America’s Largest Mass Lynching

On this day in 1871, the largest mass lynching in U.S. history took place when around 500 white rioters entered Los Angeles’ Chinatown to attack, rob, and murder its residents. Almost every Chinese inhabitant was affected, and 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants (including children) were tortured and then hanged.

While the proximate cause was the accidental killing of a white man caught in the crossfire of two feuding Chinese gangs, racial discrimination against Chinese people was long-standing and visceral, and pogroms of this sort were not unusual. As the LA Weekly observed in its detailed (and grim) article on the massacre: Continue reading

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

If you want to grasp just how complicated the Chinese language is, listen to a rendition of the poem, “The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den” by Chinese-American linguist Yuen Ren Chao (1892–1982).

Written in Classical Chinese script, the language of Chinese literature until the 20th century, every one of its syllables has the sound shi — in different tones — when read in modern Mandarin Chinese.

To recap, this is how the poem goes:

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Classical Chinese is a written language that is very different from spoken Chinese. Different words that have the same sound when spoken aloud will have different written forms (not unlike deer and dear in English). When read in Cantonese, Min Nan, and other Chinese dialects, there are several distinct syllables as opposed to just one.

Needless to say, this makes Mandarin Chinese one of the most difficult languages to master, as a slight change in tone can convey a very different meaning. 

A List of Chinese Inventions

It’s a shame that so few people in the West realize the innumerable contributions that Chinese civilization has made to humanity. It’s astounding how far ahead the Chinese were in just about every area of knowledge. Note that each of these were independently developed by the Chinese, even if some were also used or invented elsewhere.

  • Battens in sails and cloth
  • Blast furnace
  • Cast iron
  • Tofu, Ramen sushi
  • Qipao, Hanfu (clothing)
  • Chopsticks
  • Crank (drugs)
  • Repeating crossbow
  • Escapement mechanism for clocks
  • Exploding cannonball
  • Fire Arrow
  • Gunpowder
  • Firearm
  • Horse collar
  • Hull compartments/bulkheads
  • Indian ink
  • Kite
  • Land mines
  • Lottery
  • Menus for Song-era restaurants
  • Naval mines
  • Noodles
  • Paper
  • Pendulum (Zhang Heng)
  • Printing (woodblock printing and movable type)
  • Rockets: Fire Arrow, Multistage rocket
  • Rudder
  • Sailing carriage
  • Seismometer (of Zhang Heng)
  • Silk
  • South Pointing Chariot (differential gear, of Ma Jun)
  • Sluice gates
  • Toilet paper
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Trebuchet (traction)
  • Trip hammer
  • Winnowing machine
  • Abacus (first appearance: Mesopotamia, 2400 BC. First certain appearance in China: 12th century AD)
  • Armillary sphere (invented by the Greek Eratosthenes), with the world’s first water-powered armillary sphere by Zhang Heng.
  • Various automata / primitive machines (refer to article on King Mu of Zhou, Mozi, Lu Ban, etc.)
  • Bellows
  • Belt drive
  • Bituminous coke for the iron and steel industry
  • Compass
  • Camera obscura
  • Cardan Suspension
  • The cannon
  • Chain drive
  • Chain pumps
  • Chinese calendar
  • Crossbow
  • Drydock
  • The Flamethrower
  • Flash lock
  • Early explosive grenades
  • Odometer
  • Paddle wheel, for boats
  • Paper money
  • Parachutes
  • Pontoon bridge
  • Porcelain
  • Postal system
  • Pound lock
  • Saw
  • Scissors
  • Steel
  • Suspension bridge
  • Star catalogue
  • Tea
  • Umbrella
  • Vaccination
  • Water clock
  • Waterwheel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Windmill

Find even more contributions here.