Culture East And West And The Original Fahrenheit 451

Our high school and college students are often taught a revisionist view of history regarding the cultures of the East and the West.  As Rome fell and the West descended into the dark ages they are taught that the sciences, literature and the arts flourished in the East.  The impression given is that the East was the well-spring of all things worthy in a society and that the  East was where all matters of culture were revered and cherished.   Yes, they did indeed have some wonderful art and knew a bit of science just as Euclid did in the West.   But the lesson given in class is that the West was historical a barbaric place that only survived or flourished due to its contact with the East.  As is so often the case with history that is a cherry-picked version and ignores some of the other aspects of history of East and West.  To glean a true picture of history’s lessons it is always best to know a lot of it and have a context and not ignore the unpleasant features of any society to have a complete picture of its worth.

Late in the 3rd century B.C. the Emperor Shih Huang T established hegemony over all of settled China.  He wished to replace the feudal system and centralize control of the Empire in his hands.  His control would lead indirectly to the creation of the Han Dynasty that lasted for over 400 years.  He had to eliminate he believed the old ways of thinking to accomplish his goals especially the Confucian theories.  So in 214 B. C. he had all the books gathered for burning.  He meant all the books. Only those that dealt with agriculture, divination, and medicine could be preserved.  This was the infamous Burning of the Books.  You had to take all your books to the local magistrate for burning before him.  Anyone who even discussed or opined on the classic works from the past were subject to death and then their bodies were displayed in the public market places.   Those who resisted were so dispatched and those speaking out likewise were slaughtered along with all members of their family.  The lucky ones who did not comply escaped death but were sent to the Chinese Gulag of the day to work on the Great Wall.  

There was resistance to the decree.  As always when you are dealing with a great number of people there were a few here and there that managed to save some of the books in caches and remembered the words and lessons of Confucius and the other Chinese classics from a by- gone era.  Like always time passed and the intensity of the decree waned and slowly the handful of surviving books emerged.  Confucius was only partially successful earlier but like the Christians the followers endured suffering and Confucianism endured to become the dominant philosophical view of the Chinese as its principles spread anew.   It was an attempt to completely wipe out an old society and replace it with a new one.  Two thousand years later Mao tried again to do the same thing with his Great Cultural Revolution of the “60’s and ’70’s. 

The revolt against Ti brought the Han Dynasty to power.  The new emperor was Liu Pang of peasant origin.   The feudal system was destroyed and never returned but from that time to the present day China has lived under a government of one kind  or another that has centralized control and follows an official ideology.  Diversity of opinion and governance have not been tolerated in China during all these centuries.  

Many historians have decried the destruction of the great library at Alexandria in the 4th century A. D. and it was a tragic loss by the Christian zealots of the era.  But it was not a policy of the governing powers to destroy all vestiges of the past rather the action of an excited mob.   The Chinese experience was quiet different.  The West did lose some very valuable information of the accumulated ages and so did the Chinese.

History is always more complicated than the headlines of the day or even the learned reflections from scholars if one examines the actual facts rather than the conclusions of the intelligentsia.   Everyone is entitled to their interpretation of history or a given set of facts but at least all the facts should be presented.  Let history report and you decide for yourself.   Make sweeping conclusions only after you have surveyed the total field of past events.   You can figure it out for yourself as well as Gibbon or Durant.

Does fiat currency have a future in the world?  It has only been around for less than a century and as we all know things change.  The current economic turmoil around the world adds to the anxiety of people regarding the value of their money.  Gold may not return as the ultimate storehouse of value but people are increasingly concerned worldwide about being able to translate their currency into something of value.  Fiat currency is based on nothing but confidence and raw power.  As confidence wanes and power centers become blurry one wonders if a new scheme as a medium of exchange will emerge.

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