Chinese innovation — then and now!

As I write, the 2016 World Snooker Championship between Mark Selby of Leicester, England and Ding Junhui of Yixing, China is being held in Sheffield. It is estimated that at least 50 million Chinese people will be watching it live, and perhaps as many as 80 or 90 million!

The two have played each other 20 times in previous tournaments, each winning 10 games.  As regards their comparative skill levels, they are as close as anybody could be. In the present game held over two days Mr Ding was six frames down to Mr Selby yesterday in a 35-frame match.  As I write, the Chinaman has just caught up at 10 frames all and has the chance now of moving ahead.

However, although I could quite easily be wrong, I think that Ding Junhui will win later this afternoon or in their last session this evening.  I suggest this because neuroscientists say that while European brains are slightly better at verbalizing than Chinese brains, the latter are slightly better at spatial abilities.

In some of the brain genes that are particularly found on the Y-chromosome, Chinese and European mutations are very slightly different — the slightly superior spatial ability of the Chinese might be crucial in this particular Championship game today.

It was this spatial ability that certainly caused China to be much more inventive than Europe in the Middle Ages.  Experts consider that at least 150 Chinese inventions — mainly in engineering — filtered through to Europe along the Great Silk Road.  Without these imported ideas, the industrial revolution would almost certainly not have taken place when it did.  We might still be awaiting it!

But if that is the case why is modern China so uninventive?  Why, despite 120 years of industrialisation has China so far not produced a single new innovation of any significance — not a single new sector of industry at which they clearly excel over Europe?   And yet China, in its time –about 2,000BC — has produced the engineering technology that had the greatest single effect on international trade than any since — silk.  Back to now, China ought to have scored heavily in winning Nobel prizes in science. But they have only won 9 altogether — to be compared with Germany or Britain with 90 each from a total population 0f one hundredth the size of China’s!

The big difference is that in modern times China state schools are still heavily saturated in Marxist ideology as directed by the Chinese Communist Party. There is no scope for the sort of free thinking that is required for new ideas. Senior Chinese officials are well aware of this and badly wish that Chinese education could turn into the freer sort of schools found in the West.

As I write Mark Selby is now pulling ahead of Ding Junhui by three frames so I might well be wrong in forecasting Ding’s victory.  But the superiority of Chinese spatial ability is only wafer thin.  Nevertheless it seems to have made a huge difference of centuries when comparing Chinese innovations in the Middle Ages.

Of course, in those days there was no Communist Party, there were no state schools and, in fact, hardly any Chinese peasants went to school at all !  The wafer thin superiority of Chinese would have been able to act for millions of Chinese over many centuries.  Little wonder their previous precociousness and the difference between then and now.

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