this more recent menace.

November 3, 2010 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

@Gan Llu
“Without the West, China would have no Levis, no airplanes, no (super)computers, no automobiles, no lunar probes or space stations, no advanced medical technologies, no nuclear power… ”

Let me take on that….

Without China, no compass, no gunpowder, no silk, no porcelain, no printing press, no paper, just to name a few.

You may get more here.

http://tinyurl.com/2wkwhug

Also no age of discovery. Guess what Columbus was trying to reach.

And also not this blog….

November 3, 2010 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

ecodelta: “Without China, no compass, no gunpowder, no silk, no porcelain, no printing press, no paper, just to name a few.”

Mostly true. The idea that China is responsible for the Age of Discovery is a novel one, however.

No doubt, the Four Great Inventions were each game-changing contributions to humanity. But when was it exactly that the last of the 4 finally appeared? The better part of 1,000 years ago, that’s when. In short, in answer to the question “What has China done for us lately,” I say, “Not f*cking much.” Since the last of the Big Four, what has China offered up? Lovely dinnerware, you say. Some nifty landscape painting. A whole lot of lame, metaphysical commentary on the Chinese classics. Mao Zedong Thought. Oh yeah, and the bubonic plague. Good grief!

If you ask me, Robert Temple’s book is just okay, eco. A much better treatment of the subject is Princeton Professor Benjamin Elman’s “On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1500-1900″ (Harvard, 2005). It’s a much fairer study than my last two comments would lead you to believe. You can find a PDF copy here:

http://ishare.iask.sina.com.cn/f/6792928.html

(You must sign-up before you can download the file – i.e., you get points for signing-up.)

November 3, 2010 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

@Gan Lu

Many histories of computing will refer to the abacus as an early form of computer. Although there is some disagreement among historians on the origins of the various forms of ancient abaci, it is safe to say that China has been continuously using the abacus for over 2000 years.

That is not to make the claim that the modern computer is derived from the abacus.

Nonetheless, there are tantalizing historical relationships between the Chinese culture and the ideas underlying modern computing.

Many of the 18th century Enlightenment philosophers were fascinated and inspired by Chinese philosophy.

See:
“CHINESE IDEAS IN THE WEST
Prepared by Professor Derk Bodde for the Committee on Asiatic Studies in American Education”
http://www.learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu/html/state/ideas.pdf

Leibniz (1646-1716), a key figure in the history of mathematics and computing, took a keen interest in China and this influenced his mathematical theories. Leibniz was interested in binary numbers and found his ideas resonating with what he learned from his study of ancient Chinese philosophy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz#Sinophile

******Quote*********
“…[Leibniz’s] 1703 publication ….(An Explanation of Binary Arithmetic Using only the Characters 0 and 1, with Remarks about its Utility and the Meaning it Gives to the Ancient Chinese Figures of Fuxi), … originally appeared in the journal Memoires del’Académie Royale des Sciences …

Certainly Leibniz was not the first to experiment with binary numbers or the general concept of a number base. However, with base 2 numeration, Leibniz witnessed the confluence of several intellectual ideas of his world view, not just the characteristica generalis, but also theological and mystical ideas of order, harmony and creation. Additionally his 1703 paper contains a striking application of binary numeration to the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Yijing (I-Ching or Book of Changes).

Early in life Leibniz developed an interest in China, corresponded with Catholic missionaries there, and wrote on questions of theology concerning the Chinese. Surprisingly he believed that he had found an historical precedent for his binary arithmetic in the ancient Chinese lineations or 64 hexagrams of the Yijing. This, he thought, might be the origin of a universal symbolic language….

….Furthermore, Leibniz sent the French Jesuit Joachim Bouvet (1656–1730) an account of his binary system while Bouvet was working in China. The Jesuits are an educational order of Catholic priests, who, while in China, sought the conversion of the Chinese to Christianity, hopefully by the identification of an ancient theology common to both religions. Bouvet began a study of the Yijing, viewing this text as the possible missing link between the two religions. It was from this Jesuit priest that Leibniz received the hexagrams attributed to Fuxi, the mythical first Emperor of China and legendary inventor of Chinese writing. …. Shortly after receiving Bouvet’s letter containing the hexagrams and Bouvet’s identification of a relation between them and binary numeration, Leibniz submitted for publication his 1703 paper “Explanation of Binary Arithmetic”.

“Binary Arithmetic: From Leibniz to von Neumann”
http://www.math.nmsu.edu/hist_projects/binaryI.pdf
********END QUOTE**********

An online translation of Leibniz’s landmark 1703 paper can be read here: http://www.leibniz-translations.com/binary.htm (Note the extensive discussion of the Chinese Yijing.)

Leibniz’s work on binary numerals prefigured the work of mathematician John Von Neumann in the 20th century, who is often referred to as the father of modern computing.

So it would seem that Chinese philosophy played a role in the history of ideas underlying modern computing.

November 3, 2010 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

@Gan Lu

Thanks for the reference to Benjamin Elman. I took a look at his website and found some great resources there.

I especially enjoyed these 2 essays:

http://www.princeton.edu/~elman/documents/China_and_the_World_History_of_Science.pdf

http://www.princeton.edu/~elman/documents/Rethinking_the_Twentieth_Century_Denigration.pdf

November 4, 2010 @ 12:50 am | Comment

@Gan Lu
“What has China done for us lately,”

Setting up industrial cluster that allow us to get, among other things, electronic gadgetry at affordable prices. Iphone anyone?

Not a small feat by itself. The mobilization and allocation of resources has been significant. And it is only possible, authoritarian quirks apart, in a country where education and organization have been always considered of great value. Some have try to replicate it in other countries without success. There is something deeply Chinese working here.

And this is the basis over which much more can be done. By transferring whole production chains, foreign companies have transfered a lot of knowledge without knowing it. Some foreign companies will find deal of surprises in technology areas they considered secure

Besides, the Chinese production capacity, or overcapacity depending how you see it, by making new devices affordable (development and production), has played a significant part in the Internet and mobile revolution.

November 4, 2010 @ 2:45 am | Comment

Re Math’s Korean War abomination:

I thought China had started to teach its people an accurate and honest history of the Korean War, including the basics on how it started.

Am I wrong here? That could explain Beijing’s big Cheonan fuck up this year.

November 4, 2010 @ 3:31 am | Comment

perspective: “That is not to make the claim that the modern computer is derived from the abacus.”

