An article by Graeme Lang about the diverging developments of science in China and Western Europe: "Why science did not develop in China: a historical comparison with Europe" (shortcut). Safety copy Nov 00. Original document.
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CND-EP, June 19, 1998 (EP98-015)

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CND-EP, June 19, 1998 (EP98-015)

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             Europe/Pacific Regional News (CND-EP, No. EP98-015)

                              June 19, 1998

============================= ISSN 1024-9133 ===============================
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Table of Contents                                                 # of Lines
1. Job Opportunities (2 Items) ......................................... 142
2. Why Science Did Not Develop in China: A Historical Comparison
     With Europe (by Graeme Lang) ...................................... 379

1. Job Opportunities (2 Items) ......................................... 142

  (1) Postdoctoral Research Positions in Japan 
  (2) PhD Studentships in UK
                          ____   ____   ____

(1) Postdoctoral Research Positions in Japan
    Source: Sci.research.postdoc, June 11, 1998;  Forwarded by: Jian-Min LI

National Institute of Materials and Chemical Research

Postdoctoral research positions

Applicants are invited for post-doctoral positions to study: 1)
synthesis of medium-molecular-weight liquid crystalline molecules
(MMWLC), 2) analysis of thermal and optical properties of MMWLC, 3)
photochemistry in MMWLC media. (See N. Tamaoki et al., Advanced
Materials, 9(14),1102 (1997);  Nature, 391, 745 (1998)) The candidates
should have either a strong background in synthetic organic chemistry
or in physical chemistry of LCs. The positions are for 4 years. Salary
will be in the range 4,000,000 - 5,000,000 yens (28,571 - 37,142 US
dollars) per year.

Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae and two letters of
references to:  Dr. Nobuyuki Tamaoki, National Institute of Materials
and Chemical Research, Higashi 1-1, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305, Japan. Fax
+81-298-546232.  E-mail:
                          ____   ____   ____

(2) PhD Studentships in UK
    Source: Allstat, June 18, 1998;  Forwarded by: Jian-Min LI

PhD Studentships in Statistics at Kent

The University Studentships are available for postgraduate research in
Statistics at

                Institute of Mathematics and Statistics 
                University of Kent at Canterbury 
                Canterbury Kent CT2 7NF

Applications are invited from candidates who hold (or are expected to
obtain) a first or a upper second class honours degree in Mathematics
or a related subject.  The studentships will cover the tuition fees at
the home rate and a maintenance bursary at the same rate as that
provided by the Research Councils for a three year period. The deadline
for application for the Studentships is Monday, 6 July 1998.

Further enquiries should be directed to Dr Qiwei Yao (Tel:
01221/827857, Fax: 01227/827932, Email: at the above

Apart from possible research topics listed at

we attach 4 examples associated with the new development in
collaborative research with outside bodies below:

  1. Discrimination for 3D MR imaging in disease mapping 
  2. Development of predictive population models for the life history
     of a rare orchid 
  3. Discrimination using longitudinal data 
  4. Tests for parametric structure of volatility functions in financial
     time series

More detailed information on the topics:

1. Discrimination for 3D MR imaging in  disease mapping
   Supervisor: Professor P.J.Brown

This project will be carried out in collaboration with an EU Biomed -
funded multicentre investigation into the use of Magnetic Resonance
(MR) imaging in the study of brain changes in Creutzfeldt-Jacob
Disease, especially aimed at early diagnosis of the disease.

The EU project is led by Dr. A. Colchester, Reader in Neurosciences at
the University of Kent and Consultant Neurologist at Guy's Hospital in
London.  Professor P.J. Brown is a co-investigator with involvement in
statistical analysis.  Other computer science partners are INRIA in
Sophia Antipolis in France, and the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven
in Belgium.  Other clinical partners are from the UK National
Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, from Gottingen in Germany and from
Leuven.  State of the art techniques in computer image procesing of MR
and of post mortem (pm) histological images are being developed by the
partners.  MR images will be registered with histology to relate in
vivo to pm data.

The PhD project at UKC will involve development and refinement of
statistical techniques for discrimination and feature extraction in
images and for analysis of combined clinical and image data. Relevant
statistical skills will be developed during the course of the PhD,
including multivariate analysis and Markov random fields.

This project provides an opportunity to work on an exciting topic of
great importance for health research, in collaboration with
internationally known scientific and clinical groups.

