Friday, March 27, 2009

Chinese flying machine

Morning in the palace garden, the emperor is drinking tea.


Emperor: What a beautiful morning. Wha- Who are you? Where did you come from? What is that, that contraption?

Flier: I am Jin Fei-Ji, Your Majesty. I flew over your wall. This is my glider.

Emperor: Glider?

Flier: A flying machine, Your Majesty.

Emperor: Let me see this machine. Hmm. Very clever. You built it? By yourself?

Flier: By myself, Your Majesty.

Emperor: And does anyone else know about it?

Flier: No one, Your Majesty. I built it secretly, to show you.

Emperor: Very good work, Jin Fei-Ji. Guards! Take this man, that’s it, yes, execute him. And burn the machine.

Flier: But...

Emperor: Yes, it is sad, and you seem a  good man. But if an evil man learns of your design, he may build a hundred of these machines and fly over our Great Wall and invade us.



Ray Bradbury wrote this original story in 1970. A modern parable for the “Needham question”? “Why did Chinese science stop in the fifteenth century?"


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