China: a historic mystery and now a new start.

China once had an enormous technological lead over the rest of the world. Up to about the year 1500 it was a leading example of innovation and technological progress. Then it all stopped, and China gradually fell behind. The industrial revolution started, the British came up, and gradually the whole Western world.

For about 2000 years the Chinese developed a number of high tech projects in a wide range of fields. They had advanced agriculture: growing rice, used iron ploughs, chemical and biological plant protection, they had blast furnaces and forges, paper and printing, money, textile industry for silk and cotton, they travelled the high seas with large ships and had advanced navigation equipment, they had hydroelectric power, they invented gunpowder – see recipe published 1044, they had advanced weaponry, they drilled for gas and water. There is a long list of achievements.

What is behind this rather quick breakdown? Nobody has explained this fully, but reasons put forward are introspection, lack of military challenges producing new industries and their spinoffs, conservative government thinking, lack of mathematical culture, lack of international trade, emperor domination – the list is long, but nobody really knows what happened.

Governmental push for innovation gradually disappeared, the landowners were happy, they didn’t care about industry, China has always been a “one-party” state, a state controlled stop to innovation gradually emerged. The dynamics dried up. The state controlled it all, progress slowed, and gradually ground to a halt.

This is surely not quite correct – but there are elements of truth in there.

In Europe at this time the dynamic forces were huge: decentralized company structures, many entrepreneurs, lots of wars, a longing for products of all kinds from all over the world, high risk developers everywhere. It was a highly charged society.

But these days China is back: an industrial powerhouse is emerging, internationalization is proceeding, power is being found for many purposes, it seems a new world order is being built.

China is still a one-party state, it is removing many dynamic elements, it is clearly scared of itself. And at the moment it is behaving like some before – using known techniques and making it cheaper, better.

So will it find the new innovative and creative, scientific abilities to make this last, create new ways and methods – lasting a few hundred years or more?

There are clearly many factors involved, and a dynamic society must let their people loose to do what is needed. Improving the general lot of the Chinese people is the main concern now, so there must be silence about many things, they say, in order to achieve this. Some people are hurt in this process.

So the balancing is proceeding, and we are all very excited. There is mutual benefit as the world is using you and also watching you, China. Long term dynamism is a hard game, where plurality is the key. Suppressing ideas is not conducive to innovation and viability. Let the 1000 flowers bloom – positively.

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