2. Development of predictive population models for the life history of
   a rare orchid 
   Supervisor: Professor B.J.T.Morgan

This is a collaborative project with Peter Rothery and Peter Carey,
both of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. The aim is to develop
stochastic population models to analyse detailed demographic data from
six populations in southern England. The models will then be used to
assess the likely success of new populations with and without the
addition of predicted climatic change.

3. Discrimination using longitudinal data
   Supervisors: Professor P.J.Brown and Dr M.G.Kenward

There are many situations in which we wish to discriminate between
individuals on the basis of sequences of measurements of a variable
taken over a period of time. One example is in testing for the use of
drugs in athletics. Currently members of the Institute are involved as
statistical co-investigators in a large multicentre international
trial, centered on St. Thomas' Hospital, investigating growth hormones
preparatory to the year 2000 Sydney Olympics. Here several tests may be
made over a period of months or years. Such data are often messy and
unbalanced, and techniques are required that combine methodology from
modelling longitudinal data and methods for discrimination. A Bayesian
framwork may prove appropriate. A good knowledge of all three areas
will need to be developed during the project work.

4. Tests for parametric structure of volatility functions in financial
   time series 
   Supervisor: Dr Q.Yao

Associated with a three-year research project at Kent commissioned by a
major UK Commercial Bank, there are plenty opportunities for research
in financial time series. While modern asset pricing theory tells us
what to do once we have a model for the underlying variable, it gives
no guidance in choosing the right model in the first place. As a
result, nonparametric techniques have been applied to reduce the number
of arbitrary parametric restrictions imposed on the underlying
process.  In this project, we will propose some formal bootstrap tests
for various parametric forms of the volatility functions.

2. Why Science Did Not Develop in China: A Historical Comparison 
     With Europe (by Graeme Lang) ...................................... 379
   From: Graeme Lang <> 
   Date: Sat, 13 Jun 1998 18:06:56 +0800

[Preface by Su Qian ( 

Recently, Dr Chen-Lu Tsou, president of the Chinese Biochemical Society,
wrote an essay in Science (24 April, 1998), titled "Science and Scientists
in China", in the section "Essays on Science and Society".  In the essay,
Dr. Tsou attributed the weakness of Chinese science to cultural influences
such as Confucius. 
Also recently, in a CND interview, Wang Dan also faults Chinese culture as
the cause of China being falling behind (CND Global News, No. GL98-083,
June 9th).
In view of the popularity of the culture-based explanations for China's
stagnation, Dr. Greame Lang's geography- and ecology-based analysis opens a
new angle to examine the problem.  Publishing Dr. Lang's theory online will
most certainly stimulate discussion and debate on the underlining causes
that hindered China's development, and on how to prevent them in the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Why Science Did Not Develop in China: A Historical Comparison With Europe
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

by Graeme Lang, Ph.D., Department of Applied Social Studies, City
University of Hong Kong.  (e-mail:

Why did modern science develop in Europe, but not in China?  Most people
give cultural answers to this question.  But there is a better
explanation. It was not the cultures of Europe and China which explain 
why Europe developed science and China did not.   Differences in the
state-systems of the two regions, which were ultimately the result of
differences in geography and ecology, are the key to the problem.

I have written a couple of papers outlining this proposed explanation
(Lang 1997a, 1997b, available on request).  Some of the ideas were also
reviewed in a short article in Nature (Diamond, 1998). At the suggestion
of Dr. Su Qian, I offer a brief summary below for interested readers of
China News Digest.  Readers should consult the articles for more extensive
analysis and for the full bibliography and references. First, a brief
definition of "modern science".

Modern Science

What do we mean by "modern science"?  Were there not "scientists" -
investigators of nature - in many ancient civilizations, including China?
Modern science, however, is different. It includes not only methods of
pursuing knowledge about the world, but also a social system for
critically examining and testing findings and theories (particularly, in
scientific forums such as meetings and journals). The social system of
science is a key feature of the methodology used by science for finding
out about the world.  It has led to increasingly refined methods of
observation, precise measurement through mathematization, and (where
possible) controlled experiment, because the social system for critically
assessing results drives scientists toward greater precision and tighter
theories, and scientists have discovered that this leads to more rapid

Modern science developed in Europe from the 16th century, when we find
the first explicit formulations of scientific method, and (by the 17th
century) the first scientific societies, devoted to review and assessment
of scientific studies.  There were investigators of nature and theorists
in other cultures. European thinkers were greatly stimulated by writings
from ancient Greece which they obtained in translation from Muslim writers
and scholars.  Europeans also benefited from mathematical concepts
developed in Muslim lands or in India, and reports of technological
developments in China.  But no other society or civilization produced
anything like the scientific work and scientific associations which began
to develop in Europe from the 16th century, and which began to produce an
increasingly rapid accumulation of useful scientific findings and theories
by the 19th century.

