Category Archives: History

China’s Trajectory: Looking at the Possible Futures for the Middle Kingdom











First up, Gordon Chang, who has been writing about this for years – is he right now?:

China’s Third Era: The End of Reform, Growth, and Stability


Next, the other side of the argument: Francesco Sisci, the dean of Beijing’s foreign press corps, in three articles, the last of which appears as an appendix in the second link. Of particular interest to me is this last and oldest one (from 2007), reprinted from the Italian La Stampa (the translation and editing could use some work), regarding democracy in China…

Why China won’t fall apart

What China Sees in Hong Kong (includes as an appendix “China’s Inevitables: Death, Taxes—and Democracy”)





All are good, interesting reads. You will not rue the time you spend to further educate yourself about China.

2013_smog beijing_China-1


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Margaret Thatcher, RIP

Margaret Thatcher history
Margaret Thatcher quotes (my favorite: “Of course it’s the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.”)

Margaret Thatcher WSJ article


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The Big Economic Story of Our Time, Brought to Us by Professor Hans Rosling’s Gapminder

1. To set the stage, first some true words from a master author:

“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded–here and there, now and then–are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ‘bad luck’.”

–Robert A. Heinlein

2. Now go read “Everything you need to know about the power of economic freedom in 3 charts” by James Pethokoukis

3. Then go play around with Gapminder and come to your own conclusions…

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CityWorld 3.0

Sometime during 2008, for the first time in human history, more than one-half of the entire human race lived in cities. (National Geographic  [which includes a nice interactive map of global urban growth]).  By 2010 the urban population of the earth was estimated at 50.5% of total population, with an ongoing rate of urbanization at 1.85% per annum.  Just this past Tuesday, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that for the first time in China’s history, more Chinese are now living in cities.

(WSJ photo: A billboard against the backdrop of San Cristobal hill in Lima, Peru)

What are we to make of this situation, which is new to human experience?  Here are some good places to start:

1. “City Planet” (a wonderful article from from strategy+business magazine).

2. Among other things the Guardian’s article “UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions'” tells us that “Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation.”

3. For a quick introduction to the new urbanites and their environment please watch Stewart Brand’s 3 minute TED talk on squatter cities .

4. Related to this is the difference in economy and work for people in these and other developing world environments – see the recent article, “Why Black Market Entrepreneurs Matter to the World Economy”  by Robert Neuwirth (See also Robert Neuwirth’s TED Talk on “shadow cities” [bit less exciting than Stewart Brand – and a bit longer – but very interesting]).

5. See also professor Walter Russell Mead’s #3 trend from his “Top 10 Global Trends of the 2010s Recap” (from nearly 2 years ago).

My thoughts on urbanization follow economic history: first villages after people began agriculture several thousand years ago. These grew in to the first cities in places like Mesopotamia, Egypt and northern India.  With the coming of the Industrial Revolution (starting in the 1700’s) the second type of urbanization occurred as people moved in to cities to work at factories. Now a third wave of economic change is occuring and cities are again changing their nature and growing in size. Alvin Toffler’s “Economic Waves” theory captures this very well:

First Wave

Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution 9000 to 7000 BC-on

Second Wave

Industrial Revolution 18th century-on

Third Wave

Current Information/Biologic Revolution 1945-on

Source: Toffler, Alvin.  Futureshock.  New York:  Bantam, 1970 (additional, general historical material covering the technological and economic-historic background of the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution is covered by Coogan [1998], Diamond [1994], Higgs [1999], Law [2000], McNeill [1997], and Muhlberger [1998]).

So, what is next?

Bell’s Stages of Development (taken from a US point of view) would hold that we will eventually develop a more diffuse urban structure – suburbs – and largely live (and perhaps work) in electronic cottages:

Stage of development

Major Technological Innovation

Principal Economic Activity

Social Systems

Date of Origin


Simple Tools and Weapons


Simple tribal nomadic

Origin of man (2-4 million years)


Metal Working


Rural settlements

c. 7000 B.C.


