Why did China stop being the most innovative country in the world

The Man Who Loved China is the biography of Joseph Needham’s life. In this biography, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world’s most technologically advanced country.

Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China deals with the history of science and technology in China, and the series is on the Modern Library Board’s 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1954, Needham—along with an international team of collaborators—initiated the project to study the science, technology, and civilization of ancient China. This project produced a series of volumes published by Cambridge University Press. The project is still continuing under the guidance of the Publications Board of the Needham Research Institute (NRI).

If you visit Cambridge.org, you will read: “Dr. Joseph Needham’s account of the Chinese achievement in science and technology will stand as one of the great works of our time. It has been acclaimed by specialists in both East and West and also by readers with wider and more general interests. The text, based on research of a high critical quality, is supported by many hundreds of illustrations and is imbued with a warm appreciation of China. … He begins by examining the structure of the Chinese language; he reviews the geography of China and the long history of its people, and discusses the scientific contacts which have occurred throughout the centuries, between Europe and East Asia.”

Needham left us with a question that he never answered, and China experts are still debating that answer today, an answer to the curious fact that after centuries of scientific and technological creativity, that activity suddenly came to an end in 1500 AD. Needham wanted to know what happened, but he never answered his own question.

Needham’s research on China discovered that the ancient Chinese led the world and accomplished an average of 15 important innovations a century for a total of more than fifteen hundred. Then came the sixteenth century, when the Renaissances was fully underway in Europe, and the creative passions of China dried up.

I think the answer to Needham’s question will be revealed in the posts that cover the rest of China’s history after the end of the Song Dynasty in 1279 AD up to Mao’s death in 1976. The decline was long, brutal, and bloody.

When Mao died in 1976, China’s education system was all but gone and had to be rebuilt from scratch, and many of the country’s public school teachers were dead from suicide or execution. If you read The Man Who Loved China, you will also discover that during World War II, one goal of the Japanese was to destroy China’s educational system, and the Japanese armies did all they could to destroy China’s universities, burn China’s libraries, and execute China’s scholars.

What happened to China after the Song Dynasty and in World War II reminds me of what is happening today in the United States where ignorant, arrogant individuals like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, David and Charles Koch, the Wal-Mart Walton family and their autocratic, wealthy, old, white allies are slowly, systematically dismantling the community based, public education system of the United States.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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8 Responses to Why did China stop being the most innovative country in the world

  1. Ronald Chism says:

    你好, Mr. Lofthouse,

    (I am learning Chinese. I’m right at the beginning)

    I was wondering if you might know whether or not anyone has determined if there may have been something particularly special, spiritually or religiously, that served to develop Chinese civilization. There is a book, written by a Muslim, entitled, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth: https://www.alislam.org/library/books/RRKT.pdf .

    In two chapters of that book, one entitled Confucianism and the other entitled Taoism, he castes the “king and…great sage,” Fu Hsi (c. 3322 BC), as a prophet, claiming, on page 156, that it was Fu Hsi’s Divine Revelations that eventually led to “the development of agriculture, industry, medicine, economy, politics and many other fields of knowledge.”

    It does not concern me that he is attempting to make his case, I believe, that prophets are the initiators of great civilizations. He is welcomed to his opinion. My interest is whether or not there might be some TRUTH to what he’s saying, regardless of his intentions.

    I am not particularly religious, by the way. I just found his claim interesting.


    Ron Chism

    • I will agree with the fact that Confucianism and Taoism are major cultural influcnes in how the Chinese people think and both are not organized religions comparable to Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Confucianism and Taoism are more of a philosophy, a way to live life. Confucianism benefits the ruling class more while Taoism helps the working class cope with their lot in life that was often hard and short-lived. I also think that having no large organized religions in China has made a huge difference in its history and helps explain why the Chinese Communist Party does not allow organized religions in China to become political in any way as an influencer of government decisions. Historically, whenever any organized religion has attempted to politically influence what the rulers of China are doing, those religions are often horribly crushed.

      • Ronald Chism says:

        Very interesting. And thank you very much for your reply. Yes, I had read that neither Confucianism nor Taoism were religions, at least certainly not in the traditional understanding of what religions are. Thanks again.

        Ron Chism

      • You’re welcome. Also you might want to keep in mind that Chinese culture is a collective culture vs the U.S. that is an individualistic culture. In a collective culture, what’s good for an individual but bad for the majority means that individual doesn’t have the freedom to live life like they want to and if they behave as if they have the freedom of an individual mandate, they will usually end up in prison, broken, crushed, or dead. I think a country with a social safety net fits perfectly with a collective culture, but in an individualistic culture, letting people suffer without health care, food or shelter is perfectly okay to those that want a totally individualistic culture without any social safety net.

  2. Debbie says:

    Unfortunately the conservative government in Australia is doing the same thing, Lloyd. BTW I loved reading this book, a fascinating account of a fascinating man, highlighting many of China’s great achievements.

    • I read recently that New Zealand voted to run off those same idiots that destroy civilizations. The people of New Zealand took back their gobvenrment from the greedy, power hungry likes of the Koch brothers and Bill Gates.

      • Ronald Chism says:

        (Mr. Lofthouse, I hope this note does not violate your rules. I don’t think they do. But if so, you can take it down, and I offer my apologies in advance).

        If only we Americans could duplicate that!! Unfortunately, a number of reasons, as you know, appear to make that impossible. The media is OWNED by no more than 4 to 6 corporations, as I recall. And, despite “alternative media,” MSM (Mainstream Media) controls thought. And collectively, they are NO DIFFERENT, in my opinion, that the former Soviet Union’s mouthpiece “news” organ, Pravda. The only difference is that, rather than ONE propaganda organ, as the Union had, we have a TON of them, all controlled by corporate interests tied to our corrupt politicians. We live in an information dictatorship.

        Our structure reminds me of the structure of “The Game,” also called “The Life.” I’m talking about “pimping and ho’ing” (whoring), in the world of the streets.

        The corporation is the pimp.
        The lobbyist is the whore.
        The politician is the trick

        In the world of the streets, the trick is considered the lowest scum in The Game. As it’s said in The Game: “The pimp does what he WANTS. The whore does what she’s TOLD. The trick only does what he CAN.”

        Ain’t it the truth. The politician is the trick–the weakest in The Game. He does what he CAN. He can’t control the pimp [or he WON’T]. He can’t resist the whore. Of course, the ideal would be that he GET SOME MORALS and decided to not BE a trick, and do what he is supposed to do: serve the people of the United States.

        I try to be an optimist, but I see nothing but further destruction of our civilization (perhaps I should put that word in quotes).

      • “The corporation is the pimp.
        The lobbyist is the whore.
        The politician is the trick”

        That describes corporate capitalism exactly as it works.

        And you are correct, about 90-percent of the Alt-Right and the Traditional media is controlled by about 6 people who are all older, very wealthy white men. But some of that media leans left and some leans right on the political spectrum and from what I was taught while earning my BA in journalism this has been the norm since the U.S. Republic was founded. In fact, some newspapers used to include the name of the political party they favored in their title because their owner was a Whig or a Democratic or a Republican.

        It had never been wise to rust the media unless you wanted to trust them due to confirmation bias and the reader deliberately subscribes to one news source that’s left or right like all the followers of Fox News (right) vs the New York Times (left). In these cases, the individuals don’t bother to fact-check because the lies they are fed is what they want to eat.

        In addition, the United States could never copy what China did for 1500 years because we are a Constitutional Republic and China was ruled by Emperors who mostly were born into the job because they father was the emperor before them.

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