I don’t often watch CCTV9, but I happened to be channel surfing a few days ago and quickly became engrossed in a show on the subject of silk and sericulture. It turns out that some clever Chinese produced the first silk fabric some 4,000 or so years ago. But if we’re to believe the good folks at CCTV9, China’s invention of silk ultimately lead to the development of the modern computer. Seriously. The argument goes something like this: 1) the Chinese invented silk; 2) a 19th century Frenchman imported Chinese silk-making technology to France and improved upon it (i.e., he invented a new kind of loom) in ways that eventually inspired some early geeks’ approach to computer design/architecture; 3) no silk, no modern computer; 4) the Chinese are responsible for the invention of the modern computer.

perspective: “Many of the 18th century Enlightenment philosophers were fascinated and inspired by Chinese philosophy.”

You can’t be serious. “Most Enlightenment philosophers” never left Europe, much less made it all the way to China to view it for themselves. In fact, the single most popular book on the subject of China during the 18th century was still “The Travels of Marco Polo.” In short, your Enlightenment philosophers were desperately ignorant. They remind me of the French intellectuals of the late 1960s who were just as convinced that the Cultural Revolution was a great big success and that Mao had come close to creating heaven on earth in the P.R.C. Basically, your French Enlightenment philosophers and their 20th century counterparts were both guilty of egregious wishful thinking. (French intellectuals weren’t alone – plenty of left-leaning North Americans disgusted with U.S. foreign policy and looking for alternatives thought that Mao was a brilliant leader too. They were quickly disabused of such ideas in the late 1970s. Many have yet to recover from their disappointment.)

Read Richard Wolin’s “The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s” (Princeton, 2010).

November 4, 2010 @ 3:34 am | Comment

Gan Lu. Haven’t read Wolin, but your post impells me to put in a library order. Re: circa ’68 frog theoreticians. Dissenting Althusserians. We are talking really serious meta-theory here, and most would have had problems distinguishing between Madagascar and the PRC.It was the academic equivalent to AIDS, and on the personal level it was sort of okay. Lots of patriarchal sex.

I blame Richard Nixon.

November 4, 2010 @ 5:07 am | Comment

rofl, I’m not publishing your crazed comments. There are plenty of other blogs you can spray venom on.

November 4, 2010 @ 6:21 am | Comment

As has been said, credit should go where credit is due. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be much point reaching back too far back in time to demand, garner, or champion for some sort of credit as it pertains to present day events. Obviously, everything that happens today is founded upon everything that has happened before today, and hopefully people aren’t devoting too much time literally re-inventing the wheel.

Chinese engineers took what was available to anyone, then did something with it better than anyone had done before. That seems deserving of credit on its own merit. To try to parlay that into credit for the makers of the chips that Chinese engineers expertly put together seems a stretch at best. And to try to reach back to silk, gunpowder, and the impetus for European exploration seems progressively more awkward. I mean, do we need to credit “god” for creating man which led to this supercomputer (if you subscribe to that sort of thing)? Alternatively, should we credit the big bang, if you would rather subscribe to that? Does Steve Jobs’ iPhone need to give a shout-out to Alexander Graham Bell for creating the telephone?

Chinese engineers did a great job here. I think they can be appreciated for that without trying to make their achievement more or less than what it is.

November 4, 2010 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Thought the Chinese just gave us paper as we know it…derived from pulp. I believe I did read that paper was already around (papyrus, for example…and parchment in Europe).
The Black Death (that other Chinese contribution to Europe) is also always seen in a blacker (sorry for the pun!) light than it should be. Without that Black Death, European society probably would not have been able to change into less feudal society some say it did (I’d have to check on the refs for that…just remembering my school history lessons).
Talking of Columbus, didn’t Gaving Menzies, in his hypothesis, suggest Chinese charts might have helped out a bit? Of course, sagas from half a millenium before about Vinland might have also given the “discoverers” a clue of what lay on the way to Cathay…I don’t think the sagas were not too uncommon, even in those days.
My take on the ultimate inventer of computers….the Indians. After all, they did give the world the zero (however you try and spin an abacus, it doesn’t do zeros….seem to recall something about that in a documentary about mathematics and banking….).

November 4, 2010 @ 8:03 am | Comment

Chinese engineers did a great job here. I think they can be appreciated for that without trying to make their achievement more or less than what it is.

For many posters here, seeing positive news from China will cause severe physical distress, and they must find something to neutralize the positives. It’s a medical condition, cannot be helped.

November 4, 2010 @ 8:44 am | Comment

@Gan Lu: “You can’t be serious. “Most Enlightenment philosophers” never left Europe, much less made it all the way to China to view it for themselves.”

I didn’t say they understood China – I said it “fascinated and inspired” them. They used Chinese ideas and examples in their own writings.

Did you look at the citation I gave?

CHINESE IDEAS IN THE WEST
Prepared by Professor Derk Bodde for the Committee on Asiatic Studies in American Education
http://www.learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu/html/state/ideas.pdf

A slightly more developed version is here:

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/chinawh/web/s10/ideas.pdf

****QUOTE*****
China and the Age of Enlightenment

Prior to the seventeenth century, however, the purely intellectual influence of China remained slight, perhaps because it was only then that Europeans themselves began to travel to the Far East in significant numbers.

The new era of Chinese-European contacts started in the year 1601, when the famous Italian jesuit, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), arrived in the Chinese capital, Peking, and established there a Catholic mission. For the next two centuries the Jesuits, as well as members of other Catholic orders, remained in close touch with the Court of Peking. By 1700 they were said to have converted approximately two hundred fifty thousand Chinese to Christianity. Because these Europeans were highly educated men, they gained the respect of the Chinese, who have always placed a premium on scholarship. Many, indeed, were given important positions in the Chinese government. The Board of Astronomy, for example, was placed under their charge and remained a Christian stronghold until 1838.

Fascinated by the ancient and impressive civilization in which they found themselves, these Europeans wrote home detailed accounts of what they saw. Their letters provided material for a long series of books on China, written usually in French or Latin and published in Paris, the European center of Jesuit activities. Among them were such works as Confucius, the Philosopher of the Chinese (1687); the Description of China (1735), in four volumes; the long series of Edifying and Curious Letters, in 34 volumes (1702-76); the General History of China, in 13 volumes (1777-85); and the lengthy Memoirs on the History, Sciences, Arts, etc., of the Chinese, in 16 volumes (1776-1814).

These writings gave Europeans a for more detailed and accurate picture of China than they had ever had before. They generated a tremendous enthusiasm for China and things Chinese — an enthusiasm that reached its peak in the early years of the second half of the eighteenth century. Materially, this enthusiasm powerfully influenced such fields as painting, architecture, landscape gardening, furniture, and the newly developed manufactures of porcelain and lacquer ware — the well-known and charming chinoiseries, of the eighteenth century. It also left a strong imprint on literature and on the thinking of some of the most famous intellectual figures of the period.

