Date: 04-18-07 05:50
Interesting lecture on Why modern science develop in Europe and not China, or the Middle East which have a much longer history of high civilization.
Here are the extract. Full text can be found at
During the 15th century Europe emerged from its 1000 years of backwardness and became again the centre of scientific teaching and learning, a position it retained for the next 500 years. The obvious question to ask at this point is: Why did modern science develop in Europe? What were the factors that prevented the Arab empires or China from becoming the world leaders in modern science?
During the 1000 years 500 - 1500 European science was eclipsed by science in India, the Muslim empires and China. Indian science was absorbed into Islamic science; but the great centres of learning in the Middle East had been destroyed by the Mongol invasion, the Moors were driven out of Spain, and Muslim science, too, had passed its peak.
Chinese science had suffered during the Mongol occupation of the 14th century, but China was still the technologically most advanced nation on Earth. If we consider only its intellectual and scientific capacity it does indeed appear surprising that China did not retain its lead and did not become the cradle of modern science.
Why did China not conquer the world? Why did Spain and Portugal destroy the civilizations of America, and later Britain and France the civilizations of Africa, and establish colonial rule in far-away continents? Based on science and technology alone, China was in a much better position to do so: It had the compass, which allowed Chinese mariners to cross oceans out of sight of land centuries before the Europeans. It had gunpowder, cannons, rifles and hand-grenades that would have beaten any adversary into submission, again centuries before the Europeans. Its junks were vastly superior to the Spanish and Portuguese caravels and galleons. Why then did China not colonize the world? If it had, Chinese science would have become the base for all science to come.
To map the world requires the mastery of three problems: accurate measurement of time, determination of latitude and determination of longitude. By the beginning of the 15th century Chinese scientists had solved all three, and they were the only ones who had done so and thus could sail to any coast in the world.
Cheng Ho's voyage was an outstanding achievement. In the context of the history of science it is of interest in two respects: It gives incontrovertible proof that during the 15th century China was the leading nation in scientific endeavours. It also raises again the question: Why did China not conquer the world?
In the 15th century feudalism reigned in China and in Europe; but there were important differences between the two feudal systems. The Chinese emperor ruled over a unified China with more than 60 million people (Anderle et al., 1966). This gave him a huge taxation base and an immense reservoir of human labour, sufficient to finance and build the vast canal system and other public works and satisfy the court's hunger for luxury as well. Contact with the outside world was only required to obtain foreign luxuries such as spices and other goods that could not be obtained in China itself.
Chinese naval exploration was merely an extension of the feudal desire to obtain luxury goods from all over the world through trading contacts. China maintained trading posts in other countries but never had any plans to invade and conquer overseas territories. As Cheng Ho states on his memorial stone at the banks of the Yangtze River, his imperial orders were "to treat distant people with kindness."
European feudalism was in a very different state. Europe's population had shrunk during the first outbreak of the Black Death 1347 - 1351, and the ensuing labour shortage had made it more difficult to exploit the peasants and artisans, who had responded with the first peasant revolt in 1381.
Lacking a taxation base at home, the feudal regimes had turned against each other in an attempt to fill the state coffers through robbery. England and France fought their Hundred Years' War (1337 - 1453). On the Iberian peninsula Christian rulers had taken Córdoba, the centre of Muslim power, in 1236 but found it difficult to defeat the emirate of Granada, the last remaining Islamic state in Europe (It fell in 1492, the year of Columbus' first voyage) and were occupied with territorial wars against each other.
There was another important difference between China and Europe. The Chinese empire was based on a central administration and taxation system, and its finances were controlled by the court. Europe always had free cities that did not recognize feudal authority. The strongest and most independent of these were in Italy: Genoa and Venice had been ruled by trading oligarchies for centuries. Their merchant vessels were the backbone of their wealth, the European feudal houses had been their customers.
To finance their wars and maintain their luxurious lifestyle, the ruling houses of Europe turned increasingly to loans from the rich merchant cities. At the beginning of the 13th century Florence had developed into a financial centre; its banking houses had begun to establish branches all over western Europe. As a result Italian banking houses began to wield significant political power.
This changed the structure of society profoundly, although the consequences were not to be felt to their full extent until a few centuries later. Feudalism is driven by the desire for luxury consumption, banking houses are driven by profit. They represented the first indication that a new economic order - capitalism - was to evolve from centuries of feudal rule.
The Europe of the 14th and 15th centuries was an amalgam of feudal desire for luxury goods, capitalist loan practices and unscrupulous adventurism. The banks provided the loans to the ruling houses, who funded naval exploratory expeditions of individuals, who were guaranteed their share in the profit of the voyage. When Cheng Ho set out on his mission he could expect an imperial pension on his return and a generous reward, but he had no claim to any part of his cargo. When Magellan, Vasco da Gama and others set out on their voyages they could not expect a pension but had a signed contract from their sponsor that guaranteed them their share of the booty (spices, gold, slaves and whatever else proved profitable; the normal contract gave four fifth to the "explorer" and one fifth to the sponsor).
It is this introduction of private enterprise into naval exploration that explains the cruelty beyond belief of European colonization. Far from being intrepid explorers of unknown lands, Columbus, Magellan and da Gama were entrepreneurs who knew that they could make a bigger fortune through conquest than through honourable trade. All had charts of previous surveys on board their ships, charts that accurately depicted the continents they later claimed to have "discovered."
The massacres and destruction Europe inflicted on the American civilizations are well known. But death and destruction was not only brought to previously unknown continents. Calicut had been a meeting place of civilizations for centuries. "When da Gama reached Calicut he told his men to parade Indian prisoners, then to hack off their hands, ears and noses. All the amputated pieces were piled up in a small boat. The historian Gaspar Correa describes da Gama's next move:
When all Indians had been thus executed [sic], he ordered their feet be tied together, as they had no hands with which to untie them; and in order that they should not untie them with their teeth, he ordered them to strike upon their teeth with staves, and they knocked them down their throats." (Menzies, 2003)
The answer to the question why Europe and not China conquered the world becomes clear when Cheng Ho's motivation to visit Calicut is compared with the motivation of Vasco da Gama. Profit, and not just profit but maximum profit, drove the so-called European "Age of Exploration."
The European "Age of Discovery," as the period of the great exploratory sea voyages is often called, is the dark side of the Renaissance. It led to the destruction of entire civilizations and helped the reactionary Spanish and Portuguese feudal kingdoms to survive into the 20th century.