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Born and raised in Maryland, USA, and attended the University of Maryland, but now living in Pennsylvania, RTByrum is an author and publisher of 9 books but does not make a living at it. His places traveled include Britain and China. His past marriage was to a Chinese woman for 3 years. He since claims to have found the secret to happiness and hopes to share that happiness with someone special, and through his blogs, perhaps also with you.
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The Pursuit of Power and Cultural Bias, Part 1    

By RWByrum
917 Views | 10 Comments | 7/19/2018 3:06:12 PM

            Two of the classes which I took at the University of Maryland were Modern Military History 1494-1815 and Modern Military History 1815-Present both of which were taught by Dr. Jon Sumida.  The main text for both courses was the same book The Pursuit of Power by William McNeill.  Dr. Sumida was a protégé of McNeill's while he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and he had helped write the book by providing some of the research upon which it was based.

            In The Pursuit of Power, Dr. McNeill proposed a theory of history that I found to be quite unique.  He argued that all of the major historical trends affecting the development of Western Europe for the last 700 years were not only interconnected but all owed their origins to a single source, the adoption of gunpowder weaponry in the 14th century.

            The gun was the first weapon in history whose lethality was completely independent of human strength and largely independent of human skill.  Give a child a broadsword and he will only be a danger to himself but give him a gun and he will be a danger to even the most accomplished martial artist.  The sword, the spear, and the bow all rely upon human strength for their lethality and upon human skill for their effectiveness.  This was so much so that a small band of heavily armed and highly trained warriors could militarily defeat large hordes of lesser armed and lesser skilled opponents.  This principle was most dramatically illustrated by the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. where 1,000 Greeks held the pass against a Persian army variously estimated at having numbered between 50,000 and 100,000 men. The Greeks held the pass for three days, the Persians only attaining their victory over them through treachery.

            In the middle ages, armies were composed of small numbers of heavily armed and highly trained men.  The epitome of martial prowess was the knight in shining armor riding his charger.  Military power was measured in the number of knights under a king's command and the number of knights under his command was determined by the amount of farmland he controlled.  Thus, medieval history was the quest for farmland.  At first, this farmland was obtained by clearing the forests and draining the swamps but once all the best land had already been put under the plow, the only way for kings to obtain more was to capture it from their neighbors.  That was why England spent 116 years trying to conquer France during the Hundred Years War and why the Germans kept trying to expand eastwards.

            The gun changed all that.  Because the lethality and, therefore, the military effectiveness, of the gun was completely independent of human strength and largely independent of human skill, the sickly, half-starved peasant armed with a gun could blow the knight in shining armor right off his charger.  This was revolutionary.  After the introduction of the gun, military power was no longer measured in the number of knights the king commanded but in the number of cannons that he owned and the number of cannons that he owned was not determined by the amount of farmland that he controlled but in the amount of gold which he had in his treasury.  This caused the kings of Western Europe to change the goals of their policies from obtaining more farmland to obtaining more gold.

            At first, the kings encouraged the development of capitalism as capitalism produced a wealthy class from whom the king could obtain gold by both taxing and borrowing which allowed them to buy more cannons.  The kings then gathered their capitalists together in parliaments because that made it easier to both tax them and borrow from them so that the kings could buy yet more cannons.  The kings quickly learned that if they surrendered some of their power to their respective parliaments that they could more easily tax the capitalists and borrow gold from them which, in turn, allowed them to buy yet more cannons.  The promotion of mercantilism allowed the capitalists to become even wealthier and further increased the tax revenue of the kings, thus allowing them to buy more cannons.  Industrialization lowered the cost of manufacturing cannons which allowed the king to buy more of them.  Finally, technological innovation was promoted because it made cannons better, more powerful and cheaper still and thus, allowed the kings to buy yet more of them.

            With each step in this process, the kings of Western Europe became more and more powerful.  The progress of the development of this power can be seen in the pattern of European colonization.  The Americas were the first to be colonized because their Neolithic cultures were not capable of resisting the power which the gunpowder weapons provided by capitalism gave the Western Europeans.  They were quickly overwhelmed.  However, the gunpowder weapons of the early modern period did not give the Europeans enough power to overwhelm the iron age cultures of Africa and Asia.   Thus, the colonization of those continents had to wait until after industrialization had provided the Europeans the power to overwhelm them in a similar fashion.  Even China, the most powerful pre-industrial nation the world had ever seen, was not able to completely resist European imperialism, though they did not succumb to it as completely as did the nations of Africa and much of the rest of Asia.  The Europeans were only able to assert their hegemony over the major port cities of China rather than over the whole country.

