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Very interesting. There is much yet to be said about Europe's perception of China and vice-versa in the 17th and 18th centuries. It's telling that the chinoiserie vogue in the West, with its fanciful Chinese-inspired pavilions and pagodas in the parks of European rulers' palaces, is widely studied, but no one ever mentions the Baroque-style garden and pavilions erected by the Qianlong Emperor in the grounds of the Summer Palace in Beijing, designed by the Jesuits you mention. That garden no longer exists, of course, which is a partial explanation, but its existence indicates that the Qianlong Emperor did find Europe and its cultural products to be of some interest.

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There’s an interesting book by a couple of architectural engineers, Salvatore and Levy, called Why Buildings Fall Down. In the introduction, one of them recounts giving a copy of his previous book, Why Buildings Stand, to his aunt. She read it. When he asked her how she liked it, she said that it was good, but that much more interesting would be the converse: why they fail. He was crestfallen, but took it to heart. The subsequent book is wonderful.

OK, so the emperor was the Asian counterpart to the Sun King. The Central Kingdom runs like a Swiss watch. Well and good. What went wrong?

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One big part of it, at least, is that the Chinese government was relatively uninterested in the outside world, as the emperor's letter toward the end of my piece indicates. This wasn't such a bad thing for a while, but the Chinese leadership failed to see that European countries were transforming in both capability and intent. They were developing imperialistic designs on places like China and the Industrial Revolution would allow them to leapfrog China technologically.

By the time of the Opium Wars in the 1840s and 1850s, the British military was head and shoulders above the Chinese military, but the Chinese government began the war convinced that they would easily crush the British. They didn't fully appreciate the profound changes that had taken place half a world away, nor did they understand how those changes would impact them.

Thousands of Chinese soldiers died in the First Opium War, while the British lost dozens of men. The disaster of the Opium Wars destabilized the Chinese government, leading to the so-called century of humiliation.

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Sep 19, 2023Liked by George Dillard

That is not exactly right. The Song was a maritime power and developed a range of new maritime tech, including the compass plus a lot more that was instrumental in enabling the European’s ‘voyages of discovery’ in the second half of the 15thC. The geographies of the period include descriptions Southeast and South Asia as well as Arabia and East Africa. Plus detailed rutters (navigation books) for sailing to the Red Sea from the major ports of the period, Guangzhou, Mingzhou (modern Ningbo) and Hangzhou. The Yuan were also a maritime force to be reckoned with and attempted an invasion of Java in 1293 to castigate a king who had shown insufficient deference. And that’s before we get to Ming period Zheng He’s voyages 1405-33, though the Ming subsequently turned inward and that naval knowhow was lost. Qianlong, whose rebuffing of the the British you refer to, was very well informed about early modern science and ordered the rewriting of a title authored by the Jesuits called ‘On Western Science’ to ‘One New Science’ - the ideas of the Renaissance through Scientific Revolution were new to Europeans and Chinese alike, he said.

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Interesting! And thanks for weighing in -- from your bio, it seems like you are far more expert on these matters than I am!

I had always understood the story this way: that China slowly turned away from taking an interest in the outside world. The Ming stopped the voyages of exploration, and then the Qing, especially after the Jesuits stopped working in the imperial court, had access to less and less information about western scientific and political developments. For lack of a better way of putting it, China's ruling class became a little too arrogant about its position vis a vis the Europeans and therefore did not understand the significance of the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution (or the way that this might affect China). By the time of the Opium Wars, China was hopelessly outmatched by the British, but didn't understand the magnitude of the gap. I vaguely remember reading about Chinese officials bragging about swatting the British away like mosquitoes before the war.

Does this fit with your understanding, or am I missing some pieces of the puzzle?

How would you answer the original question -- "what went wrong?"

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Sep 20, 2023Liked by George Dillard

Not got time just now to respond but will. There was a century or so gap in transmission of advances in European knowledge after the demise of the Jesuit order and the arrival of Protestant missionaries. It’s more complex than to say the Chinese became arrogant. The problem was related to the threat that new knowledge posed to the Confucian concepts of kinship that Qianlong was zealously committed to in order to maintain the legitimacy of the Manchu as the rulers of the Chinese imperial state. Both the Jesuits and the later Protestants skewed the knowledge that was transmitted. TheJesuits knowledge and methods related to heliocentric cosmology and the Protestants knowledge about the new biology and evolution in particular. Science and knowledge, and in turn the eco and social innovation that follows, are politically charged. They are a risk for incumbent firms and incumbent autocrats.

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Sep 17, 2023Liked by George Dillard

Thanks for that. I wondered whether it was internal, as with a large part of the collapse of Rome. Granted, barbarians at the gates didn’t help them, but the internal corruption seemed to me to be the major problem. At their heyday, the barbarians would have had a lot tougher time.

So the isolationism epitomized by the Wall of China coupled with European imperialism was the magic formula.

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detail was that *all* the pipes and fittings were made of lead. (The English word “plumbing” is derived from the Latin word for lead!)

Another *small* detail is that the Ancient Romans had *no idea* that lead is *deadly* and lead poisoning has a dramatic negative effect on cognitive functioning.

Let me suggest that the Roman Empire may have collapsed because their lead-infused drinking water made their leaders TOO STUPID to govern!

Something similar *may* be occurring today, since there is compelling evidence that Aluminum is *strongly linked* to Alzheimer’s!

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Re... the Fall of Rome. Here is a different “take”.

Many ancient Roman cities had elaborate plumbing systems. The aroma

Go to Pompeii, for example and you will see pipes, joints, elbows, tees, valves and reducers similar to what you would find in today’s Home Depot.

One *small*

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Not sure I understand the connection you’re making. How does plumbing take us to the fall of Rome?

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Thanks for the question, Joe.

All upper class Roman families had lead plumbing. Today... Lead is strongly linked to a variety of mental illnesses and disorders. For that reason, Lead pipes are illegal everywhere!

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