Below is a mathematical problem written around 300BC (Zhou era), some date it 1,000BC, in a book called the Nine Chapters. This (Problem #26 of 246) has to do with irrigation:
A cistern is filled through five canals. Open the first canal and the cistern fills in 1/3 day; with the second, it fills in 1 day; with the third, in 21/2 days; with the fourth, in 3 days, and with the fifth in 5 days. If all the canals are opened, how long will it take to fill the cistern?
Know the answer Bakri?
In 1582 when the first Jesuits arrived in the Guangdong province their initial task was to seek out the local literati class not to convert them to Christianity, in contravention of their purpose of leaving Europe for China. There were many reasons why White Europeans did not spend their first several years proselytizing. Noteworthy is the absolute failure to gain many souls. Matteo Ricci (picture, left), after spending two years in Guangdong, had one convert, a destitute man who might have been a leper hanging around the place he lived.
Four hundred years ago, entering China require no passports but foreigners like Jesuits still must have formal authorization to be resident. In numerous cases this demand is ignored (today, they are called illegal immigrants). In the way members of the Islam PAS party treat Chinese as infidels ripe for the conversion, European missionaries at the time adopted a superior attitude to their Chinese hosts, a community of godless, therefore, ignorant souls ripe for trading. Then, the Chinese literati class, as opposed to the palace appointed officials such as eunuchs, formed the backbone of the legal, administrative and governing apparatus. Coddling up to this class and flattering them pays dividends, not least of which is the residence permit.
Ricci and other Jesuits showered the officials with mechanical clocks that the latter hadn’t before seen (it is called bribery). They drew world maps and in time translated them into Chinese. They especially passed around scientific and mathematics text, one of which was Euclid’s Elements, not the original but the translated version from the ancient Greek and published a few years earlier in Europe.
Ricci later wrote in his diary that the way to the souls of the common Chinese was to get first to the top. The top of the Chinese literati class is somewhat like our PhDs today; they would have passed through four key stages of examinations mastering along the way jurisprudence, poetry, philosophy, essay writing, classical text, history, astronomy, agricultural science but by the late Ming era manuals on applied mathematics and physics to handle farm land division and irrigation had entirely disappeared from the curricula. The lost text included the Nine Chapters on Mathematical Arts (jiuzhang shuanshu 九章算術) written nearly two thousand years before the Jesuits (we shall skip the reasons into how maths and applied physics fell into disuse).
But the presence of such an educated class suggests that the administrative officials were not easily taken in by money. Knowledge, however, was something else; it enticed them. Turning up in China the Jesuits understood this intuitively, and went about demonstrating the superiority of Western culture, scientific and mathematical knowledge in particular. Ricci found a sympathetic ear in one Xu Guangqi (徐光启, picture, right), a minor official who twice failed to get the jinshi (進士), the top degree administered once every three years and for which the exam must be taken in Beijing, Chang’an (Xi’an 西安 today) during the Tang era. He showed Xu a world map, some astronomical instruments and the translated Euclid’s Elements.
By 1607, after his conversion to Catholicism, Xu and Ricci finished translating the first four chapters of the Elements. By today’s geometry standards those chapters are elementary, nothing profound, some parts plain wrong, and translation was by way of having Ricci sit next to Xu explaining in his rudimentary Chinese what every line meant. Xu would then render the lines in Chinese so that, for a man who twice failed his exams and was dwelling on axiomatic logic for the first time, the resulting work was, to put it politely, unsatisfactory.
The Elements begins each mathematical problem in the way you sometimes see in legal text; it has definitions, a postulate and an axiom, such as, things equal to the same thing are also equal to one another. This line is a lot of words that means only this, a+b=b+a. But what is a postulate? What is an axiom?
In the jihe yuanben, 几何原本, the Chinese title for the Euclid’s Elements, an axiom is given as gonglun, 公论, translated “common opinion” (don’t laugh). And what is gonglun? Xu says it is something “not to be doubted”, 不能疑 buneng yi. This, like a+b=b+a, is a tautological absurdity. Something not to be doubted may not necessarily be true whereas an axiom is self-evident truth, something the early Christians borrowed from the idolatrous ancient Greeks to justify god’s existence, such as god is self-evident truth, even if that is pure nonsense. But this, too, was simply another way of phrasing dogma: don’t question it (Islamists subsequently borrowed the same argument to put their beliefs beyond question). Axiomatic truth stands independently “true” and nothing comes before it. This kind of half-theological, half-analytic mathematics was only the beginning. Xu later help Ricci and other Jesuits to propagate the Christian but fallacious geocentric view of the universe, that is, the sun goes round the earth.
Not only was Xu taken in, he had the incentive to promote another class of knowledge from outside China since the local exam had got him professionally stuck. But the Jesuit’s modus operandi bore some fruit: Xu was the prized catch, demonstrating not only the influence in the superiority of Western science and mathematics but religion as well. Under Ricci’s nearly daily influence, Xu, after he had finished the translations, helped Ricci to reach the palace in Beijing and did not stop there. He openly spit at local knowledge. A sample of Xu’s diatribe (translated):
Rules in the West different from ours we do not have. Rules in the East that are the same as in the West are all right, those different from those in the West are all wrong. … Therefore though The Ten Mathematical Classics are lost, this is not a pity, for they were nothing but worn-out shoes.