The timing of this impact from China was of particular importance. It reached Europe during a period of tremendous political and intellectual ferment. The Renaissance had brought to Europeans a renewed consciousness of their great classical heritage from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. This consciousness widened men’s horizons. It helped to free them from the mental limitations that had been imposed during the Middle Ages by the dogmas of the church. Some began to question a spiritual authority that still taught that the sun and the rest of the universe revolve around the earth, well after Copernicus and Galileo had proved the reverse to be true. They were beginning to raise objections to the theory of the “divine right of kings” that permitted monarchs to rule as they pleased, without regard for the welfare of their people; to express doubts regarding the justice of a social system that allowed feudal aristocrats to lead lives of luxury while their peasant serfs starved; and to urge that men of education be given an increasing voice in public affairs.

Such ideas, gaining strength in the seventeenth century, led in the eighteenth to what was known as the Age of Enlightenment. Leaders of this movement, such as the Frenchman, Voltaire (1694-1778), believed that any human problem could be solved if men would only consent to live with one another on a basis of reason and common sense. Ideas of this sort culminated politically in the French Revolution of 1789. Socially, they gave a new dignity and freedom to the individual. Intellectually, they created a new, scientific method of thinking, based upon objective experimentation and observation, in place of the old, blind acceptance of unverified tradition. Thus were made possible the tremendous material advances that were to come later with the Industrial Revolution.

To men infected with these new ideas, China provided a powerful stimulus. For in China they saw a great civilization that had evolved quite independently of, and earlier than, their own. Although not a Christian nation, it had nevertheless developed in Confucianism a high system of morals of its own. And, unlike Europe, it had done so without permitting a priesthood to become so powerful as to challenge the state’s authority. The emperor of China, furthermore, though seemingly an absolute ruler, was in actual fact limited by the teachings of Confucianism, which declared that “the people are the most important element in the state; the sovereign is the least.” Particularly was China admired as a land where government did not rest in the hands of a feudal aristocracy, as in Europe. Instead, it was managed by the mandarins — a group of highly educated scholars — who gained their official positions only after proving their worth by passing a series of state- administered examinations. We know today that this highly favorable picture of China was somewhat overpainted. Yet there is little doubt that the China of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was, both politically and economically, in many ways ahead of Europe.

*****END QUOTE*****

I agree with you that the picture of China the Enlightenment philosophers had was no doubt incomplete, misunderstood and distorted. I would also suggest (going perhaps further than you) that the picture of China they understood, wrote about and argued over was the one they (consciously or not) wanted to see. The philosophes, Jesuits, anti-Jesuits, secular reformers etc. all had their own agendas and all used China as examples or counterexamples of their own political, economic or intellectual aspirations. Some of the things they said about China were true, and some was not.

In the same way as the West (inadvertently or deliberately) misunderstood China but used often China as arguments for their political agendas in the Enlightenment, this phenomenon continued throughout the subsequent 300 years, up to today.

The recent US midterm elections shows it very clearly.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/10/will-china-bashing-continue-after-the-elections/64841/

The same is also true in reverse. The Chinese view of “the West”, “science”, “westernization”, “modernization” are often based on partial and incomplete and downright distorted or wishful (mis)understandings of what they are talking about. This is one of the points of this essay by Elman:
http://www.princeton.edu/~elman/documents/Rethinking_the_Twentieth_Century_Denigration.pdf

It describes the different understandings that different Chinese thinkers and reformers over the years had.

Such are inevitably the vagaries of communication and cross-cultural interactions.

People all get shaped by things they don’t fully understand, they see what they want to see, and they argue for their own book.

History is full of such ironies.

November 4, 2010 @ 9:20 am | Comment

Gan Lu: “In short, your Enlightenment philosophers were desperately ignorant. They remind me of the French intellectuals of the late 1960s who were just as convinced that the Cultural Revolution was a great big success and that Mao had come close to creating heaven on earth in the P.R.C. Basically, your French Enlightenment philosophers and their 20th century counterparts were both guilty of egregious wishful thinking.”

Well, not quite. The Jesuits had already translated and printed latin editions of many Chinese classics for years at this point, and the influence of the I Ching on Leibniz and Confucius on Voltaire has been pretty well documented. It’s true that they were seeing China through an idealized (not to mention Latinized) lens, but I find the idea that modern computer science is the evolutionary heir of the I Ching to be a fascinating (if slightly Feyrabendian, depending on what one thinks of divination practices) notion.

No civilization has an unbroken record of accomplishment. The British Isles were a backwater for millennia before they rose to prominence. Our science and philosophy is predominantly underpinned by Greek rationalism- but what have the Greeks accomplished in the past millennium? Not much. But every civilization has built on something borrowed from neighbors and predecessors.

Which is another thing that makes China today so fascinating- are we seeing the re-emergence of a historical civilization, entering a virtually unprecedented “second flowering”? Or is “New China” a new civilization, the old having largely been cleared by a century of chaos and revolution?

November 4, 2010 @ 10:15 am | Comment

@Nicholas M
What is historical Chinese civilisation, exactly? It, like every other civilisation, changed all the time. Current civilisations cherry-pick the bits they want to add depth to their own…
What did the Greeks do after thri cviliation? Carried on, I suspect. Don’t forget, they set up colonies all around the Med and influenced the Roman civilisation….which wrote in Greek and spoke Greek in Southern Italy and around the Black Sea. Greek thought was also present in Afghanistan (hey, makes me think…if China can claim Turkestan because there’s historical evidence of Han dynasty invasion, surely Europe can claim Afghanistan because of Alexander… ;-) ) and some say, via Buddhism, influence art in China.
None of this cultural exchange is a one way street – even backwater Britain was considered important enough to be invaded by Rome (Caesar tells us it was where Druids went to finish their training…).

November 4, 2010 @ 10:41 am | Comment

After achieving technology superpower status, what next?

Military superpower.

November 4, 2010 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

@Gan Lu (55): “You can’t be serious. “Most Enlightenment philosophers” never left Europe, much less made it all the way to China to view it for themselves.”

I didn’t say they understood China – I said it “fascinated and inspired” them. They used Chinese ideas and examples in their own writings.

Did you look at the citation I gave?

CHINESE IDEAS IN THE WEST
Prepared by Professor Derk Bodde for the Committee on Asiatic Studies in American Education
http://www.learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu/html/state/ideas.pdf

A slightly more developed version is here:

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/chinawh/web/s10/ideas.pdf

****QUOTE*****
China and the Age of Enlightenment

Prior to the seventeenth century, however, the purely intellectual influence of China remained slight, perhaps because it was only then that Europeans themselves began to travel to the Far East in significant numbers.

