Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ancient China and India

Sayanhya Roy looks at contributions of ancient India and China;

Ancient China’s four greatest contributions to the world at large have been the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. Some even prefer to add a fifth—the modern toilet! But there have been more of such ingenious inventions that should perhaps be included in the list —the abacus between 500 and 100 BC, the umbrella invented in China around 1,700 years ago, parachutes around the 12th century AD, an instrument to detect the geographical origin of an earthquake, rockets and fireworks, and so on.

The list itself provides an interesting insight into the nature of Chinese contribution to the ancient world. What they have provided us with are things—things of essentially daily use, things that need to be manufactured and China has been doing it since the time they invented them. Naturally China has had a long understanding with their capabilities as a manufacturer and inventor of things. To observe China in retrospect to its past would substantially dilute the awe that arises today. China still remains a nation that makes things. We may give it a more fancy term—manufacture. Hu Jintao certainly knew this and more when he made his quip about China becoming a factory to the world. It has always been so.

India, on the other hand, has led a different regime. It had decided to become a centre of knowledge as early as the post-Dravidian times. Chanakya wrote the Arthashashtra around the 4th century BC—a treatise on monetary affairs, public welfare and warfare. It became the most comprehensive book on political science India had ever seen. It took the Europeans 19 centuries before Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, the first European study in political science and the art of governance. The mega-book on Indian law, Manusmriti, dates from the 1st century BC. Similarly, Sushruta Samhita, written by the famous physician Sushruta around 1000 BC, was one of the first books on medicine not just in India but the world. Aryabhatta, the famous mathematician and astronomer, detailed the movements of the solar system in the early part of the 5th century AD, something that took the Europeans 12 centuries years till one Galileo Galilei did something similar in the 17th century AD.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's simplistic and certainly succumbs to modern racial stereotypes. It's amazing how a few years of IT and outsourcing coupled with a recent inability to match China's industrial strength makes people have such ridiculous stereotypes. The truth is that both Chinese and Indians (as well as the Arab world) developed all manner of ideas and inventions before the West.

Check out Joseph Needham's books and the recent book 1434 sometime (the argument is a bit rough but the general idea holds).

The 21st century will be a paradigm shift where the West's narrow version of (victor's) history and progress will fall by the wayside.