revised res paper

Earthquake predictor?

Ancient Chinese has many inventions, but it looks like many of them only appear on book but never have a solid evidence of their existence. In other words, we lack visual evidences.

One great example is the seismometer, or “Didongyi”, its original name. Roughly around 132 A.D, earthquakes took place in the northern China frequently, leading to tremendous damage to residents and the government. Experiencing the earthquake, a scientist known as Zhangheng invented an earthquake predictor.

Didongyi refers to “a device based on the movement of the ground.”  The mechanism inside of the device remains mystery until recent decades. From the historical descriptions, Zhang’s “dragon jar” sounds pretty fantastic–an enormous vase, six feet in diameter, with eight dragon heads arranged around the rim, each facing one of the eight directions (east, west, north, south, northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest) and each holding a ball in its mouth (Earthquake Detection Past and Present).

In general, the device can detect the direct in which the earthquake comes. According to an official chronological book named Houhanshu, in 138 A.D, one of the balls in a dragon (as shown on the left) fell into an east-pointed toad’s month. The predictor thus indicated that the earthquake came from the east of the capital city, Luoyang. At first people doubted the predictor’s accuracy because no one sensed an earthquake in a short range of the city. However, a few days later messengers from a city far east from Luoyang reported an earthquake occurred. People, even the emperor, then began to believe the predictor.

Interesting thing here is that the seismometer received controversies recently. While the device keeps astonishing us, many scholars in China now skeptic the reality of the seismometer. As mentioned before, one critical factor is that we lack a visual evidence of its existence. Images we find now on the internet are replicas, and even ones that look like an “ancient drawing” is also contemporary products. In Houhanshu, an authoritative book recording many events in Han dynasty, historians only found 196 words regarding the seismometer. Therefore, we may have exaggerated it during the way we visualize it. Consequently, experts are now calling to remove the seismometer from all textbooks in school to stop misleading students.

Nevertheless, the predictor does exist, and it helps us better understand the history in that period. Recovering regions that suffer from natural disasters was one of the most important jobs of “government” in the ancient China. Although the device can not actually detect the earthquake in advance, it helped the authority distribute assistance to impacted areas rapidly. Just like the firework, which served as a cultural and religious purpose, the seismometer could also play a role in enhancing the emperor’s authority rather than “predict” the earthquake.


Words: 458


“The incredible earthquake detector invented nearly 2,000 years ago”, April Holloway


“Earthquake Detection Past and Present”, Wall Street Journal, Jun 5, 2008


2,000-Year-Old Earthquake Detector Worked with Accuracy in China, Tara Macisaac, Epoch Times



“Seismology in Ancient China.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. Dec. 2018


“World’s first earthquake detector was invented 2000 years ago in China”, Dragos Mitrica, last updated on April 26, 2017.

The ancient earthquake detector that puzzled modern historians, Jamie Rigg, 09/28/2018

The railroad and big business

As the railroads system in the 1850s further evolve and get more complex, it seems that more advanced management is required to keep pace with such a fast development. As Blackford mentioned in his article titled The Emergence of Big Business, “On Oct 5, 1841, as a result of scheduling foul-up, two trains collided in western Massachusetts. One conductor and one passenger were killed; seventeen other passengers were injured.” This accident made the public worry about the railroad safety and people in charge of the railroad think up with new method to run the train safe.

Telegraph was one of the outcome under the period. Simply put, “The relationship between

the railroad and the telegraph evolved symbiotically in the 1840s and 1850s, with the telegraph serving to help managers schedule trains and the railroads allowing the telegraph to use their rights-of-way for its poles and wires” (Blackford, The emergence of Big Business, Chapter 5). Nevertheless, one thing we should notice is that the telegraph was not only used in the railroad system, but also the US government use it to “control their own far-flung business empires and to communicate with businessmen in other firms. prompted other field of industries.”

At the same time, issues emerged. The business of railroad is expanding, but the way people manage it is still out-of-date. To cope this, companies institute bureaucratic management in practice. The first helper is the United Stated Army. What the Army do was “separating[ion] between staff officers, who made strategic decisions at headquarters, and the widely scattered line officers, who carried out the decisions as tactics in the field. Precise record keeping allowed headquarters to stay abreast of events in the field” (The emergence of Big Business, chapter 5). And in the next a few decades, railroad firms kept dividing the business to more divisions. And finally, “railroad executives developed cost accounting. They divided their companies’ costs into various categories of fixed costs (such as those of roadbeds and tracks) and variable costs (such as that of labor). Because their fixed costs were much higher than their variable costs, railroad managers sought to run as many fully laden cars as possible over their tracks.” The basic principle here is that the company was trying to make the job more dedicated to different personnel. Each manager was only responsible for his part. So each person did not necessarily have master a lot of skills, but to decently perform the skill he/she was asked to do. By doing this, railroad companies could largely avoid business disorder and thus prevent accident like 1841 from happening again.

Then, as the railroad system get more complex, its effect further reached other fields.

In economy, we know that the market is an invisible hand: that is the market itself will show the societal demands, and we people drive to where the market need us. This “hand” keeps regulating the business to some extent and it is critical. But what people learned from the railroad business is that we cannot let the business develop by itself. Therefore, what the railroad management contribute to the big business is that it provided a model for business in other fields. The government, a visible hand, replace the invisible hand of the market, and supplanted the invisible hand of the market in other key industries in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, dramatically changing the nature of the American business system. (The emergence of Big Business, chapter 5).

At the end, mentioning the visible hand and invisible hand, one good example is China, where I grow up. You can get more information about how the government plays a role as a visible hand in economy through China.