The new era of Chinese-European contacts started in the year 1601, when the famous Italian jesuit, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), arrived in the Chinese capital, Peking, and established there a Catholic mission. For the next two centuries the Jesuits, as well as members of other Catholic orders, remained in close touch with the Court of Peking. By 1700 they were said to have converted approximately two hundred fifty thousand Chinese to Christianity. Because these Europeans were highly educated men, they gained the respect of the Chinese, who have always placed a premium on scholarship. Many, indeed, were given important positions in the Chinese government. The Board of Astronomy, for example, was placed under their charge and remained a Christian stronghold until 1838.

Fascinated by the ancient and impressive civilization in which they found themselves, these Europeans wrote home detailed accounts of what they saw. Their letters provided material for a long series of books on China, written usually in French or Latin and published in Paris, the European center of Jesuit activities. Among them were such works as Confucius, the Philosopher of the Chinese (1687); the Description of China (1735), in four volumes; the long series of Edifying and Curious Letters, in 34 volumes (1702-76); the General History of China, in 13 volumes (1777-85); and the lengthy Memoirs on the History, Sciences, Arts, etc., of the Chinese, in 16 volumes (1776-1814).

These writings gave Europeans a for more detailed and accurate picture of China than they had ever had before. They generated a tremendous enthusiasm for China and things Chinese — an enthusiasm that reached its peak in the early years of the second half of the eighteenth century. Materially, this enthusiasm powerfully influenced such fields as painting, architecture, landscape gardening, furniture, and the newly developed manufactures of porcelain and lacquer ware — the well-known and charming chinoiseries, of the eighteenth century. It also left a strong imprint on literature and on the thinking of some of the most famous intellectual figures of the period.

The timing of this impact from China was of particular importance. It reached Europe during a period of tremendous political and intellectual ferment. The Renaissance had brought to Europeans a renewed consciousness of their great classical heritage from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. This consciousness widened men’s horizons. It helped to free them from the mental limitations that had been imposed during the Middle Ages by the dogmas of the church. Some began to question a spiritual authority that still taught that the sun and the rest of the universe revolve around the earth, well after Copernicus and Galileo had proved the reverse to be true. They were beginning to raise objections to the theory of the “divine right of kings” that permitted monarchs to rule as they pleased, without regard for the welfare of their people; to express doubts regarding the justice of a social system that allowed feudal aristocrats to lead lives of luxury while their peasant serfs starved; and to urge that men of education be given an increasing voice in public affairs.

Such ideas, gaining strength in the seventeenth century, led in the eighteenth to what was known as the Age of Enlightenment. Leaders of this movement, such as the Frenchman, Voltaire (1694-1778), believed that any human problem could be solved if men would only consent to live with one another on a basis of reason and common sense. Ideas of this sort culminated politically in the French Revolution of 1789. Socially, they gave a new dignity and freedom to the individual. Intellectually, they created a new, scientific method of thinking, based upon objective experimentation and observation, in place of the old, blind acceptance of unverified tradition. Thus were made possible the tremendous material advances that were to come later with the Industrial Revolution.

To men infected with these new ideas, China provided a powerful stimulus. For in China they saw a great civilization that had evolved quite independently of, and earlier than, their own. Although not a Christian nation, it had nevertheless developed in Confucianism a high system of morals of its own. And, unlike Europe, it had done so without permitting a priesthood to become so powerful as to challenge the state’s authority. The emperor of China, furthermore, though seemingly an absolute ruler, was in actual fact limited by the teachings of Confucianism, which declared that “the people are the most important element in the state; the sovereign is the least.” Particularly was China admired as a land where government did not rest in the hands of a feudal aristocracy, as in Europe. Instead, it was managed by the mandarins — a group of highly educated scholars — who gained their official positions only after proving their worth by passing a series of state- administered examinations. We know today that this highly favorable picture of China was somewhat overpainted. Yet there is little doubt that the China of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was, both politically and economically, in many ways ahead of Europe.

*****END QUOTE*****

I agree with you that the picture of China the Enlightenment philosophers had was no doubt incomplete, misunderstood and distorted. I would also suggest (going perhaps further than you) that the picture of China they understood, wrote about and argued over was the one they (consciously or not) wanted to see. The philosophes, Jesuits, anti-Jesuits, secular reformers etc. all had their own agendas and all used China as examples or counterexamples of their own political, economic or intellectual aspirations. Some of the things they said about China were true, and some was not.

In the same way as the West (inadvertently or deliberately) misunderstood China but often used China as arguments for or against their political agendas in the Enlightenment, this phenomenon continued throughout the subsequent 300 years, up to today.

The recent US midterm elections shows it very clearly.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/10/will-china-bashing-continue-after-the-elections/64841/

The same is also true in reverse. The Chinese view of “the West”, “science”, “westernization”, “modernization” are often based on partial and incomplete and downright distorted or wishful (mis)understandings of what they are talking about. This is one of the points of this essay by Elman:
http://www.princeton.edu/~elman/documents/Rethinking_the_Twentieth_Century_Denigration.pdf

It describes the different understandings that different Chinese thinkers and reformers over the years had.

Such are inevitably the vagaries of communication and cross-cultural interactions.

People all get shaped by things they don’t fully understand, they see what they want to see, and they argue for their own book.

History is full of such ironies.

November 4, 2010 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

@SKC (38)

“there doesn’t seem to be much point reaching back too far back in time to demand, garner, or champion for some sort of credit as it pertains to present day events. Obviously, everything that happens today is founded upon everything that has happened before today, and hopefully people aren’t devoting too much time literally re-inventing the wheel.”

Please.

The point of historical inquiry is to find out and explain what happened in the past. How long ago is “too far back in time”? 100 years? 200 years? Do you think that studies of medieval history or classical antiquity are pointless? Should universities shut down their history departments and stop doing historical research on any topic that is older than XXX years, because that is “too far back in time”?

Fair enough – some people are ignorant of or have no interest in history.

However, if you are interested in learning more, you should know that some of the most exciting historical work done in recent years has been in the interdisciplinary area of history of science and technology, and particularly those studies that reach back to medieval, renaissance, pre-modern and non-Western sciences. One of the most hotly debated areas of study concern how notions of “modern science” came about, and what separates pre-modern or proto-sciences from modern science.

For example, historians of science are now doing a lot of work on the history of alchemy, and recognizing that Isaac Newton was as much an alchemist as he was a mathematician and physicist.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/science/01alch.html?ei=5090&en=4445e5f8f9c7b3c0&ex=1312084800&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

For an introduction to this field, the television documentaries Ascent of Man (Jacob Bronowski) and Connections (James Burke) are well-known, entertaining and educational series using a history of science and technology theme.

There are also lectures on history of science on Youtube – UCLA has put up a comprehensive history of science course taught by Courtenay Raia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_and_technology

Just because you are ignorant about something doesn’t mean it is not worth learning.