The West is correct, correct, correct; Chinese mathematics is but worn-out shoes.
Today you hear the identical refrain – Western science is correct, local knowledge gets you nowhere – among those fighting to keep the PSMI policy that uses English to teach science and mathematics. The latest among these figures is Bakri Musa and because he is used as a mouthpiece in Lim Kit Siang’s personal blog, it is reason enough to conclude that Lim (individually?) is also for keeping English in science rather than Chinese (or Malay).
Nothing in Bakri or Lim tells us why science and mathematics must be in English. They presume we know but, more to the point, they were like Xu, presuming the superiority of Western culture, science in particular. But this is something never to be admitted openly (it could finish off Lim’s political career). Under this presumption, therefore, all science or maths written in the local languages, Malay or Chinese, is worn-out shoes, that is to say, useless.
Hence Bakri pours scorn on “critics” of PSMI, and they would include the Chinese independent school organization dong jiao zong, 董教总:
These critics have yet to answer the basic question on whether the policy itself is flawed or that the deficiencies are with its implementation. They are unable to answer this important question as they are entirely confused over the issue. Their opposition is based more on emotions rather than rational thinking.
The Bakri passage, Lim’s message by extension, is purely a rephrasing of Xu: “Rules in the East that are the same as in the West are all right, those different from those in the West are all wrong … nothing but worn-out shoes.” Which is also to say, in a backhanded sort of a way, “the Chinese and Malays, being confused, irrational and emotional, are wrong. The English is right, as I am.”
In that passage, near the beginning into his diatribe, Bakri offers no argument for keeping science and maths in English because to start down this road he will arrive at this logical dead end: the inferiority of either the Malay or Chinese languages as a language medium for science.
In another way of saying the same thing, Bakri (and Lim by extension) treat their presumption – English is superior in science – as an axiomatic beginning, the self-evident truth that brooks no challenge. Matteo Ricci in Malaysia four hundred years later need not prove Western superiority, it’s already a given. Consequently, the entire line of argument in Bakri turns the issue on its head; instead of proving the superiority of English in science, PPSMI opponents must show why English is bad for science and not, as it ought to be, Malay or Chinese can also be good for the spread of science.
Yet, this is not all. Bakri harangues his PPSMI opponents by first rendering them as lesser persons, inferior. Hence, there are the mud-slinging accusations: this is a bunch of “muddled” (Bakri’s word) heads who are irrational and emotional. This way of calling his opponents has nearly the theological, Jesuit way of converting Chinese souls: first show the glory of the Western civilization (Bakri used Scandinavia as example), then compare, and after that browbeat your target and call them inferior by other names.
European Christians were unapologetic racists. Unable to stand for any civilisation equal to or better than the White people, Athanasius Kircher (1601?-1680, picture below, right), the German Jesuit who drew the top image of Ricci and Xu, pictures a Chinese man confident in his calligraphy but when it came to reading scientific text, he is likened to a monkey.
Shades of this bigotry survive today in Jesuit schools, as in the Philippines where Filipinos have lots of Christianity from the Spanish and English from Americans. Yet they remain dirt poor, 50, 100 years on, and they still export their prized English competent graduates to do somebody’s dirty laundry.
Christianed as Paul, Xu Guangqi (below, left) died in 1633, aged 71 (no, the local authorities did not snatch his body from the family to be buried in traditional Chinese rites.) Only a society as tolerant as Confucian China could have put up with him, as well as tolerating the Jesuit presence after Xu’s death.
Identical bigoted Chinese versions of Paul Xu, fawning over western culture and superiority, are found today in Malaysia: Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, Thomas Lee, Josh Hong, Hannah Yeoh, Ng Wei Aik….
Today the science and mathematics taught in English Jesuit schools (St John, St Xavier, and so on) are extolled in the virtues of Ricci and Xu (“a model for all Xaverians”, it says here), without regard for the sham the two men helped start. A new corps of Asian Catholics, in the Philippines especially, has replaced the Europeans to spread a fraud. One says the Jesuits “unlocked” China to a wealth of Western knowledge. Not only does the condescension parallels Bakri’s, the force of the illogic is identical: English will unlock the way to a glorious, rich Malaysia. Bakri and Lim continue in the tradition of Xu: the Chinese language (and the Malay as well) are a pair of worn-out shoes.
[To be continued: a full rebuttal of Bakri Musa. And Part I, above, offers two tentative conclusions.
(1) If English is the answer to progress, however defined, Malaysia would be as well off as Singapore is today, but the Philippines and India are not; in fact, with English up to their noses their streets stink.
(2) By turning the use of English in science into a matter of language learning (which is false), Bakri and Lim mislead their readers. Yet, in spite of taking up that position they don’t or they fail to see that native language learning is at the core of culture, not science which at an elementary level can be handled in any language. The Chinese language proved it. But Bakri is saying, in effect, English equals science equals advancement in the same way Jesuits equated Christianity to science to White civilization. See the centre link?]