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.

background to industrial revolution in England

Around 17th and 18th centuries, the Europe underwent a series of changes, which eventually changed the entire society.

One thing that must mention is the enclosure movement took place in England. The enclosure movement started from an early time around 13th century but only reached its peak at around 18th and 19th centuries, when the England Parliament passed a number of Acts. The enclosure refers to the join of pieces of land, whether it is a pasture or a meadow. And the enclosure movement is democratic to some extend: while poor men-such as peasants-giving out their land, they still hold a share of the benefit.

Just like everything that first jumps out, the pro and con of the enclosure movement is also obvious.

The population in England began to explode from 17th century, and the increasing population also increased the demand of crops. While under the old agricultural institution, where peasant grew the crops individually, the production of food became a major problem. Usually it cannot support the exploding population, so the government and some landlords began to come up with new methods to cope such a difficult. That is when the Parliament decided to pass more laws that back up the movement. By gathering the land together and then use the land more scientifically-for example, allocate certain land to grazing and other part of the land for grain planting-a larger amount of crop output could be guaranteed. Besides, “[T]he small size of the strips meant that a poor but thrifty man could hope to add a few more to his holding during his life time. The common grazing land reared very poor cattle-but that was better than no cattle at all. The commoner could hope to maintain at least a cow, which would yield some milk for his children. The woodlands could support a few skinny pigs which, slaughtered in autumn, helped tide the family over the long, hungry winter. The common lands also provided wood, or at least dung, for fuel as well as a certain amount of timber and stone for building.” (E. R. Chamberlin, Change in English Agriculture, page 2)


Nevertheless, enclosure movement’s drawback is also apparent. Even though there is one prerequisite of land combining that four-fifth of land area owners has to agree in order to enclosure, “In fact, four-fifths of the strips could be owned by two or three wealthy farmers while the remaining one-fifth was split up among scores of men.” (E. R. Chamberlin, page 1).

What is worse is that as time flies, those peasants who hold only a small portion of the land share gradually lost their benefits: “[B]ut lawyers’ fees were high; so too was the cost of fencing. Even when he went ahead and paid the fees and the cost of fencing, his small poor holding certainly could not support the cow and two or three pigs that were denied their ancient right of access to the common. There was little choice but to sell what little land he had and either hire himself out as a laborer or take the road that led to the industrial towns-the road which promised so much but which, for so many, was merely the path to a living hell.” (E. R. Chamberlin, page 3) It is not hard to see that peasants have to find another way to support themselves.


While working on the land does not fit for peasants any more, then there is no point to stay in the countryside any more: then, many peasants began to move to major cities. In short words, due the enclosure movement, which set free more human resource, there is more labor force could be allocated in industrialization.


Another social change that need to be noticed is the population explosion between 17th and 19th centuries in Europe.


Several factors contributed to such a dramatic increasing. At first, death caused by war has decreased. Second, “Better methods of hygiene, particularly in the cities, accounted for some of this decline. English cities kept streets cleaner in the late eighteenth century and paid more attention to sewage disposal. In parts of England vaccination reduced the incidence of smallpox, a major traditional killer. There was also an improvement of border controls against entry of diseased persons and animals. The growing efficiency of the Hapsburg government was particularly important in blocking the traditional route of plagues from the Middle East into Europe.” (Peter N. Stearns, Population Growth, published 1975, page 64) Third, what is more important is the improved health and deduction of famine, and it further encouraged birth rate-more sexual activities[y]. (Peter N. Stearns, page 63) Another important aspect lied in the introduction of new crops. At first, farmer rejected potato due to religious reason, but gradually “[But] eighteenth-century governments and enterprising landlords promoted the crop, for increased population was a source of military and economic strength. And peasants gradually converted on their own. For the potato initially answered two traditional needs. It helped assure against periodic famines, and grain failures in the eighteenth century played a major role in spreading reliance on the new crop; and it protected the peasant with only a garden plot, particularly in areas where landlord dominance or repeated division of plots through inheritance left a family with insufficient land to survive. A sensible decision, to adopt the potato, but one that had immense consequences.” (Peter N. Stearns, page 65)


The explosion of population prompted both the commercialization and industrialization. For one thing, the increasing population led to an increasing demand of commercial goods, such as clothes and food. In respect to such a change, farmers and merchant had to expand their production as well. Finally, commercial exchanged increased too.


The increasing exchange helped accumulate the original capital. More peasants lost their farmer position and became workers, and the increasing population consistently provided more workers to the entire society. Gradually, the old institution began to fade, and a brand-new society surfaced: more organized agricultural production, excessive labor force and the emerge of hiring relation between large landlords and workers. When such a new society kept developing, new elements have to show up in order to meet the increasing demands:

then, the industrial revolution began.