November 5, 2010 @ 1:27 am | Comment

perspective: “Did you look at the citation I gave?”

I’ve made a note of Elman’s website and will revisit it when time permits. If you find that you appreciate Elman (he’s objectively great), you should check out his many other excellent books. There’s not a single bad one in the whole lot. A PDF copy of “A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China” (California, 2000), is available here (no sign up required):

http://ishare.iask.sina.com.cn/f/6860748.html

November 5, 2010 @ 3:23 am | Comment

China to Finish ‘Indigenous’ Supercomputer Soon, Experts Say

This is the view of some research and industry experts in the U.S., but most notably Steven Koonin, the undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), who says China is now working on petaflop-class supercomputer “using entirely indigenous components that is expected to be complete within the next 12 to 18 months.”

http://tinyurl.com/239t2w8

November 5, 2010 @ 4:01 am | Comment

Gan Lu,

Rather than calling the pursuit of scientific knowledge + economic knowledge the “West’s game”, how about we call it what it really is… humanity’s game. Many different societies and civilizations have played the game with different levels of success.

The West’s scientific and economic excellence over the past 400 years (to which you contributed nothing, I might add) is obvious, and can not be denied. It is also a matter of history. As they say, 好汉不提当年勇.

Where are we going from here?

November 5, 2010 @ 6:56 am | Comment

To 66:
“How long ago is “too far back in time”?”
—obviously, different strokes for different folks. Navel-gazing has reached Olympic proportions in some quarters, and evidently among some commentators here. How far back is too far back? I doubt there’s one tidy answer. But gunpowder and silk in a discussion of the new supercomputer is too far back to me. So my threshold is probably somewhere between that point in time and now. If your threshold is something different, that’s fantastic.

University history departments have to justify their existence somehow. So I imagine there’ll be no shortage of the works that grab your fancy for years to come. Tenure, as they say, has its privileges. Personally, I’m not interested in how “modern science” came about. It is what it is. What modern science does tomorrow is far more relevant to me than what it did yesterday. Now, learning from prior processes to develop new ones is important. I’m all for learning from science in order to apply science as an active participant. But simply observing science as a bystander in order to put it into prose retrospectively (possibly accompanied by music…maybe a string quartet) is certainly not my cup of tea. I’ll leave those lofty pursuits to purveyors like you.

So by all means, learn about it. It’s there, after all, so somebody might as well use it. Better you than me. But CCT says it well above – it seems even more pointless than making science into a history project, to worry about whether China learned more from the “west”, or vice versa. It seems that different peoples have learned different things, and taught different things, to other peoples. Everyone stands on the shoulders of our forefathers. Or in the Cantonese phrase, green comes from blue…and surpasses it. Right now, as supercomputers go, these Chinese engineers are the “green”. Someday, they’ll probably become the “blue”. And the beat will continue to go on.

But hey, if you wanna keep talking about all that other stuff, I suppose that’s fascinating enough in and of itself.

November 5, 2010 @ 8:01 am | Comment

@CCT
It is also a matter of history. As they say, 好汉不提当年勇.

Where are we going from here?

Let’s start with academic freedom under the CCP. Wait, academic freedom wasn’t even a matter of history in the Middle Kingdom because it simple didn’t exist.

November 5, 2010 @ 12:59 pm | Comment

@HongXing
For many posters here, seeing positive news from China will cause severe physical distress, and they must find something to neutralize the positives. It’s a medical condition, cannot be helped.

Replace the words “positive” and “positives” in those sentences of yours and you get another incurable mental condition right there.

November 5, 2010 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

@HongXing
For many posters here, seeing positive news from China will cause severe physical distress, and they must find something to neutralize the positives. It’s a medical condition, cannot be helped.

Replace the words “positive” and “positives” with “negative” and “negatives” respectively in those sentences of yours and you get another incurable mental condition right there.

November 5, 2010 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

@GAN LU

“But if we’re to believe the good folks at CCTV9, China’s invention of silk ultimately lead to the development of the modern computer. Seriously. The argument goes something like this: 1) the Chinese invented silk; 2) a 19th century Frenchman imported Chinese silk-making technology to France and improved upon it (i.e., he invented a new kind of loom) in ways that eventually inspired some early geeks’ approach to computer design/architecture; 3) no silk, no modern computer; 4) the Chinese are responsible for the invention of the modern computer.”

***********

I did not see the CCTV9 production you refer to. But you are clearly implying (with sarcasm towards CCTV9′s “good folks”) that they are not to be believed. Why not?

Jacquard’s Web: How a Hand Loom Led to the Information Age by James Essinger (Oxford University Press, 2004) tells the same story.

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryOther/HistoryofTechnology/?view=usa&ci=9780192805782

(see http://www.amazon.com/Jacquards-Web-Hand-Loom-Birth-Information/dp/0192805789/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1288970507&sr=8-1 for some interesting customer reviews)

OUP is one of the most reputable academic publishers in the world.

Jacquard’s Web was considered one of the Economist’s best science books of 2004. http://www.economist.com/node/3422856?story_id=3422856

This Popular Science review summarizes the book:
“Feature – The Loom that Wove the Future – James Essinger
What do silk weaving and computers have in common? A lot more than you might think…”
http://www.popularscience.co.uk/features/feat15.htm

Was the CCTV9 production based on Essinger’s book, or vice versa? Or neither? The history of the textile industry and its relationship to the history of technology (and industrialization generally) is one that is already quite well developed. Essinger’s book was (merely) popularizing research that had been done by primarily western historians.

Was it that the documentary appeared on CCTV9 somehow made you think the story is not creditable?

Does the tale become more plausible because it is told by a non-Chinese writer?

If so, you might think about whether your prejudice is getting in the way of learning.

The basic story line of both the CCTV9 documentary you mentioned and Essinger’s Jacquard’s Web is that the production of silk led to the modern computer. If the CCTV production overstated the Chinese contribution, then it’s a question of balance and emphasis.

A different philosophical question is whether, if silk had not been produced in China, would the modern computer have been invented? It’s likely, but we’ll never know, and the timing and route by which it would have arisen would likely have been different. This is the “Cleopatra’s Nose” conjecture.

Oh, and this is an interesting discussion of the Jacquard Loom and computers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1Zzj9ZBYmQ

November 6, 2010 @ 12:40 am | Comment

Certainly fascinating stuff. If supercomputers are used in such endeavours as stacking chips in a Pringles can, maybe they’ll take the Tianhe 1A and use it to weave some silk, thereby bringing the thing full circle, proving once and for all that…well…I’m not sure what it proves, but I imagine someone can derive something out of that to lend levity to this achievement.

