Another Crustian thumbsucker from the New York Times.
The stagnation of the Ming may carry important lessons for a more modern superpower: The United States. We too are a huge, rich, powerful nation that for much of our history has dominated the field of competitors. We too have a whole century of dominance — the 20th — under our belt. And if there’s one thing we don’t want to do, it’s turn into the Ming.
Ming China was characterized by an out-of-touch autocratic government ruled at the whim of an imperial head of state supported by a vast civil service bureaucracy entered via competitive examination. Yeah, we really don’t want to turn into the Ming.
One big reason the Ming stagnated was probably isolationism; the Ming government periodically banned private shipping, burning privately owned ships and forcibly relocating coastal populations away from the sea. Though the policy was ostensibly to curb piracy (which it failed to do), the Ming shipping ban was part of a larger policy of hostility toward trade and foreign travel that grew over time and carried over into the later Qing dynasty.
The U.S. merely makes impossibie a domestic shipping industry by regulating it to death and then bans non-U.S.-flag ships from carrying, oh, say, salt from one American port (in, say, Maine) that has it to another (in, say, New Jersey) that needs it. Looks as if we’ve nailed that one.
The United States is hardly isolationist.
So I guess we can just stop reading because the rest of this is just idle vaporing, drawing a parallel that isn’t. But no….
But as a large country that is geographically isolated from most of the populated world, we need to be vigilant against turning inward. The anti-immigrant sentiment that has grown in recent years is a bad sign. Americans are notorious for not speaking any foreign language, and only 30 percent of Americans have passports. Plenty of foreigners come to study in America’s famous universities, but an inevitable downside is that few Americans study in foreign countries. Simply put, we need to get out more.
Non sequitur. The fact that Americans don’t study foreign languages much means absolutely nothing — our Crust, the ones who actually deal with foreigners, are proud of their polyglot capabilities. There is no ‘downside’ to having few Americans study in foreign countries, for the simple fact that if the education over there were so great, then there wouldn’t be so many foreigners coming to study in ‘America’s famous universities’. There are so many leaps from assumption to conclusion in this paragraph that I’m surprised it wasn’t written from Sochi.
Part of the Ming’s inward-looking worldview was the tendency of Chinese people to see China as the entire world. European maps of the time depicted Europe as the tiny peninsula of Eurasia that it really is; Chinese “world” maps, by contrast, were almost entirely China, with a few outlying areas at the periphery. That’s a very unhealthy attitude to have, and sadly, many Americans seem to have it. Survey after survey finds that Americans are geographically illiterate.
Chiefly the fault of the public education system, run into the ground by the same sort of folks who write for the New York Times, which focuses more on intellectual self-expression than in getting the right answer. ‘What’s the capital of Belgium?’ ‘Uh, Paris?’ ‘Good for you, Johnny! You answered the question! Here’s a gold star for being engaged in the educational process! Doesn’t that make you feel good about yourself? Don’t you feel empowered?’
And, again, it doesn’t matter that ‘Americans’ are geographically illiterate when those who are actually charged with getting the stuff here from overseas know very well, to the last decimal point, where they can get stuff cheapest. Tell Tim Cook that he is ‘geographically illiterate’ and watch him show you his passport.
Another likely reason for the Ming’s decline was disrespect of science.
Why, they probably didn’t even believe in Global Warming, much less homeopathic medicine and vegetarianism and the Keynesian ‘stimulus multiplier’. The fools. No wonder their civilization collapsed.
Continuing a trend that had begun in earlier dynasties, the Ming education system de-emphasized science and technical studies, and instead forced aspiring bureaucrats to learn “Confucianist” philosophy.
Any resemblance to Women’s Studies, Fashionabla Non-White Minority Studies, and Sexual Abnormality Studies is purely coincidental.
When science was taught, it was taught as canonical wisdom, to be accepted instead of questioned and improved.
Well, maybe they weren’t Climate Change Deniers after all.
This may be one reason why, by the mid-1500s, China was importing Jesuits from Europe to do astronomy for the imperial court. Technology that had surpassed the world during the earlier T’ang and Sung dynasties had begun to stagnate.
We import our scientists and technology workers from India and Pakistan and China and Korea, so obviously that’s completely different.
Noah Smith needs to get out more.