Monthly Archives: July 2014

It all started with a little silver from Mexico

When the Spanish started mining silver in Mexico in the 16th century not all of it went back to Europe. The Spanish also sent some across the Pacific to China to trade for tea, silk and other Chinese goods. Eventually other European nations also started trade with China. The Chinese had two rules for this trade. Trading could only be done through one Chinese city which the Europeans knew as Canton and the trade had to be done with silver. In the late 18th century the British were heavily influenced by the free trade theory of Adam Smith and wanted to open China to European goods. The King of England sent a letter to the Chinese Emperor but the response was ‘Thanks but you have nothing we want’. After the the Napoleonic wars in Europe were over the English finally found an item they could trade in China…opium. The Chinese government was well aware of the effects of opium and had made it illegal but that did not stop the British. The British had also taken over parts of India which was a perfect area to stop the growing of cotton (which was hurting their cotton industry) and instead grow opium for the Chinese market. Now the silver trade balance which had been all import into China became decidedly export out of China and into Europe. As the Chinese economy suffered from both the trade imbalance and the effects of the opium on its population the Chinese government decided to take action. They confiscated opium in warehouses, burned it, and then continued to effectively stop the sale of the opium. The British government was not happy and the opium wars with China ensued from 1839-1842. The Chinese military was no match for the British and the ensuing treaty was a disaster for China. The Chinese agreed to open 5 ports for trade and Hong Kong was leased to the British for 100 years, which was later extended. British citizens were no longer subject to Chinese law but were to be punished by the British court system. Missionaries were also now free to enter China. China also signed treaties with other Western countries and any privileges granted to any one nation were also granted to every other Western nation under the provision called the “no most favored nation” clause.

(The Great Courses – From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History)

Time periods for state formation

It appears from the archaeology that we have today that the formation of urban centers and the advancement of state formation occurred in the area of China about 1000 years later than in the areas of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The times period of 4000-3000 BCE in the Nile and Euphrates-Tigris area corresponds to about 3000-2000 BCE in China.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)

You should never lose a game of checkers

Most people are aware that you can play a game of tic-tac-toe without ever losing. In 2007 a group of mathematicians published a paper that ‘solved’ the game of checkers. If you follow the rules in the paper you will never lose a game of checkers.

(The Great Courses – Understanding Complexity)


The harvesting of wild rice probably began in China around 12,000 years ago. The domestication of rice appears to have begun around 6500 BCE.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)

Some things never change

During the 14th century France and England were constantly at war. During one of these periods The King of France Jean 11 needed to raise funds to fight King Edward of England. The French Assembly came up with a plan to raise taxes so that the rich paid about 4% the middle class about 5% and the lowest class paid 10%.

(Book – A Distant Mirror – Barbara W. Tuchman)

Early Indus Valley civilization

The Harappan civilization was in the Indus valley region in the area now known as Pakistan and India. The Transitional Harappan period was between 2600 BCE and 2500 BCE. During this period a large number of the settlements seemed to have been burned. It is not known what happened and other than the fires there is no evidence of violence. The settlements after that were built in new areas that had not been occupied before. This period is known as the Modern Harappan period and lasted from around 2500 BCE to around 1900 BCE. The archaeology in this period does not show differences between the elite and the common people as there are no palaces and no special burial sites. This period is also hard to know about because the writing of the time has not been deciphered. The language is hard to decipher because there is not large amount of writing known. Most of the writings are on stamps and consist of no more than around 6 characters at a time. One of the longest known writings is only 10 characters even though there are somewhere around 400-600 known characters in the language.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)

The Rise of the famed vase dynasty

The Mongols controlled China under Kublai Khan in 1260 CE. A plague hit central China and around the 1340’s and 50 percent of the population died. It appears that it was probably the Black Death that was in Europe around the same time and the inability of the Mongol rulers to deal effectively with this disaster caused peasant revolts and led to the rise of the famous Ming dynasty.

(The Great Courses – From Yao to Mao: 5000 years of Chinese History)

Why do celibate clergy need to purchase legitimacy?

When the papacy left Rome for Avignon in 1309 AD the church entered a mode of money making. This was accomplished by selling almost every office it could as well as indulgences. One of the other things that could be purchased was legitimacy for illegitimate children. In 1342-1343 there were 614 grants of legitimacy and of those 484 were for members of the clergy.

(Book – A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century – Barbara W. Tuchman)

Pretty impressive lineage

When Genghis Khan died  in 1227 his son took over of the Mongol Empire for about 12 years. When the son died four of the grandsons split the empire. The line of Chagadai ruled Central Asia and the great later Mongol ruler Tamerlane ruled in the 15th century. The second line was Hulegu who ruled Persia and eventually conquered India and established the Mughals who controlled India until the British kicked them out in the 19th century, Khubilia Khan ruled east Asia and completed the conquest of China in 1279. Batu Khan took over Russia and the Ukraine and eventually became the Cossacks.

(The Great Courses – From Yao to Mao: 5000 years of Chinese History)

The big blast

On the island of Thera/Santorini in the Aegean was a massive volcano eruption. It is estimated that the eruption was four times larger than the eruption of Krakatoa. Radio carbon dating puts this event at around 1600-1630 BCE but pottery dating puts it around 1500-1530 BCE. Which is right? No one is positive but there is a disruption in the rings of trees in Europe and the Americas around 1627/1628 BCE which might be an indication of when this event actually occurred. The Minoan town of Akrotiri on an island near the eruption was buried under many meters of ash which preserved the town. Since no bodies are present it appears that there were enough smaller eruptions to warn people to evacuate before the main eruption.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)