November 6, 2010 @ 5:14 am | Comment

CCTV is always suspect, I say as an occasional accidental viewer.

November 6, 2010 @ 5:35 am | Comment

Not a surprise. With an average IQ that can rival any country in the world, China’s going to get more scientific output in the future.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:National_IQ_Lynn_Vanhanen_2006_IQ_and_Global_Inequality.png

November 8, 2010 @ 11:10 pm | Comment

“Not a surprise. With an average IQ that can rival any country in the world, China’s going to get more scientific output in the future.”

You might also be interested that the link you provided is not without a lot of controversy. Science behind it is also pretty iffy…. I’d not count too much on that.

Science is a product of education which is a product of funding. China is going to get more scientific output in the future, yes. A lot of “western” scientific output is due to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, etc research. I think, though, for scientific output to increase, the centres of research are going to want a bit of slack from governmental bodies – not something the current CCP cadres are ready to give, I think.

November 9, 2010 @ 6:14 am | Comment

“Big Science” refers to large-scale government and military funding of science projects (like the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons, the space program, and the large hadron collider) that became prevalent during and after WWII.

Development of supercomputers falls into the “big science” rubric, as they are both a product and a tool of Big Science.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_Big_Science

A huge factor in funding of Big Science is military funding. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_funding_of_science

Funding of big science needs big justificiations. It’s not enough to say “we are expanding knowledge”. Fear of being bested by China is a significant motivator for politicians and bureaucrats to fund education and research.

Note the kinds of headlines and quotes we see around the Tianhe-1 news:

“Is China a supercomputer threat? (Q&A)”
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20021122-64.html

*****QUOTE*****

“What’s your advice?

Dongarra: You have to remember that you have to not only invest in the hardware. It’s like a race car. In order to run the race car, you need a driver. You need to effectively use the machine. And we need to invest in various levels within the supercomputer ecology. The ecology is made up of the hardware, the operating system, the compiler, the applications, the numerical libraries, and so on. And you have to maintain an investment across that whole software stack in order to effectively use the hardware. And that’s an aspect that sometimes we forget about. It’s underfunded. We fund the hardware but we don’t fund the other components. The ecosystem tends to get out of balance because the hardware tends to run far ahead of what we can develop in terms of software. We have machines that have a tremendous level of parallelism. We currently have a very crude way of doing programming.

Who would do that?

Dongarra: The research is performed under the auspices of the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense.

Is this a red flag for the U.S.?

Dongarra: Yes, this is a wake-up call. We need to realize that other countries are capable of doing this. We’re losing an advantage.”

*****END QUOTE*****

Professor Jack Dongarra is incidentally the creator of the LINPACK test which is used to calculate the speed of supercomputers. Dongarra is one of the organizers of the TOP500 competition to determine the fastest supercomputers in the world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOP500

Dongarra visited China to review the Tianhe-1 tests.

Professor Dongarra is arguing that the US government (via the DOE, DOD and NSF) needs to put more funding behind an entire “ecology” of supercomputer hardware and software. That’s my tax dollars we’re talking about here. Would I rather some of it go towards paying down the budget deficits instead of funding faster supercomputing (and better Pringle shaping by P&G)? Well we may be headed into bankruptcy but we got some kickass computers to play with.

Dongarra is quoted everywhere in articles about China and supercomputing.

So what is his role, really? Professor of computer science, interested solely in academic discoveries? Organizer of supercomputing competitions? Promoter and recipient of government funding for supercomputing? All of the above?

Big science needs good salesmen and proselytizers to attract funding from the big feeding trough that is the government budget. Dongarra has been very clever in designing tests and organizing a structure to create competitions. The “we are falling behind” argument would be hard to justify without transparent benchmarking (even if the benchmark itself – the LINPACK – is criticized for only measuring one type of capability rather than a broad range of capabilities.) I don’t think Dongarra is necessarily right or wrong – I can’t really judge because how can a layperson really make informed decisions here? But if we leave it up to “experts” – well, you can bet they will always be asking for more, no matter what.

This WSJ article takes a moderate, laid back approach to China’s development, similar in tone to Richard’s OP:

http://singularityhub.com/2010/11/07/china-owns-the-fastest-supercomputer-now-what-video/#more-22794

Meanwhile, these 2 blog posts by Steven Koonin, a government bureaucrat, takes a more activist and even alarmist tone:

http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2010/10/29/simulation-and-high-performance-computing
http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-06-14/opinion/21909645_1_supercomputing-nuclear-testing-national-laboratories

“Loss of U.S. leadership in supercomputing and simulation would have staggering consequences. Without deliberate and sustained investment, supercomputers manufactured abroad with ever-improving technologies developed elsewhere would soon dominate. And the simulation techniques invented in the United States will become other nations’ innovation advantages.”

Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. It just sounds like he’s talking about a lot of money and I’m not sure we have it.

November 10, 2010 @ 2:47 am | Comment

The suspicion towards the possible motivations of “experts”…that’s an interesting concept to refer to the next time someone tries to justify the CCP “meritocracy”.

But I agree that, at this time, making better Pringles probably shouldn’t be priority one for the US.

November 10, 2010 @ 2:54 pm | Comment

@Richard – it would seem you captured the zeitgeist well with your OP. Even Obama is talking about China’s supercomputers – and what it means for the United States.

*****QUOTE*****
“China is the perfect “foil” for Obama in pushing his plans for roads, bridges and airports, said Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University.

“It’s going to be bricks and mortar and it’s going to employ all the people that voted Republican,” Schiller said. “It’s going to be hard for Republicans to say no when you mention competition with China.”

Before and after the Nov. 2 voting, Obama cited China in urging support for his proposals.

“We should be able to agree now that it makes no sense for China to have better rail systems than us,” Obama said at a news conference the day after the election. “And we just learned that China now has the fastest supercomputer on Earth. That used to be us.”

In an Oct. 26 address to Democratic Party donors in Rhode Island, Obama criticized Republican budget plans that he said would cut federal education funding by 20 percent.

Playing for First

“Do you think China is cutting it by 20 percent?” Obama asked, also citing Germany and South Korea, two other nations with trade surpluses with the U.S. “They’re playing for first place, and we need to play for first place.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a briefing the next day that the president’s remarks are meant to be a challenge to the U.S. and he’s “not casting aspersions on those governments.”

“It’s a very interesting twist in the history of the relationship between the two countries,” said Pieter P. Bottelier, a professor of China Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “Generally China is characterized as a threat to the U.S., not as a positive example.”