Why technology matters

Why technology matters? Because technologies are the outcome of social demands at certain periods, and eventually technology will reshape the entire society.

To better understand the history of technology, we are required to acquaint with the Society for the History of Technology, or the SHOT, began in the 1950s. Members of the SHOT can be divided into two streams, either internalist or contextualist. Studying of the two groups can well provide us with unique point that why technology matters.

The internalist, as the reading material addressed, “more closely fit stereotypes of the history of technology, although they are in the minority. Internalist reconstructs the history of machines and processes, focusing on inventors, laboratory practices, and the state of knowledge at a particular time. They chart the sequence that leads from one physical object to the next. Their approach has some affinities with art history, but it grew out of the history of science. Internalist establishes a bedrock of facts about individual inventors, their competition, their technical difficulties, and their solutions to particular problems.” They also “writes from the point of view of an insider who looks over an inventor’s shoulder. Such studies, whether of the light bulb, computer, or atom bomb, culminate at the moment when the device first works, and do not take as much interest in marketing, adoption, use, or cultural symbolism.” While on the other hand, the contextualist “see adoption of every technology as being deeply embedded in a continual reconstruction of the world. A contextualist eschews the Olympian perspective and tries to understand technologies from the point of view of people who encountered and used them in a particular time and place.” In another word, the internalist presents the existence of technology and the contextualist try to show us the reason why technology exists and how it thrives. This is critically important because a technology that does not hold up cannot exert influence on the society and it does not “matter”.


One examples can well illustrate the importance to understand the exigence of a technology. Whether a technology prevails or fails in the market could be attributed to many factors such as cultural difference, gender, period and so on. Take the electric cars in early 20th century, for example. When the electric cars first came in, it did not win the marketplace. We cannot simply contrast the merit between electric cars and other transportations, because obviously electric car is more superior than the horse. Still, many citizens back then chose horse or gasoline cars on electric cars. Why? Because if you are offered an interview in Washington D.C, you would, undoubtedly, take a car or plane to there instead of riding a horse, and gasoline cars would cost more money. Consider the following reasons: 1), horse has been using for more than a thousand years, and electric car is a new product. This is a very common phenomenon even nowadays, because few people would choose to embrace the new things at the very beginning. 2), as the reading material indicates that “The lack of an electricity grid in most countryside and the problem of the heavy, slow-charging battery counted against the electric cars”. 3), “American men chose to overlook the noise and pollution od gasoline cars, as they opted for speed and a lower price.” Overall, many reasons together made the new technology sank into insignificance. However, dose the gasoline car or steam engine hold up for a long time? And do the electric cars stop its way moving forward? The answer is no. A hundred years later now in the 21th century we restart the development of electric are and, hopefully, it will win the marketplace in a short future.


Other technology products, such as light bulb, computer, or atom bomb-while the atom bomb is a weapon of mass destruction and requires a lot of technics to make- “culminate at the moment when the device first works, and do not tale as much interest in marketing, adoption, use, or cultural symbolism.” That why, as Nathan Rosenberg addressed, “there is a long adjustment process during which the invention is improved, bugs ironed out, the technique modified to suit the specific needs of user, and the ‘tooling up’ and numerous adaptations so that the new product(process) can not be only produced but can be produced at low price.” That’s also why the refrigerators were not as welcome as today when it first showed up-because back then they often broke up and the supply of electricity was unstable.


But the failure of a certain technology at its birth does not guarantee its final fate. Considering the following facts: people used chose horse among cars, but now we even know that taking a airplane is a better choice over a car; we questioned the accuracy and reliability of computers at the very beginning but now we mostly do the calculation through a computer.


What we can learn from these examples is that a new technology may not obtain its reputation in the society as soon as it come up but might be prevailing in the future. That’s why technology matters. Though, inventions “cannot always be ordered like a pizza” even when society fervently desires, “technologies cannot be overlooked in any history that seeks to explain how we arrive in this present and what has been lost in the process.” A new technology, or invention, could be trivial at first but will ultimately change the society-as most of us would agree that we cannot live without the internet and the cellphone.




Early China

When we talk about early China, most scholars would define the “early” as a period from Xia to the beginning of Qin dynasty. That’s roughly before 221 BCE, when Qin dynasty united China for the first time on this land. During this time there were a lot of new technologies emerged and were applied into daily life.

However, to explore technologies that derived from or modified by China in the past thousands of years, to truly understand technologies in China and what role did them play in China and world range, the word “early” is inappropriate here.

