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posted on 10 May 2017

Civilizations: It's the Written Languages, Stupid!

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Throughout human history, great civilizations have come and gone. In a 2014 article (Civilizations), I highlighted three key factors for the survival of a civilization:

  1. Having a home country.
  2. Having a written language.
  3. Having a substantial population.

In this post, I will go into some depth on the issue of the written languages.


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1. Overview

One key difference between human beings and animals is language: we have it, both verbal and written, but they do not.

The first civilization started in Egypt about 6,000 years ago. Verbal languages existed way before that. However, it was not until about 3,000 years ago, when several written languages (e.g. Greek, Hebrew, and Chinese) were developed, that human societies started advancing significantly, from philosophy (e.g. Greek and Chinese), to religion (e.g. Judaism), and to a recorded history, thanks to literacy!

2. The importance of having a written language

It ensures massive knowledge accumulation over time, which can be passed along from generation to generation. For example, more than 2,000 years ago, the First Emperor unified China and then strictly enforced one official written language throughout the country. As a result, it not only laid a solid foundation for China's longest continuous civilization in human history, but also ensured that China has a very well documented history of the past 2,000 years, at least. For more, read: Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China.

In contrast, some African countries did not adequately develop their own written languages, while the two biggest ancient civilizations in the Americas (e.g. the Inca Empire and the Maya civilization) hardly had any written language. As a result, without lasting generational transfer, both Africa and the Americas fell behind in evolution. For example, slave trading went on in Africa as late as the early 1900s, while China officially banned it more than 2,000 years ago. Worse yet, falling behind meant becoming victims to the Europeans, who successfully conquered most of the world after Christopher Columbus "discovered" the "new" world, by any means, often under the ruse of spreading "civilization" and religion.

3. China vs. the West: one written language vs. religion?

One key difference between the West and China is religion. Specifically, while Christianity has significantly impacted western civilizations and governance over the past 2,000 years (e.g. Rome and the U.K.), there has never been a serious [organized] religion in China, which has by far the longest continuous civilization in human history.

What, then, is the top secret behind the long running success of Chinese civilization? One written language for the past 2,300 plus years, thanks to the First Emperor!

Let's quickly go through the history over the past 2,300 years, in terms of China vs. the West, focusing on "one written language vs. religion" ...

3.1 China vs. the West: Round 1 (200BC - 1500AD)

Throughout this period, China was ahead of the West in almost everything (e.g. economy, language arts, and Four Great Inventions: Compass, Gunpowder, Papermaking, and Printing), except for religion (if it’s a good thing) and dome architecture (The Era of the Byzantine Empire vs. Ancient China).

Chinese civilization over the past 2,300 years was primarily defined by the First Emperor, with his realistic vision of "one written language, one culture, and one Emperor". In case you are wondering about the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, they are the same written language, different in pronunciation only. In analogy, think of an extreme version of Scottish English vs. Texan English.

In contrast, western civilizations over the past 2,300 years were primarily shaped by the Romans, who, via both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, dominated the West throughout this period most of the time. However, unlike the Chinese who were unified in one written language and one culture, the Romans had to live with multiple languages (e.g. Latin and Greek) and multiple cultures. As a result, the Roman dream of "one state, one society, and one ideology" was always elusive, no matter how hard the Romans tried, including possibly the creation of Christianity, as we know it today, as the unifying ideology. For more, read: Did the Romans Create both Christianity and Islam?

In short, here is the key difference between China and Rome for unification throughout this period: one written language vs. Christianity.

3.2 China vs. the West: Round 2 (1500 - 1945)

Throughout this period, China stagnated and fell behind, while the West dramatically expanded, not only to the "new" world (e.g. the Americas), but also to the backward parts of the old world (e.g. India and Southeast Asia), with England being most "successful". For more, read: Spanish & British Empires vs. China.

America, despite its independence from England in 1776, will forever be linked to England, thanks to the English language (and the accompanying culture), but not to the other countries, such as France, in spite of her being the strongest supporter of America's independence (Democracy in America).

As a result, English is the de facto language of the world, today and for centuries to come. For more, watch the short video below.

3.3 China vs. the West: Round 3 (1945 - Present)

For China, this period can be divided into two phases:

  1. A near-death experience, thanks to communism (1949 - 1976).
  2. A dramatic comeback, thanks to state capitalism (1978 - present).

For the West, this period is led by America in two phases:

  1. Unprecedented prosperity in America (1945 - 2000).
  2. America's dramatic decline (2001 - present).

With no more new land to be discovered and no more new people to be subjugated, the West, led by America, must compete with China on more equal footings. Two important keys:

  1. The political systems: China's is slightly better than America's. For more, read: Towards an Ideal Form of Government (Version 3).
  2. The languages (and its associated cultures): America is slightly advantageous, as English is the world's language today.

The biggest X-factor: to what extent religion will influence, or even shape, America: from the political system (Church vs. State) to the culture (America: A Culture of War and America: Stop Islam Bashing!)? For more, read: God and America (Version 3).

4. Discussion

Most westerners understand the importance of religion, but few understand one of the most important reasons behind the unmatched long-term success of Chinese civilization: one written language for more than 2,300 years! It has made everything simpler for China, from race to religion, with far reaching implications for centuries to come.

Moreover, the British may have already proven to be better than the Romans in "built to last": using its language, instead of its religion (e.g. the Church of England)! For example, America, however independent we may claim to be, will most likely be forever viewed as an extension of the British Empire, thanks to English, the language!

This is why China and the U.K. are the two greatest countries in human history. For more, read: The Greatest Countries in Human History.

In contrast, America has a long way to go to prove itself to be truly exceptional over time. Now and very critically, do we have the wisdom and guts to lawfully define English as the official language in the U.S. before Hispanics become the majority?

5. Closing

Great civilizations come and go, with one major exception: China - come, go, and come again.

What is the top secret behind the long running success of Chinese civilization? One written language for more than 2,000 years, thanks to the First Emperor! It will continue to have far reaching implications for centuries to come. For more, stay tuned for my future publications.

Now, please sit back and enjoy the long video below. Supplementing the video with this article, you will have a great understanding of not only human history, but also the key difference between China and the West: one written languages vs. religion!

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