Yet employing the image of the closest U.S. global rival for political purposes is also an extension of tactics employed by Obama’s predecessors, said H.W. Brands, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Changing Characters

“During the Cold War, presidents talked about the Soviet Union. During the 1980s, when the Japanese economy was surging, they talked about Japan,” said Brands, who was one of a group of historians who met with the president at the White House last year. “President Obama talks about China for much the same reasons.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-11/china-s-economic-clout-gives-obama-foil-to-make-case-for-domestic-agenda.html

*****END QUOTE*****

This is a good example of how the concept of “China” is used in political rhetoric. What our leaders say about “China” is often less about China itself and more driven by their political agendas.

Obama has had funding of education and domestic infrastructure on his agenda for a long time, well before he was elected. And rightly so, from my perspective. “China beating us in supercomputers” is brought in as a way to advance his domestic spending agenda.

“China as threat” generally is an argument for more military spending.

November 12, 2010 @ 8:56 am | Comment

perspective: “I did not see the CCTV9 production you refer to. But you are clearly implying…that they are not to be believed. Why not?…Was it that the documentary appeared on CCTV9 somehow made you think the story is not creditable? Does the tale become more plausible because it is told by a non-Chinese writer? If so, you might think about whether your prejudice is getting in the way of learning.”

1. You spend way too much time online.

2. Generally speaking, I watch very little television here in China. When I do watch, I rarely channel surf, preferring instead to stick to Phoenix (news and commentary) or CCTV2 (finance & economics). In fact, I probably watch less than half an hour of CCTV9 in the average month (i.e., 2 minutes here, 2 minutes there). Though I’m often critical of CCTV, I admitted to becoming “engrossed” in a documentary about silk and sericulture that was broadcast on CCTV9 one night several weeks ago. If I do say so myself, I watched most of the show with a genuinely open and curious mind. During the last 5 minutes or so, however, just as the narrator began to go on about Jacquard, his punch cards, and the way that this new technology contributed to the development of early computer programming, I began to roll my eyes in anticipation of what I believed was likely to come next. Sure enough, one of the final lines in the show was something like, “The great, world-changing Chinese invention of silk gave rise to the modern computer. What will wonderful Chinese silk lead to next?”

I don’t have any particular problem with the idea that Jacquard’s technological innovations contributed to the development of the early computer. I do, however, take issue with the idea that the Chinese, as the inventors of silk, contributed anything meaningful to its development. I disagree with you that this is simply a question of “balance and emphasis.” Suggesting that the Chinese, the inventors of silk (though not woven fabrics, the loom, or punch cards), deserve some credit for the invention of the modern computer is like saying that the guy who invented the wheel should not only be credited with inventing the modern automobile, but the internal combustion engine and GPS as well.

The documentary on CCTV9 clearly argued that there would be no computer if not for the Chinese invention of silk. This argument was made in spite of the fact that China invented neither weaving nor the loom. Indeed, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the looms that Chinese weavers used to make silk in the eighteenth century. Technologically speaking, the looms used to weave silk were similar in most respects to those being used in the West to weave other fabrics. Moreover, Jacquard’s punch cards were, in part, based on early eighteenth century ideas that long predated the importation of silk looms from China. That is, the fact that Jacquard’s ideas were applied to Chinese silk looms should not lead us to believe that his ideas were dependent upon them. To believe otherwise would be a classic example of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy. In the end, there was nothing sine qua non about the relationship between China’s invention of silk and Jacquard’s invention of punch cards – unless, of course, you believe that Jacquard could not have been similarly inspired by a wool or cotton loom. The producers of the CCTV9 documentary made an inappropriate correlation between China’s invention of silk and Jacquard’s invention of the punch card.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, Jacquard’s invention wasn’t merely a modest, incremental improvement to an existing technology – it was a great leap forward. Giving China even partial credit for what came next – i.e., the invention of early modern computing – denies Jacquard the full recognition he deserves. It’s one thing to suggest that Jacquard owed certain intellectual debts to those who came before him; it’s quite another to suggest that those debts are rightly owed to the inventors of silk. If anything, he owes a debt to the non-Chinese inventors of the loom.

Finally, if the relationship between silk and the modern computer was as clear as the producers of the documentary suggest, then why didn’t the Chinese invent Jacquard’s punch cards? In fact, the claim that China played an important role in the development of modern computing is in keeping with many similar claims made during the 19th century (and since) by Chinese who didn’t know how to deal with a West that was, in a great many respects, more powerful, advanced and innovative than China. Such excuse-making was sad then; it’s still sad now.

Again, without the West, the Chinese would still be standing around scratching their heads and quoting Confucius.

perspective: “[Y]ou might think about whether your prejudice is getting in the way of learning.”

Thanks for the caution. I’ve thought about it and decided that it doesn’t.

CCT: “好汉不提当年勇”

Funny. That’s exactly my point. Now go tell the Chinese.

November 13, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

People, supercomputers top each other every year. This isn’t even worth the debate.

November 16, 2010 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

“You spend way too much time online.”

Unintended humor. This made my day.

November 17, 2010 @ 3:06 am | Comment

“The argument goes something like this: 1) the Chinese invented silk; 2) a 19th century Frenchman imported Chinese silk-making technology to France and improved upon it (i.e., he invented a new kind of loom) in ways that eventually inspired some early geeks’ approach to computer design/architecture; 3) no silk, no modern computer; 4) the Chinese are responsible for the invention of the modern computer.”

When you say “the argument goes something like this”, I read… “I’m going to setup some straw-man bullshit like this.”

So, I call bullshit. Why don’t you give us a little more information on this program that you watched? What month did it run, and what was the title of the program? I’m sure we’ll be able to find it on Youtube or Tudou. Let the rest of us judge the veracity of your interpretation.

November 23, 2010 @ 5:51 am | Comment

@Gan Lu (48) wrote “All the recent attention given to this issue reminds me that China would be nowhere without the West. Without the West, China would have no Levis”

Ah soo. Levis. Gleat Amelican Jean. Dungalees. Hmmm.

I think the more tantalizing question is, where would Levi’s be without Chinese?

Anyone who knows the least bit about American history knows that Levis was started by a German-Jewish immigrant in San Francisco in the 1850′s during the California gold rush.

California was the Gold Mountain for more than 100,000 southern Chinese in the 19th century who went in search of gold, or were brought there as laborers. Up to 90 percent of the workers who built the Central Pacific railroad which linked up to the eastern railroad in 1869, forming the first transcontinental railroad, were Chinese. And they were significant contributors in other industries, like agriculture, manufacturing, and most notably for this discussion, apparel.