Cultural Explanations

A common explanation is that Chinese culture was unfavorable for
science.  Etienne Balazs expressed the idea this way: "most probably the
main inhibiting cause was the intellectual climate of Confucianist
orthodoxy, not at all favorable for any form of trial or experiment, for
innovations of any kind, or for the free play of the mind" (quoted in Karp
and Restivo 1974).  A similar idea was recently been expressed by an
eminent scientist in China, who wrote, "One of the great tenets of
Confucianism, the need for each individual to know his or her place in the
social hierarchy, contributed much to the continuation of Chinese
civilization through the dynasties. But knowing one's place also militates
against curiosity and creativity, and I believe that the influence of
Confucius explains why China has never been strong in science, especially
abstract science" (Tsou 1998).  Cultural explanations have also been
offered to explain why science developed in Europe (eg. Huff 1993, Merton

Cultural explanations, however, are inadequate. First, there were ideas
and ideologies in Christian Europe which were just as hostile or more
hostile to scientific investigation than anything in Confucian China, but
they did not prevent the emergence of science.  Second, culture is
complex, and can be used to justify what people really want to do, if they
have the power to choose freely among available ideas. People find ways to
reinterpret inherited culture to justify new practices. (For example,
scientists in Europe tried to justify science to their contemporaries as
the investigation of God's handiwork, and therefore not a challenge to
religion or to the church). Third, even if culture was a factor, what
explains culture?  If Confucianism was not favorable to science, why was
Confucianism so dominant in China, and not just one philosophy among
many?  Cultural explanations, in a sense, merely beg the question (Needham
1969).  Is there a deeper answer?  One way to pursue such an answer is to
compare Europe and China in terms of preconditions for the emergence of
modern science.

Preconditions for Modern Science

For what we call modern science to develop, certain conditions must be
present.  Obvious factors include surplus food, a division of labor, and
a writing system.  All were present in China.  (Some scholars believe that
Chinese characters were an obstacle to science. I believe they were an
obstacle to literacy, but not to science, if other conditions had been
favorable).  Other conditions, however, sharply distinguished Europe from

First, for science to develop there must be a number of occupations
which provide time for inquiry, and a number of independent but
communicating "nodes" of inquiry.  (A single node of inquiry will be too
conservative, and too vulnerable to conditions at the site over time).
Second, there must be freedom of inquiry in many of these nodes, without
severe distortions produced by religious or political repression. Third, 
a society must provide substantial rewards for success in adding to
knowledge about nature or producing more successful manipulations of
nature.  Such rewards will induce bright and energetic persons to take up
investigations of nature, and ensure competition among them for these
rewards. (This competition is part of the reason for progress in
science).  Fourth, there must be an educational system which assimilates
useful new knowledge. Europe provided all of these conditions to a much
greater extent than China.

Preconditions for Modern Science: A Comparison of Europe and China

First, Europe had more than eighty universities by the 17th century.
Many of these universities were quite conservative, but they provided
settings in which debate and analysis of theories about nature could and
did occur (Huff 1993).  China, during the same period, had no
universities. The Chinese academies were mostly "cramming schools" for the
imperial examinations.  Why did Europe have universities while China did

One key factor is that in Europe, relatively autonomous towns developed
in many areas as trading centers where privately produced surpluses of
agricultural goods could be exchanged locally and with distant trading
partners. These towns developed their own institutions, including
universities in some towns with their own charters and with some autonomy
from local governments.  The most important condition for this kind of
development was that agriculture throughout much of Europe depended on
rainfall (Karp and Restivo 1974).  The agricultural revolution in Europe
between the 6th and 9th century provided the agricultural surplus to
support the growth of the towns, and these towns evolved relatively
independent institutions because the state was weak and remote. The state,
in turn, was weak and remote during the period when these towns were
developing their political institutions and political traditions, because
there was no need for the state to be involved in the production of the
agricultural surplus.

