[I’m on vacation this week, but I’m reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney’s book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it’s a free country.]
Another short one today. Just to let you know that the Chinese and British Empires fell. Since the last one was just called “The Ottomans” these two subchapters are simply a summary in a few words. Consistency is the hobgoblin of good writing, someone must have told him.
The subchapter “The Great Wall” has the advantage of just being about China and not some random collection of China like empires as the Ottoman section was. Of course since the unofficial name of this chapter is Mitt Romney paraphrases the Wikipedia Entries on the Printing Press and since that’s actually a legit thing to write for China, it gets several mentions in this short but still rambling section.
Advances in astronomy, physics, chemistry, meteorology, seismology, engineering, and mathematics came to the West from China. In the first century, China was the first to manufacture paper–a huge improvement over papyrus or and parchment. They published the first book, and they invented moveable type around 1041–four hundred years before a German named Johannes Gutenberg developed similar technology.
Several more paragraphs about how China was number one a thousand years ago. They had the best weapons and the best ships. “And then China declined” is a paragraph in itself. Useful. Useful information. Very specific. But is there more information about printing presses* is what I’d like to know.
The Chinese rejected not only all things foreign but even technology that they had devised themselves. For the Ottomans the Qur’an contained everything that life required; for the Chinese, it was their ancient culture that was to be revered and sustained, even at the cost of abandoning innovations like the printing press.
So, like, when Romney says in the intro how we need to go back to how the founding generation left America for us, I guess he’s imitating the Chinese who failed. I don’t know. The point is people getting stuck on something from the past will get them in trouble. Now we’re at The Sun Sets on the British Empire.
“England is just a small island.” Well, England is part of an island that also has Scotland and Wales. It’s not that small of an island. The UK also has part of another island, and some other possessions around the globe. It’s complex. You know what it doesn’t matter.
“With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.” I really like their fruit and nut bars. The ones Cadbury sell in the US are fine, but it’s not the same. Seriously, if you’re ever in the UK or Ireland, bring me back some. I’m not kidding about this, people who know me and are reading this. Also, they have a thriving culture. Some of the best comedy and drama get exported all around the globe.
“And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.” Yeah, I’m sure they would have planned their defenses the exact same way if there was a land bridge between Portsmouth and Normandy. Also, would history have been the same up to the war? Would this land have a lot of people on it? Would it be fertile land? I guess what I’m saying is the British Channel was kind of part of their defenses, and both sides in that war would have acted differently if it hadn’t been there.
“Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth’s land and a quarter of the earth’s population.” And now they’re still a great country. Their empire pushed many of my ancestors here. People were boarded up and sent to Canada or Australia. And nonwhite people fared much worse. While the British Empire eventually went to the right side of things like the slave trade and moved toward democracy, it was still brutal for the people who lived under it.
So Romney says the British had the industrial revolution and it paid for the best navy in ever. “But maintaining leadership proved more difficult than achieving it” because they have a class system. They weren’t able to go beyond the status quo. No mention on how come their class system didn’t stop the industrial revolution in the first place. Then they had to pay for World War Two, so now they aren’t an empire. No mention if life is better for the average Briton now that they don’t have to pay to maintain an empire. Personally, I’d rather have the BBC and universal health care than know that the queen was also in charge of India. But that’s not my decision to make.
That’s the decline of the British Empire for you. I’m not sure who this book is written for. I doubt that Romney knows either. These brief overviews don’t tell us enough to learn anything. Anyone who picks up the book of a presidential candidate surely knows the barest outlines of past empires. Yet he felt the need to include three (or 5 if you include Spain and Portugal). Is it just he thinks nobody will actually read it, and it seems more presidential to have written something so he pulled an all nighter and wrote the damn thing once?
We’ve got half of this chapter to go, and I’m not writing for the weekends. So I think I’ll just do it sometime next week. I had fun writing these, so I’ll probably continue even after that. Not every day, because that’s brutal if I’m writing other things. Would you guys be interested in a half a chapter a week or so? Maybe make it a Wednesday thing?
* Yes, I realize that it’s a running theme because it’s representative of powerful governments restricting criticism. That in the hands of a decent author could be interesting. Mitt Romney is not a decent author.