Chinese in the apparel industry

*****BEGIN QUOTE*****
“The identity of the first Chinese in California to have sewed apparel for the market is now lost in the historic past, but the shortage of females, who would have normally been hired as workers in the sewing trades in California, created a need that was filled by willing Chinese male “seamstresses,” a phenomenon that distinguished the industry in the San Francisco region from the industry in the rest of the United States. Thus, by the late 1860s the Chinese impact on the industry was already noticeable so that Rev. A. S. Loomis noted that “Pantaloons, vests, shirts, drawers, and overalls are made extensively by Chinamen,” and the 1870 Census counted 110 Chinese in the sewing trades. As Chinese continued to enter the industry, the San Francisco Morning Call ran an article reporting the following on May 27, 1873:

‘Next, if not superior in importance to the Chinese cigar factories, are the Chinese clothing factories of which there are altogether 28, including 3 shirt factories…. These factories employ from 50 to 100 men each and their employees number in the aggregate about 2000.’ ”
*****END QUOTE*****

The sizeable presence of Chinese in the San Francisco apparel industry meant that Levi Strauss’ workshop employed many Chinese. An unverified source (which I’ve been trying to verify – can anyone help?) states that “a report in 1876 gave the number of chinese that worked sewing pants for Levi Strauss 180 chinese and 38 non- chinese. It was reported that a china man would sew a pair of pants for 7 cents.”

However, anti-Chinese hatred sought to drive Chinese away with violence. See this fascinating account written in 1924.>

The anti-Chinese riots of 1877 had a big direct effect on Levi Strauss’ business – instead of fighting against racism, he went along with it and profited from it:

“In 1877, in a climate of dire economic conditions, mobs attacked San Francisco’s Chinatown, sacking and burning shops and homes in a three-day riot. White men, unable to find work, took out their frustrations on the Chinese, who had been willing to work for lower wages. In the wake of this event, Levi Strauss & Co. solidified its policy of courting its customers’ goodwill by relying exclusively on white women as seamstresses. Because this entailed paying higher wages, the company had to charge higher prices for its products, and thus find ways to deliver higher-quality goods.”

History of Levi Strauss & Co>

Here is another account, friendlier to Strauss’ motivations>:

******BEGIN QUOTE*****
“The first Levi Strauss Company pants were made by seamstresses working at home. As demand increased
the company collected its stitchers in a small factory on Fremont Street managed by Jacob Davis. Even in the
19th century the problem of finding workers to make garments and competition for labor became a problem.
Several days of rioting erupted in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1877. American-born citizens feared Chinese
immigrants willing to work for lower wages would take their jobs, especially in the garment industry….
Levi Strauss, not wanting to exploit the immigrants, assured his fellow San Franciscans that he would employ
only white “American” labor. His response at the time was welcomed by most Californians.
*****END QUOTE******

Reportedly there is an ad from the 1880′s that Levi Strauss was the only one made by white labor.

So – where would Levi’s be without the Chinese? Would Levi Strauss & Co. be as successful today, if not for Chinese?

It’s hard to say. The Chinese were a crucial part of the California economy before violence and legislation (like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) reduced numbers significantly and restricted their positions in the economy. Could the railroad have been completed by 1869 without the contributions of the Chinese laborers, who showed diligence, ingenuity and bravery in the completion of the task? If not for completion of the railroad, would the Levi Strauss & Co. business flourished as it did? If not for the Chinese being attacked in 1877, and Levi’s adopting an “all-white labor” policy, would their business have become as successful?

There are a few other things to say about claiming Levi’s as a product of “the West”. First, jeans are dyed blue, and this is due to indigo, a plant derivative that comes from India. The term “dungarees” comes from India.

Levi Strauss is Jewish, and Judaism has for most of Western history, been thought of as an “Oriental” religion. After all, Abraham (the father of the Jews) came from the western parts of the Asian continent – Mesopotamia, and Jews claim to be lineal descendants of Abraham. The history of Jews’ success in America in part depended on having greater freedoms than did their ancestors in Europe where they faced greater persecutions. However, for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, non-White minorities like the Chinese and other Asians faced enormous legal and economic barriers to advancement. This is not to take away from the success of the Jews, but they were an immigrant group that benefited by “whites only” policies that were not available to the Chinese.

If such policies did not exist, might Chinese have become more successful in America during the 19th and early 20th centuries?

******QUOTE*******

“Perhaps as early as the 1880s, Chinese garment factories appear to have begun specializing in one of two general types of apparel. One group made work shirts, overalls, jeans, and children’s playsuits, mostly made from denim, the Cantonese term for which was lui-tsai bu or “mule cloth.”

In general, customers of workers’ apparel for laborers looked for durability but were not too demanding about style or fine handiwork. The fabric for making such apparel was also relatively low in cost. Thus emerged Chinese factories that could undertake the entire production process, starting from the purchased materials, cutting the patterns, sewing, finishing, selling, and distributing the products under their own brand names. However, due to the prevailing anti-Chinese sentiments, they had to resort to using Western names so as not to draw attention to the fact that the products were made by Chinese labor.

“During the exclusion era, George Brothers & Co. (Chinese name Do Lee), “Manufacturer of ‘Phoenix Brand’ Denim Goods and ‘California’ Flannel Wear, Play Suits, Overalls, Pants, Jumpers, Cotton Shirts, etc.” was one of the largest San Francisco Chinatown manufacturers of apparel for workingmen. It competed with firms like Levi Strauss for a share of the market with commissioned Chinese and Jewish salesmen in California and Pacific Northwest cities marketing its denim goods. The firm also did business in Anchorage, Alaska, and Hawaii….

After World War II, George Brothers and H. William closed down operations around 1960 when the second generation did not wish to continue the businesses. Earlier Henry Ow, a salesman with H. William, had left the company to become one of the first subcontractors producing denim jeans and workingmen’s clothing for Levi Strauss. Thus Chinatown factories sewing apparel for workingmen ended up producing goods under subcontracts to non-Chinese firms in the larger society.”

Chinese in the apparel industry

*****END QUOTE*****

So if not for anti-Chinese discrimination in 19th century California, might Chinese-owned businesses in America become more successful (like Chinese entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia?) Would “Phoenix Brand” denim jeans be as famous today as Levi’s?

And if not for anti-Chinese discrimination in America, might China itself have modernized more rapidly, due to the success of overseas Chinese in navigating the modern world? Could that have changed the course of Chinese modernization?

These are all interesting questions for historians to pursue and argue. A lot depends of historians doing the research and digging into what historical records exist to find out.

If any readers on this blog have more information on Chinese and Levi’s in 19th century California, kindly share.

November 27, 2010 @ 11:50 am | Comment

I meant to conclude the above with this thought:

Categories like “West” and “East” and even “China” tend to be over-simplistic and hide the real story which is often much more interesting.

The story of globalization (of which the California gold rush is a good example) can be obscured by these categories, when the reality is that contributions have come from people all over the world to shape the world we live in today. The story is more complicated and harder to tell, but it is what happened.

November 27, 2010 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.