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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Foul of Practicality

Chinese people are practical. It is so over-praised for millenniums. What a pity! Countless great inventions have been buried under this tombstone: NON-PRACTICAL.

Chinese invented compass, but abandoned ocean-liners. Chinese invented gun powder, but did not make bombs. Nobody could come to the future and went back to predict the power of these inventions. So for some practical reason, we did not pursue.

These two are perhaps well-known and over-cited casualties. You probably did not know that long-distance flying machine was invented in China as well. Pity!

Around 700BC, Mo Di (墨翟) and Gong Shu Ban (公输班), both of them Shandong origin, were two great inventors of all times. If both of them had been two geeks, that would have been better. But unfortunately, Mo Di was also a politician. He believed that inventions should better people's lives, should not be for the purpose of wars, neither just a plaything. The worse of all was that he was also a great speaker, perhaps an orator in the Greek sense.

One day, Gong Shu Ban showed Mo Di one of his inventions. It was a bird made of bamboo and once the mechanism inside the bird was set into motion, it could fly for three days non-stop. What a great invention as that! Who could dream of such kind of thing today? Not battery driven, no gas, and so on? The energy crisis would have been solved long ago.

Now you would guess why such kind of invention did not flourish at all. Mo Di, with his flawless eloquence and his passion for bettering the people, said something like this: What a useless thing you have made! Why don't you make more useful things like the wheel-barrow to better people's life? Gong Shu Ban was overcome by shame and stuffed his wonderful invention into a trunk and never cast it another eye.

Mo Di and his doctrine perished after 200BC. But long before that, that bamboo bird perished too, together with who knows what great inventions!


p.s. Mo Di was a great inventor, a great thinker and a great mathematician in Chinese history. I only hope he was not so practical sometimes.