Steam Power


Industrial cities

c. AD 1800




Suburban communities

AD 1965

Source: Bell, Daniel.  The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.  New York:  Basics, 1973

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World Religion Demographics – Christianity, Islam

For although religion does not explain everything about a people’s behavior, as the mother of morals and definer of justice it has ever been a chief arbiter of man’s conduct.”

Executive summary of Pew Forum’s outstanding report on global Christianity is to be found here.  The webpage contains a remarkable set of links including data and graphic elements, as well as access to the full report. The website also has a remarkable report on “The Future of the Global Muslim Population” here. Data on other faiths can be accessed by the links on the left of these pages (unfortunately, for these other faiths much of the data is myopic: targeted to certain issues, or is often only regarding these faiths in the USA).

Why is this important? People can much better understand civilizations and cultures by better understanding the religions which underlay each. Get up to speed with our book:

After spending so much time overseas and with so many international university students, we became intrigued by how much better we could understand and be accepted by people of other cultures if we got to know a little about their religions (or the religion that influenced the culture that they were raised in). Rather than just knowing geography and perhaps a bit of political news (as you would tend to get from the media or a modern/western program, article or book about a place), knowing religion helps in being able to relate to others culturally, even if they are not practicing a religion.”

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Filed under Brazil, China, Developing Nations, Europe, History, India, Russia, World Religions

Always Antifascist…

A museum has posted some videos of my dad discussing his anti-Nazi resistance, arrest by the Gestapo, monitoring troop movements on behalf of the local partisans and disarming explosives planted by the Germans in the last days of the Second World War.

After the Communist coup in 1948, he talks about becoming a courier of secret documents and when he was about to be caught, how he and a number of other hijackers successfully tampered with a passenger train’s brakes so that it hurtled across the German border, carrying them and a number of civilians to freedom. That occured on September 11, 1951 (50 years to the day before 9/11).  The event was widely reported in the Western media (I  have some old copies of the NY Times articles on the event from the days following).  The locomotive in question was quickly dubbed ‘The Freedom Train.’ He spent some time in a refugee camp before emigrating to Canada.

My father a few years ago wrote a well-received book (Z deníku Vlaku Svobody – “About the Freedom Train” – unfortunately in Czech only) about his escape.  More recently he wrote a short article about his life before leaving Europe (starts on page 14).  He is currently starting to work with a well known Czech documentary filmmaker (Tomáš Kudrna) on a project about this period of his life.

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Why did Rome Fall…?

Watching what is going on in Europe (my son, who is studying in a French university currently, asked me the other day, “should I wait 10 days till the Eurozone collapses and then buy my train tickets to Geneva?”) and looking at the state of government finances in the USA, has got me thinking about the captioned. Let us assume that we can learn from history, after all Chinese leadership views its current concerns in the light of the warring states period and other times of warlords arising whenever the central government looses the “Mandate of Heaven”. Looking at it from a Western perspective, here is an amusing site (The Minimum Wage Historian) where you can find some information specifically about Rome:

Empire Fail: “Why did Rome Fall?”

The four conclusions arrived at by Zach and his panel of guest judges (Anna Komemne, the first woman historian, Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, Charles Martel, commander of the Franks, and Bonaparte): “So, to recap; large groups of people that are not loyal to the government. Outside pressure from foreign powers that want what you have, stifling government that makes the people resent it, incompetent, out of touch leaders that care only about themselves.”

These problems sound familiar, don’t they?

Here is another source that I’ve not seen quoted fully on the Internet – it is a sidebar from:

Why did Rome Fall…?