In China, by contrast, the state arose originally in the river plains and
developed large-scale water-control projects to increase the surplus
food and support a larger population, and thus to provide more resources
for the rulers.  This is the "hydraulic agriculture" theory which holds
that relatively despotic regimes develop in areas of hydraulic
agriculture, because this kind of system requires coercive and intrusive
control over the local population (Dorn 1991).  This theory has its
critics, but it does explain why states in areas of hydraulic agriculture
did become relatively more despotic than regimes in areas where industry,
trade, and commerce produced relatively independent towns and urban
merchant elites before the rise of the centralized state, as in Europe.
European universities had already absorbed the works of Aristotle and
other Greek and Arab writers in the 13th and 14th centuries, and by the
16th century they had also begun to teach and debate new theories and
discoveries about nature. In China, meanwhile, the educational system was
extremely conservative, and was mostly devoted to laborious memorization
of the Confucian classics and the approved commentaries (Lin 1995).

The examination system in China was one of the extraordinary features of
Chinese civilization. From the point of view of the development of
science, it was important because the content of the material to be
studied was strictly controlled by the state, and channelled the energies
of China's brightest minds into tedious mastery of an entirely
state-serving ideology as embodied in the approved classics and
commentaries (Qian 1985).  Thus the educational system could not and did
not provide a context for active debate and discussion of nature and
vigorous criticism of the classics.

In Europe, by contrast, the universities which existed throughout Europe
were not controlled by any single state, and by the 15th century they
had become increasingly diverse in their teaching and writings. They were
not forced by a regional empire to adhere to any single ideology, because
no such empire existed in Europe.  Thus there was much more intellectual
pluralism in Europe than in China.  There were certainly repressive
regimes in Europe.  But scholars persecuted in one state could usually
find refuge in a nearby state (Wuthnow 1980). In China, however, dissident
scholars who challenged official ideologies could be silenced anywhere
within China through the network of state officials.

Thus, for three of the preconditions for the emergence of modern
science, Europe was well ahead of China. But these three conditions
could be present without necessarily producing modern science. (Inquirers
could use their positions and freedom to write poetry, philosophy, or
treatises on government).

The fourth condition is also important: enough rewards for successful
inquiries into nature to attract some of the brightest minds into this
kind of activity.  Such rewards and such competition occurred in Europe,
but not (until the 20th century) in China.  The key to the existence of
these rewards in Europe four hundred years ago was the development of a
number of nearby competing states in Europe. China, during the same
period, was a single isolated empire.  We must look at the state-systems
in the two regions.

State-systems in Europe and China

China has been united into a single vast state or empire for most of the
past two thousand years.  Every time independent states appeared after
the breakup of the empire, they lasted only a short time before being
reunited (usually by military conquest) into a single empire with nearly
the same size and shape as the previous empires.  From the beginning of
the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century until the end of the Qing, China was
united under a single emperor (except for brief periods between the
decline and fall of one dynasty and the rise of the next).  This empire
was largely isolated from any other comparable empires or states. None of
the minor states on its periphery offered any significant threat.  (Japan
was not a threat until the end of the nineteenth century when it acquired a
modern naval fleet).

In Europe during the same period, there was never a single empire which
ruled over all of Europe.  Since the 13th century, Europe has been
divided among a number of kingdoms and states.  These states were quite
close to each other, and most shared a border with one or two other states
in the region.  They competed for supremacy on the seas, to which most of
them had access through their coastlines, and they also competed through
periodic land wars.  However, none of these states ever managed to conquer
and control the whole region. This difference in state-systems between
China and Europe is very important for understanding the different fates
of science in the two regions.

State-systems and Inquiry

The multi-state system in Europe had two important consequences.  First,
it provided continual competition among these states for economic,
military, and industrial advantage.  This competition produced greater
success for those states which could develop better navigation at sea,
bigger and faster ships, more powerful and accurate cannons, and so on.
Rulers and officials of these states were aware that such innovations came
from innovators, not from scholars who diligently taught the classics.
They tolerated and even patronized such innovators (some of whom
eventually came to be called "scientists").  By the 17th century, rulers
in England and France had also begun to patronize what we would now call
scientific societies, devoted to the circulation and critical assessment
of investigations in science and technology. Because inventions,
innovations, and better theories could attract public acclaim and
appointments to desirable positions, talented persons were motivated to
conduct such investigations.  In China, however, there was no need for the
state to tolerate inquirers and innovators who might challenge traditional
ideas held by officials and rulers. No nearby states provided any threat
which might make Chinese rulers eager to benefit from new inventions or
new thinking.

