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Why Have Asians Not Dominated?|
Robert Henderson, American Renaissance, October 2009
It is now generally accepted among serious students of intelligence that Asians have the highest average IQs of any racial group. As Richard Lynn has reported in his comprehensive study, IQ and Global Inequality, East Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, have average IQs in the range of 105 to 108. This clearly exceeds the averages Prof. Lynn has found for the 29 European countries, which range from 92 to 102 (for a review of IQ and Global Inequality see “Survival of the Fittest,” AR, June 2007). The question therefore arises, why have Asians not dominated — economically, culturally, and politically?
Before addressing this question directly, it is necessary to debunk a number of Western myths about China in order correctly to assess Asian achievement. There is, of course, more to Asia than China, but its population represents the great majority of East Asians, and throughout most historical periods, it has been the center of East Asian cultural achievement.
To the extent that Westerners think about China’s place in history they see it as having been a unified state with a single culture and language and a continuous history that stretches back thousands of years. They also think of it as having always been culturally and technologically ahead of the West until relatively recently. Joseph Needham, for example, propagates this myth in his monumental Science and Civilization in China.
In fact, the history of China has been as politically messy and fractured as that of Europe. The country was not even nominally unified until the third century BC — under the short-lived Chin dynasty (221-207 BC) — and has spent more than half the time since then split between competing dynasties or under foreign rule. Examples are the period of warlords in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, the Northern and Southern Sung dynasties from 960-1126, and rule by Mongols (1279-1368) and Manchus (1644-1912). Even during times of supposed unification, the control the emperor could exercise was very little compared to that possible in a modern, industrial state.
As for China’s presumed cultural unity, there is not a single language understood throughout China. The division between Cantonese and Mandarin is reasonably well known in the West, but there are other fault lines. The former leader Deng Xiaoping spoke with such a heavy accent and dialect that his daughter interpreted for him when he spoke in public. There is not even a single, standard written language.
China is far from being a unified racial/ethnic entity. It contains within its borders approximately 100 million people who are members of minority groups. It makes no more sense to speak of China as a continuous state or single civilisation than it does to speak of Europe as a continuous state or single civilization.
Nor is there a special antiquity to Chinese achievements. In the use of metals, the Chinese were no earlier than the peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and were certainly later when it came to agriculture and writing.
Even in antiquity, China was not always more culturally advanced than Europe. The Cretans and Mycenaeans had sophisticated cultures that predated classical Greece, and the achievements of the Greeks and Romans were immense. China cannot be said to have been ahead of these civilizations.
To take an example from a later period, today there exist few Chinese buildings predating the Ming era (1368-1644). Before that time, most Chinese buildings were made of wood. China has nothing to compare with the great stone buildings of the European and Mediterranean ancient world, the magnificent castles, abbeys, cathedrals, and churches of the European mediaeval period, and the amazing architectural diversity of modern Europe. Construction of Notre Dame began in Paris in 1163 and the cathedral was largely completed by 1250. There is nothing from China of this period that demonstrates anything like the same level of both intricacy and magnificence.
It is true that before the modern period (say 1500 AD), the Chinese made a number of discoveries before Europe but the opposite is also true. The Chinese made paper, mixed gunpowder, and had the compass first, but Europe was first with the Archimedean screw.
Even when China invented something earlier, Europeans sometimes produced it later independently. The classic example is moveable type. China and Korea had moveable type many centuries before Gutenberg, but there is no evidence Gutenberg was influenced by Asian examples. Movable type quickly became widespread in Europe but was never popular in China. This is probably because written European languages are based on an alphabet with few characters while Chinese is written with thousands of ideograms, each of which requires its own block of type. In any case, since 1700 at the latest, European technology has completely outpaced that of China.
There is far more to civilization than technology, of course, but China falls well short of Europe in social science, philosophy, art, and political organization as well. Throughout their history the Chinese have been very inventive when it comes to practical solutions to particular problems but did not develop theories from practical solutions that offered general explanations of the world. In this sense, China never developed anything that could be called science.
It is also noteworthy that although the Chinese produced many important inventions, they often failed to develop them substantially. When Europeans began to make regular contact with China in the seventeenth century, their guns were far superior to those of the Chinese, even though it was Chinese who had invented gunpowder many centuries previously. The Chinese record of innovation sometimes gives the impression that an invention was made to amuse or to serve the interests of a powerful person rather than to establish an industry or change society.
Lord George Macartney, who headed the first official British diplomatic mission to China in 1793-4, noted that the Chinese seemed to have invented things and then “applied them solely to the purpose wanted, and to never have thought of improving or extending them further.”
Adam Smith wrote about China in The Wealth of Nations:
“China has been long one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious and most populous countries in the world. It seems, however, to have long been stationary. Marco Polo, who visited it more than five hundred years ago, describes its cultivation, industry and populousness, almost in the same terms in which they are described by travellers in the present times.”
Perhaps this stationary quality reflected a deep-seated arrogance among Chinese rulers, who viewed any kind of innovation with suspicion. Traditionally, the Chinese elites were contemptuous of other peoples, routinely treating them as subordinates. Lord Macartney’s presents to the Emperor in 1794 were counted as tribute rather than gifts, and the British envoy constantly noticed what we would now call a monstrous superiority complex. When he offered the Chinese products of the early Industrial Revolution, the equivalent of which were unknown in China, they often refused to show any interest in them. This is not an attitude conducive to progress.
Philosophy as we would understand it in the West, that is, analytical thought examining the nature of reality with, in theory at least, an absence of ideological baggage, is virtually absent from Chinese history. Traditional Chinese philosophy never divorced itself entirely from religion and was mainly concerned with how society should be ordered. Its primary purpose was social control, and it is more a series of maxims than an exercise in philosophical enquiry. The let-everything-be-challenged method found intermittently in Western philosophy from at least the sixth century BC appears foreign to the Chinese. Interestingly, the Chinese were great compilers of what we would call encyclopaedias. They delighted in recording what was already known or thought, but had little interest in investigating what was not known or might be thought.
Chinese art and fashion show a similar resistance to change. Look at contemporary depictions of Chinese from 1000 AD. They look hardly any different from the Chinese of 1800. Chinese art shows a similar stability over the same period, being for the most part heavily constrained by convention. Where there is deviation from academic artistic discipline it is mainly found in periods where foreign invaders gained power, most noticeably under the Mongol emperors who imported foreign craftsmen and artists. Chinese fashions and art are like those of ancient Egypt, which show a remarkable stability over several thousand years. This is the opposite of the European cultural experience.
Politically, the Chinese never really moved beyond the state of warlordism or of believing in an absolute ruler who was a god or a man directly in touch with gods. There were attempts to introduce more rational and less absolute forms of government, but these were short lived. Confucianism tried to lay down moral rules for rulers, but that was about the limit of any real attempt to restrain emperors by anything short of violence. Ideas about constitutions restricting what government may do, representative government, or direct democracy never arose in Chinese society. In the West, the ideal of individual political participation dates back to the Greeks, and is present in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is completely absent in China.