To discuss technologies in China, many Chinese scholars mainly focus on the period late than 221 BCE. They use “ancient” instead of “early”. That is a period between 221 BCE to 1840, at which a war called “Opium War” between China and Britain began. There are a few reasons to study this period. 1), one political institution remained almost identical from Qin dynasty to Qing Dynasty, and this institution have shaped the society in China and affected the emergence of new technologies. 2), there were a huge amount of technologies came into being in this time, and it is these technologies that exerted influence on China and the world most deeply.

Before we go to the technology, it is necessary to get acquainted with the background in this particular period. At the very beginning of Qin dynasty, one major change made by the government is the abolish of fief. The first emperor of the Qin dynasty, Qinshihuang, strongly believed that it was the fief that led to the end of Zhou. This was because under the fief, the local states would grow more and more powerful after generations, which finally led to the chaos in the society.  Thus, Qin dynasty established a new institution known as the feudal to replace the fief. That is, one central government takes full control of the country, and the government serves to the emperor. Under this institution, the government controls what people do and further order what people will do, and many technologies emerged directly or indirectly due to this reason.

That’s also why agriculture developed fast in China. As an old Chinese saying goes, “people take the grain as their priority”, Chinese began to grow crops lone time ago. One thing needs to pay attention to, however, is that there is a major difference of food people grow between the south and the north China. In the south, where near the Yangtze river, people domesticated rice; in the north, where near the Yellow river, people domesticated crops like wheat and millet. This tradition is largely remained until today in China. That’s where the saying came: “南米北面”, roughly means that “rice for the south and noodle for the north”.

Primarily due to the variety of rainfall-or water source-between the south and the north, farmers in the south grow rice mainly. They “began to construct bunds (low dikes) around their fields to keep in rainwater during the growing season. Flooded fields used to grow rice are called paddies.” “First, a polder (high dike) was built encircling the land, then bunds were used to subdivide the land inside into small fields. Little canals ran between the fields, linked to the river by sluices (gates) in the dike. Farmers used the canals to flood the paddies when the young rice plants were growing and to drain off water from the paddies shortly before harvesting. Rice farmers also built holding tanks or reservoirs for storing water to irrigate their paddies.” Overall, the growth of rice requires a huge amount of water, thus keeping a constant source of water became the priority to the farmers in the south.

At the same time, growing rice also need manpower as well as a stable social order, since its growth period is relatively long and need to be taken care of elaborately. Under this demand, Land ownership and a uniform institution came into being. “Under the Zhou dynasty (c. 1050-221 BCE) the land was divided into estates owned by aristocrats and worked by peasant farmers. The nobles held their land as fiefs (gifts) from the king, and in exchange provided him with local products yearly, as well as an agreed number of peasant soldiers when he needed a fighting force.” Then, a major shift occurred when the Qin dynasty abolished aristocracy fiefs, “introducing private ownership of land and direct official taxation of the peasants.” This change not only made the produce of rice more effective but also reinforced the power of the emperor, since the emperor directly controlled the agriculture sources that was crucial for the survival of farmers. All told, a central-powered government is needed to well develop the agriculture, and the Han dynasty further make changes on agriculture policies in order to promote the agriculture development.

Approximately 3500 years ago, when the early government was formed in China and the production of food became relatively more stable, people-or the government-began to develop technology. One noticeable artifact resulted in the improvement of technology is bronze. At the early stage of making bronze or bronze artifacts, which started roughly in Xia, metalworkers “first melt ores of copper and tin under intense heat to extract the metal content. They then mix the metals together in proportions of roughly two-thirds copper to one-third tin, rising in some cases to 90 percent copper and 10 percent tin (this process is known as smelting).” At Shang and Zhou, “bronzeworkers, however, cast their bronzes using a much more elaborate method known as the piece-mold process, sometimes described as ‘casting bronze the complicated way’”. It is reasonable to say that the early technology of bronze-make reached its peak at Shang and Zhou, primarily presented by the mass production of bronze, the specialized bronze workshops, and dedicated-skilled person who manage the manufacture.

To summarize, the bronze began at Xia, developed fast at Shang and reached its peak at Zhou. And the time between these periods is called “era of bronze”.

The bronze and the bronze artifacts served three purposes: 1), since the bronze is an alloy, it is harder and sharper than other materials, and thus it can be made as useful weapons. 2), bronze was made into instruments, such as bells, that are commonly used in music play and certain ritual feasts. These activities played an indispensable part in the royal events. 3), the artifacts made of bronze indicated the power of the king: “During the early part of the Zhou dynasty, only the king was entitled to hang rows of these instruments on all four sides of the courtyard of his ancestral temple. Feudal lords were entitled to three rows, ministers to two rows on opposite sides of the courtyard, and ordinary noblemen to a single row.” However, it should be noticed that “The foundry at Houma in modern Shanxi province, the site of the Jin state capital from 585 to 453 BCE……(bronze) seemed to have been available to anyone. This development is evidence that the feudal system was falling apart during the Warring States era (480-221 BCE). The regulations that had restricted luxury goods to aristocrats were no longer observed……More goods and money were circulating, and rather than rank conferring wealth, wealth began to confer rank.” Such a change on bronze-make also revealed a change on early China’s society.

