Twofish's Blog

July 28, 2006

Where mountains meet the water….

Filed under: academia, china, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 6:56 pm

In last few days, I’ve been thinking about scientific development in mid-Qing China in the lower Yangtze valley.  One of the things that I think I’ve come up is a view that says that one way of telling the story of Chinese science now can be seen as a continuation of 19th century Chinese science and the division between “traditional science” and “modern science” should be discarded since the two are historically connected.  One bit of evidence is that I anecodotally believe that a huge number of “modern” Chinese scientists came from the lower Yangtze valley.

One thing I then look for are “hidden connections.”  I was philosophically in tune with my Latin teacher because he was a philosophical heir to Catholic Jesuits as I was.  So then I start thinking about “hidden connections” between the lower Yangtze valley and MIT.  It helps that I’ve read about William Barton Rogers recently, and found out that the culture and philosophy that attracted me to MIT were there long before I got their.

So what is the hidden connection between MIT and the lower Yangtze valley…..

Geography….

It struck me how much Boston was geographically similar to the lower Yangtze valley.  My basic memory of MIT is the Charles River.  My basic military of Huangyan is a tributary of the Yangtze.  Also these rivers are surrounded by mountains.  Also these two areas are near major seaports.  The are also close but not too close to the centers of economic and political power (Shanghai and Beijing in the case of Zhejiang, New York City and Washington DC in the case of Cambridge).  This means that they can interact with centers of political and economic power without being dominated by them.  Also, because you are near seaports, you end up with “weird and strange people” constantly getting off the boats.

So what do you get from mountains?  You get no agriculture, but at the same time you get high population density.  You get power (i.e. mills).  You get commerce.  Because social status is not based on land, you get a mobile class structure.  What do you get from the water, you get strange people coming on and off the boats all the time.  You get transportation.

Now this also explains things like Silicon Valley or the development of science in Ionia or the Industrial Revolution in the English Midlands.  The thing that all of these places have in common is that they are where the mountain meets the water.

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