            Professor McNeill even traced the development of human equality to the gun.  After all, once the peasants started using their guns to blow the knights in shining armor off their chargers, it became much harder to maintain the idea that the nobility was inherently superior.  What I have just outlined was pretty much the contents of Chapter 1 and Chapters 3-10 of The Pursuit of Power.   As interesting as I found those chapters, I found its second chapter, The Era of Chinese Predominance 1000-1500, even more eye-opening.

            Professor McNeill argued that all of the historical processes that gave Western Europe the power to dominate the world had occurred in China centuries earlier but not in the same order.  He claimed that capitalism had developed in China in the 10th century.  He further argued that the emergence of capitalism in Italy in the 12th century had not been caused by the Crusades but was prompted by the ripple effect of Chinese capitalism and mercantile activity.  McNeill felt that his colleagues, by crediting the growth of European capitalism to the Crusades were putting the cart before the horse.  He argued that instead of the Crusades enabling the growth of capitalism, it was the growth of capitalism that enabled the Crusades.

            But the assertion that capitalism had developed in China in the 10th century was not the most surprising part of Chapter 2 of The Pursuit of Power.  McNeill also claimed that the industrial revolution had occurred in China in the 11th century.  He supported this claim by quoting production figures for iron and steel.  Chinese foundries produced 125,000 tons of iron and steel in 1087.  Production of iron and steel on this scale could not have been for the home market alone, not even a market as large as China's.  The Chinese must have been exporting it to other countries.

            Mercantilism also developed in China before it developed in Europe.  In the 13th century, Chinese merchants were sailing as far as the east coast of Africa.  By the end of the 14th century, the Ming Dynasty had constructed the largest navy in the world with 3,800 ships of all types including 1,350 warships.  400 of these warships were massive floating fortresses.  The Ming Dynasty navy also possessed some 250 treasure ships, high capacity armed cargo vessels capable of long-distance oceanic voyages.  These treasure ships displaced 1,500 tons which made them five times the size of the caravel with which Vasco da Gama had sailed to India in 1497.  With its powerful navy, the Ming Dynasty established naval hegemony over the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and even the Indian Ocean.

            To be continued...

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#2018-07-19 15:05:29 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot


It's been a while since you've posted and it's a treat to have you back. I have a few brief comments on this blog:

1. You've written such an interesting and well written summary of the initial chapters of the book, The Pursuit of Power, that I both want to read the book and, at the same time, wonder if I need to. Is there anything you failed to include?

2. I love reading about history and find it very easy to get swallowed up in it to the detriment of everything else I should be doing, but even so, by the time I reached paragraph 7 I was starting to worry that we were looking at another blog that wasn't relevant to our Chinese dating site in any manner.

3. You saved me from that concern by bringing Chinese history into the article about then, and while breathing a sigh of relief, I then read with interest about the Chinese Navy of the 1400's and found myself then wondering what you might think about Gaven Menzies' much maligned but fun to read book, 1421, and if you'd care to comment on it? (Perhaps you do in Part 2 of this series.)

4. I have read a good deal of Chinese history since becoming so involved with China through my marriage and through CLM, and I believe that reading about Chinese history is very valuable in pursuing a long term relationship with a Chinese woman. That is partly because it assists greatly in understanding the people of any culture by being aware of their history. But it is also because most Chinese women, especially the intelligent ones, think a foreigner who knows about their history is the cat's ass. 

So, everybody, read this blog and remember it, and be sure to mention any facts you learn about China to that Chinese lady you are pursuing. She will love you for it.

Great blog, Roger, I'm looking forward to Part 2.


#2018-07-19 16:44:01 by Barry1 @Barry1



"most Chinese women, especially the intelligent ones, think a foreigner who knows about their history is the cat's ass"

The cat's ass?  Why on Earth would anyone want to be considered as the backside of a cat?  Sounds very odd!    |(

#2018-07-19 21:53:39 by RWByrum @RWByrum

I believe that I do summarize the central argument of the book pretty well.  So, whether or not you feel the need to read the entire book depends on how pursuasive you find that argument.  Reading the book is really about reading the evidence assembled to prove the argument.

I never heard of 1421. so, no, it will not be featured in the second part.  I'll have to see if I can find it.  I would imagine that The Pursuit of Power is long out of print by now but you probably can still find it through Amazon.

I think part 2 of this blog will be a bit more interesting.

#2018-07-20 20:51:35 by RWByrum @RWByrum


That does remind me of humorous greeting card I saw years ago.  It featured a picture of a man sitting in his living room with the rear-end of a cat mounted on a plaque hanging from his wall.  The caption of the picture read "catastrophe".

#2018-07-21 13:53:02 by Barry1 @Barry1



A clever greeting card, Roger!  :)

#2018-07-22 09:14:19 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

One thing that nobody has, so far, touched on, is the difference between the attitudes of Chinese vs Western people when it comes to 'capitalism'.