When the Zhou state came to end, most part of China entered a period called Warring States period. The Zhou broke apart, and eventually there existed 7 different states. This period lasted roughly for 200 to 300 years, when Qin state eliminated other six states and united China in 221 BCE. During Qin’s conquest, technology was also developing fast. One product is the Crossbow.

Crossbow is broadly used in Qin’s military, and this equipment was largely contributed to the winning of Qin among other states. Because “the tension exerted on a crossbow’s bowstring is much greater than that of a conventional bow, the bolt traveled farther and penetrated thick armor with ease. The spring-loaded trigger also gave the crossbow great accuracy over a long range. Solid ranks of crossbowmen opened battle by launching devastating assaults against the massed troops of an opposing army.” It also helped Qin defend the trespass from northern nomad Xiongnu. In a word, the crossbow is a superior weapon that could help the military win even when it is outnumbered in soldiers. However, its drawbacks are also patent: “Crossbows are slower to load and to rearm than ordinary bows, making crossbowmen easy prey for an opposing army’s advancing cavalry.” To address this problem, Qin’s military employed ordinary bows and crossbows in the army, thus successfully filled the gap when the crossbows is reloading.

Since the country is united and the society is more peaceful than in the Warring States period, technology in this time grew faster than ever before. Technology at that time saturated in more field, including some marvelous projects. The Terracotta Army was an excellent example.

Because the first emperor of China, Shihuangdi, was so obsessed by immortality, he even wanted to maintain his emperor status when he is dead. Thus, the construction of the Terracotta began. “Presumably this army was intended to serve as a magical force that would defend the dead emperor and his domains eternally against his enemies.”

The Terracotta Army is not only a tomb, but also it is a comprehensive underground engineering project. “The terracotta figures provided scholars of Chinese technology with information about the way modular mass production was organized by the Qin state. Each of the figures was stamped or inscribed with dates, serial numbers, and the names of craftsmen. The names indicate that some of the craftsmen were originally makers of clay drainage pipes, who had installed the large-scale drainage systems that run under the Qin tomb and palaces.” It is also not hard to image that such a noble project demanded a huge amount of manpower. So, what the Terracotta Army told us, besides the technology itself, is that the central government in ancient China was capable to maneuver labor force for war or projects in one time.

Besides the Terracotta Army, another project that involves technology is the Great Wall. Most scholars accept that Qin dynasty finished such a glorious project. However, one thing that need to be corrected is that what Shihuangdi did was not “built” the Great Wall. What he did was connect all the “walls” that constructed by other six states prior to Qin dynasty together to form one “wall” —the Great Wall. This wall served to protect nomad, Xiongnu, from the northern China encroaching the Qin’ military as well as the civilians. The Great Wall we see nowadays in Beijing was the one that renovated in Ming and Qing dynasty and in modern days. However, there is still part of the Great Wall that remained the same appearance as more than 2200 year ago. Unfortunately, that part usually does not open for every ordinary people.

Other important technologies are the Four Great Inventions of China, namely the printing, paper-making, gunpowder, and compass. They are vital because they not only contributed to the development of China but also the rest of the world. Now the scholars in China argues that the spread of paper to Europe helped the arrival of Renaissance, because this paper made it possible to write things down and the printing made the text spread out easily, raising every ordinary’s awareness. The gunpowder, possibly invented by accident when the emperor was seeking for the medicine that makes him immortal, helped the people in Europe defeat the feudal government. And the compass helped Columbia find the American continent. Another interesting technology product is called Didongyi, which is used to determine which direction does the earthquake come. (refer to

It seems I could only find English version on Wikipedia)

All told, nearly all the technology inventions are bolstered by or emerged under the demand of the government. That also why China fell far behind when the Industrial Revolution started in the western world in 18th century. What the government needed may not be technology itself but how technology can strengthen the emperor’s domination. Also, roughly since the Industrial Revolution, China became a technology-export country (it also needs to be pointed out that the notion “country”, or nation, first came into being in China only until the beginning of 20th century) to a technology-import country. After 1840, China entered an era known as semi-capitalism and semi-feudal. During the period-between 1840 and 1949, when the nation “China” truly formed- Chinese people and government spent most of the time to acquire technologies from western countries to defend the nation and prevent it from becoming a colony. And the development of technology almost remained static at this time.