From time to time in the course of this discussion of the Roman Empire from B.C. 27 through 641 A.D. we have noted that a particular event or given situation or a certain individual helped further the fall of Rome. But nowhere have we attempted to say that “Rome fell because…… There is a very good reason for this: Rome “fell” longer than most states have existed. Consider that the only states since Rome to attain comparable power in Europe were the empires of Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler; all alike ephemeral. Consider that the Pax Romana, gave the Mediterranean world nearly two centuries of virtually uninterrupted peace, where the best that modern Europe can claim is a generation between 1871 and 1914. Anything coming to grief after centuries of supremacy is not going to collapse for one piddling reason. Rome fell -because a complex set of circumstances were at work. Indeed, the fall of Rome begins long before the Empire was established. The Roman Empire was a partial result of the weakness of Hellenic civilization. For some centuries before Augustus assumed the title princeps, the Graeco-Roman world had been on the skids, with war and revolution at least as common as they are in “modern times.” Many of the weaknesses of Hellenic civilization helped sap the strength of the Roman Empire. And the Empire itself created a few new problems.

Reasons for the fall of Rome range from the patently absurd (“The Roman Empire did not fall, it was murdered.”) to the profoundly philosophical (“The Roman Empire fell because, having fulfilled its destined role as the Un[i]versal State of Hellenic Civilization, it was no longer needed.”). Any attempt to plow through them all would take up more space than the entire article. Nevertheless, appended to this discussion is a sample of some of the more interesting “reasons,” not all of which are valid. The real cause lies somewhere among these, most likely in a combination of the more logical suggestions. These have been marked with an asterisk (*).

Rome Fell Because…

*Plagues reduced the population and the fertility of the survivors.

Lead pipes and utensils poisoned the aristocracy, lowering their birth rate and intelligence level of this most important class.

The admission of “inferior” races to the citizenship lowered the vigor of the pure Roman stock.

Christianity made people less concerned with this world.

*Augustus jury-rigged apparatus of state was unable to cope with certain types of recurring crises.

*Civil wars sapped the strength of the Empire.

The barbarians proved of “superior” (i.e., Teutonic) stock.

The people practiced birth control without restraint, thus causing a loss of population.

Abandonment of the old, “good” Roman. institutions and virtues which had helped bring Rome to greatness.

“Bread and Circuses.” The people became lazy.

*The army got out of hand due to lowering of standards and discipline.

Easy living made the Romans soft, permitting the barbarians to overrun them with ease.

The liberal-thinking Emperors attempted to spend too much on the poor in their efforts to uplift them, thus draining the financial resources of the state.

*Slavery impoverished the citizenry.

God turned his favor from Rome for its sins.

Orgies and other entertainments sapped the vigor of the Roman people, while venereal diseases destroyed their fertility.

*The state collapsed under the weight of its bureaucracy.

*The barbarians became civilized enough to contend with the Romans on an equal footing.

The flow of gold to the Orient to pay for luxury goods eventually dealt a death blow to the Roman economy.

*The enlistment of barbarians in the army created a potentially explosive situation.

*The existence of slavery and an impoverished citizen mass created a large internal proletariat which would eventually prove disloyal to the Empire.

The Empire had lasted long enough. It was time for a change.

*The bulk of the inhabitants of the Empire failed to share in the incredible prosperity, remaining impoverished and restive.

The aristocracy, permitted too many members of the lower classes to participate in affairs of state, thereby diluting the value of the experience and brains which the aristocracy possessed.

*As the state became more despotic the average citizen, and even members of the upper classes, became less interested in it, thereby causing a loss of confidence and support.

*Failure to establish a workable constitution.

Too many of the old institutions were left with a measure of power, which tended to disrupt the machinery of Empire.

Abandonment of the old religion, which had given moral strength to the Roman people.

Widespread homosexuality among the upper classes led to a decline in the birth rate among the aristocrats, thereby reducing the available pool of leadership manpower.

Nofi, A. A. (1973, July/August). The fall of Rome. Strategy& Tactics Magazine, 39, 21.

And a final, grim, quote:

“Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.”

Tainter, J. A. (1990). The collapse of complex societies. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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