Firstly, we all live in a society where capitalism is regarded as a good thing. The more money you have, the bigger your house, the more expensive the car, the jewelry, the clothes, etc, etc.

Yet does that mean that the richer you are, the 'better' you are?


Look at some of the richest people in the world - Bill Gates; George Soros; Rothchilds, etc, and tell me what makes them 'better' than anyone else.


We're born alone; we die alone. This was the title of one of @Barry1's blogs, and it's perfectly true. It doesn't matter HOW much material wealth you accumulate during your life, you can't take it 'with you'.


The western attitude towards wealthy people is often that of jealousy. People who drive what we might call 'flash cars', are shit-scared to park them in a public place for fear of them being damaged or vandalised.

Conversely, walk through the streets of Shanghai and see how many Ferraris are parked along the roadside.

Chinese people look at those cars, not with envy, but with happiness and respect for the person who owns it.


There's much more to life than material wealth.

I think there's a line in the Greek first-century scriptures that says, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

#2018-07-23 10:35:13 by RWByrum @RWByrum


Firstly, we all live in a society where capitalism is regarded as a good thing.  Indeed we do and the whole reason for that was because capitalism greatly facilitated the Western world's pursuit of power.  On the edge of Hyde Park in London stands the Albert Memorial which not only celebrated the life of Prince Albert but also celebrated Britain's Empire over which the sun never set.  That empire was made possible by the weapons provided to the British government by the capitalists.

As for the attitude of the Chinese towards capitalism.  Well, that has changed over time.  The current attitude was heavily influenced by Deng Xiao Ping.  Prior to his assencion as Supreme Leader, the attitude had been very different.

#2018-07-27 12:25:11 by autumn2066 @autumn2066


I laughed loud when seeing you said " but even so, by the time I reached paragraph 7 I was starting to worry that we were looking at another blog that wasn't relevant to our Chinese dating site in any manner."

Haha,haven't you guys been enjoying kicking Conspiracy theory around indoor while other men enjoy kicking football around outdoor? :D :D :D

I love these topics! I will be right back and join you guys!

#2018-07-29 04:04:18 by autumn2066 @autumn2066


You said:"

Conversely, walk through the streets of Shanghai and see how many Ferraris are parked along the roadside.

Chinese people look at those cars, not with envy, but with happiness and respect for the person who owns it."

Um...I feel different way about that. I don't think Chinese truly respect those rich people whom have Ferraris and luxurious villas,more likely Chinese just respect Ferraris's quality, not appreciate those people sitting in it. Let us say, if one day those rich people lost their fancy cars or go bankrupt or were put into jail,you will surprise to see how many people ( even including some of their "friends" and related family members will give a longest standing ovation.If you truly respect a person, would you feel glad seeing him bad luck?  

I feel that most of commom Chinese appreciate free market economy, the public only respect the legitimate wealth. No one hated Yao Ming, no one hated Jack Ma. But on the other hand, there has been a so-called "hatred of wealth" since 2000 in China, since a large proportion of rich Chinese have been getting their wealth in all kinds of unjustified ways, many people get rich quickly in bloody ways. I don't think Chinese public truly respect these rich people, the public just dare not to show their hate since the judicial system is often manipulated by power and money and obviously protect the rich.

The Ginis coefficient in China has reached 5.3 in 2013. In the last ten years, as the polarization between the rich and the poor intensifying, in addition to the endless food safety scandals, the government corruption scandals, the toxic vaccine for children flooding scandals a few days ago have been exposed and exposed by the public,the growing insecurity has become a dark cloud hanging over the head of all sectors of the society.

#2018-08-06 21:23:26 by whui @whui

Thank John let so interesting blod to be issued here, which reminded me of something written in the books that I had read in my school-days, for example, mercantilism.

The emergence of capitalism in the 10th century was not develpped to be a healthy system even in the 13th century  when China had the largest navy and the biggest vessels  for long-distance oceanic voyages.  At the early 30 years in the 15th century, Ming's great navigator took seven oceanic voyages, visited states in South-Asia, West-Asia and east coatline of Africa by means of treasure ships. Nevertheless, Zhanghe, as a envoy, his main commission was to establish diplomatic relationship with newly-found governments. It was distinguished from west European countries to open new Sea-route for merchants. Maritime trade was banned throughout all the recent-ancient China. 

No mercantilism exist in ancient China at least since the 10th century. Stressing agriculture and restraining commerce, as principal policy of almost each dynasty, penertrated the thought that merchants were not respectful career. The right way for poor young people was learning to pass state examination, obtaining governmental positions to make money, and purchasing lands.    

Mercantilism must improve business and promote capitalism.  I consider it is the cause that West European well-developed  though caerpitalism emerged later than in China.

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