The second important result of the European multi-state system was that
no one ideology or system of thought could be imposed over the whole
region.  Scholars with unpopular ideas in one state could often find
safety in a nearby state, by crossing a border a few hundred miles away,
and continue their work and their investigations.  As a result, Europe
produced a much greater diversity of ideas than China.  Such diversity of
ideas stimulated analysis and debate.  Meanwhile, in China, the empire was
able to impose a single state-serving ideology over the whole region, and
to pursue and suppress dissident scholars anywhere within the realm.
There was no escape if one wanted to remain within the boundaries of
Chinese civilization.

  But why did Europe have a multi-state system, while China remained a
  single vast empire?  The answer is not culture, but geography.

Geography and State-Systems

Europe is geographically fragmented into regions and sub-regions
separated from each other by mountains and seas.  Britain, France, Italy,
and Spain are all partially protected by such barriers, which allowed
these regions to develop distinctive ethnic cultures, and avoid easy
invasion from other kingdoms and states.  Conquest was not impossible, and
all of these states were invaded at one time or another. But since all of
the states in the region presented such difficulties, it was very
difficult for a would-be emperor to conquer and control the whole region.
In addition, these states formed alliances to ensure counterbalancing
power and provide further protection from would-be conquerors.

In China, however, there were no major barriers within the country which
could allow any of the sub-regions in China to remain independent in the
face of a determined imperial regime.  At the same time, China was
surrounded by major geographical barriers which protected it for most of
the past thousand years from external conquest by other empires (a vast
ocean to the east, deserts to the west, the most difficult mountains in
the world to southwest, and dense jungle to the south). Until advanced
sailing ships arrived from distant empires, China was only vulnerable in
the northwest (hence the Great Wall).  So, European geography favored a
multi-state system, and chronic competition among these states for
advantage, which in turn favored science. Chinese geography favored a
single vast empire isolated from any serious competitors (until the
seventeenth century), which did not favor science.


Science gradually emerged in Europe in the context of a system of
competing states, the competition for innovations and the intellectual
pluralism which developed in this multi-state system, and the numerous
universities which provided the setting for such intellectual pluralism.
China did not develop science because it was comprised of a single vast
empire which did not have to concern itself with serious competition from
neighboring states, and which was able to impose a single ideology
throughout the entire empire, reinforcing this ideology through a
conservative state-controlled examination system.  Chinese culture has
been shaped to a large extent by this imperial system and its
state-serving ideology.

These differences between the state-systems in the two regions were the
result of differences between Europe and China in geography and
ecology.  The many natural geographical barriers within Europe favored a
multi-state system because they made it difficult for conquerors to
establish a regional empire.  The relative lack of such barriers in China
allowed conquerors to repeatedly re-establish a regional empire, while the
natural barriers around this empire protected it from serious competition
from other comparable states.  Ecological differences between Europe and
China were also important, because they help to explain why Europe also
included town-based universities which achieved relative autonomy from the
state, while no such institutions developed in China. In short, political
differences, related ultimately to differences between Europe and China in
their ecology and geography, explain why Europe developed science and
China did not.

Selected References

Balazs, Etienne. 1964. Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy. New Haven:
Yale University Press.  Diamond, Jared. 1998. "Peeling the Chinese
onion".  Nature, vol. 391, 29 January, 433-434.

Dorn, Harold.  1991. The Geography of Science. Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press.

Huff, Toby. 1993. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the
West.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lang, Graeme. 1997a. "Structural factors in the origins of modern
science:  a comparison of China and Europe". Pp.71-96 in Steven T. de
Zepetnet and Jennifer W. Jay (eds.), East Asian Cultural and Historical
Perspectives.  Edmonton:  Research Institute for Comparative Literature
and Cross Cultural Studies, University of Alberta.

Lang, Graeme. 1997b. "State systems and the origins of modern science: a
comparison of Europe and China". East-West Dialogue 2,1:16-31.

Lin, Justin Yifu. 1995. "The Needham puzzle: why the industrial revolution
did not originate in China". Economic Development and Cultural Change

Merton, Robert. 1970 [1938]. Science, Technology, and Society in
Seventeenth Century England. N.Y.: Howard Fertig.

Needham, Joseph. 1969. The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East
and West. London: Allen and Unwin.

Qian, Wen-yuan. 1985. The Great Inertia: Scientific Stagnation in
Traditional China. London: Croom Helm.

Tsou Chen-lu. 1998. "Science and scientists in China".  Science, vol.

Wuthnow, Robert. 1980. "The world-economy and the institutionalization of
science in seventeenth-century Europe". In Albert Bergesen (ed.), Studies
in the Modern World-System. N.Y.: Academic Press.

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