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地震:中国为什么没能利用早期的成就?  

2008-05-18 15:22:02|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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地震:中国为什么没能利用早期的成就?

作者 SIMON WINCHESTER,《纽约时报》2008年5月15日

    在中国本周的地震中,都江堰那些死于学校废墟中的儿童令人痛心,他们的国家曾经在地震活动知识方面领先世界。

  他们应该被骄傲地告知,大约在2000年前,一位叫张衡的天文学家发明了世界上第一个地震仪。那是一个想象奇特的创造,中央是一个大型青铜器,周围有八条龙,每一条龙嘴里都含着一颗珠子。如果感应到地震,其内部复杂的杠杆系统可以确保龙口的珠子落到下面的青铜蟾蜍口中。通过观察哪条龙的珠子落下,张衡可以确定地震的方位。而地震常来自西部的山区,那是都江堰所在的地方。

  当我们看到四川悲剧,脑子里萦绕着一个苦恼的问题。既然中国人那么早就知道那么多关于地震的知识,他们为什么没能让世界逆转的效应尽量最小化――至少达到美国那样的程度?为什么他们让西方成为这个领域的领袖,让他们自己一次又一次地深陷我们本周目睹的那种悲剧事件?

  这个问题不仅限于地震科学。几乎在所有的技术领域,中国都曾经领先,无与伦比。在和平和战争时期都发挥巨大作用的马镫就是中国人发明的。印刷术、火药、指南针的应用(培根曾说这是三项定义现代世界的发明)据说最初来自中国。还有接种疫苗、厕纸、分节拱桥(segmental arch bridges)、铁链、也许还有国际象棋――这份清单似乎长得看不到头。

  然而,在16世纪,中国的创新能量莫明其妙地萎缩了,现代科学实际上被西方垄断。曾经有过中国的欧几里德(Euclids)和阿基米德(Archimedes),但从来没有中国牛顿和伽利略。一个世纪接一个世纪,这个领域逐步落后;它变得贫困、落后、被反复无常的自然折磨。

  四川灾难中有一个奇特的悖论。都江堰是中国最伟大的古代奇迹之一,闻名全国。在公元前256年,有一位叫李冰的工程师,他关心岷江每年的洪水灾难,完成了一项庞大的引水和灌溉计划。这项工程耗时数十年,但历时2300年,它依然屹立,而且仍然在发挥作用。

  然而,中国人有没有延续他们早期的防洪工作?就和张衡一样,李冰的专家技术没有延续;年复一年,数以千计的中国人死于洪水;本周的地震中大约有400个水坝受损。

  历史学家长期在争论,为什么中国人没能利用早期的成就。有人认为,这是因为缺乏内部竞争。也有人认为这是因为所有中国青年男子长期渴望成为儒家官僚,而不是成为工程师或科学家。

  然而,也有不少人(主要是中国的仰慕者和乐观者)认为,黑暗、不科学的四五百年仅仅是中国历史长河中的一滴水,一个暂时的停顿,如今中国的创新能量又回来了,大学和科研机构兴盛,犹如回到伟大朝代的黄金岁月。

  最好是这样。呼唤现代化的中国往往对民众的福祉展现出惊人轻慢的态度:摩天大楼的建造很少注意安全标准,远远不能抗震;巨大的水坝仓促落成;地铁的建造也是不谨慎的匆忙,例如穿过积水冲积层上海地铁系统;高速公路隧道的钻孔经过地震断裂带。

  如果中国不偶尔停下来喘息,那么它的未来――至少就自然界偶然的地震疯狂时刻而言――将继续以灾难为标志。在本周之前,都江堰还是中国为之骄傲的地方;如今,它的遭难是一座悲剧性的纪念碑:纪念一个背离其非凡光辉历史的文化。

 

原文题目为"历史的震动

Historical Tremors

By Simon Winchester

Published: May 15, 2008

 

IT is a cruel and poignant certainty that the children who died in the wreckage of their school during the earthquake this week in Dujiangyan, China, knew all too well that their country once led the world in the knowledge of the planet’s seismicity.

They would have been taught, and proudly, that almost 2,000 years ago an astronomer named Chang Heng invented the world’s first seismoscope. It was a bizarrely imagined creation, with its centerpiece a large bronze vessel surrounded by eight dragons, each holding a sphere in its mouth.

A complex system of internal levers ensured that if an earthquake ever disturbed the vessel, a ball would drop from a dragon’s care into the mouth of a bronze frog positioned underneath. By observing which dragon had dropped its ball, Chang Heng could ascertain the location of the quake. And always, as the emperor for whom Chang Heng fashioned the device noted, the earthquakes came from the mountains in the west, where Dujiangyan lies.

As we watch with mounting melancholy the devastation from Sichuan, a question lingers, and troublingly. Why, if the Chinese had come to know so much about earthquakes so early on in their immensely long history, were they never able to minimize the effects of the world’s contortions — to at least the degree that America has? Why did they leave the West to become leaders in the field, and leave themselves to become mired, time and again, in the kind of tragic events that we are witnessing this week?

The question applies to very much more than the science of earthquakes. In almost every area of technology the Chinese were once supreme, without competition. The stirrup, so hugely important in peace and war, was invented by the Chinese. Printing, gunpowder, the use of the compass — the three inventions that Francis Bacon once said defined the modern world — are all thought to have been first made in China. So too, many think, were vaccination, toilet paper, segmental arch bridges, iron chains and perhaps chess — the list seems endless.

And yet, in the 16th century China’s innovative energies inexplicably withered away, and modern science became the virtual monopoly of the West. There had been any number of Chinese Euclids and Archimedes but there was never to be a Chinese Newton or Galileo. The realm fell steadily behind, century by century; it became impoverished, backward and prey to the caprices of nature.

There is a peculiar paradox in the Sichuan disaster. Dujiangyan is known across the nation as the site of one of China’s greatest ancient wonders. In 256 B.C. an engineer named Li Bing, concerned about the catastrophic annual flooding of the Min River, completed a huge water diversion and irrigation scheme. It involved cutting a long trench through a granite mountainside — achieved by the patient process of burning grass bonfires on top of the rocks and pouring cold water until the granite cracked. It took decades, but Li Bing’s 2,300-year-old project still stands less than a mile from the town’s ruined school, and it still works.

And yet, did the Chinese continue with their early expertise in flood prevention? Just as with Chang Heng’s seismic mastery, Li Bing’s expertise counted for nothing; year upon year, thousands of Chinese die in immense inundations in the great rivers that course across the country; some 400 dams sustained damage in this week’s quake.

Historians have long debated why the Chinese so signally failed to exploit their early promise. Lack of internal competition, some suggest. Others blame the long-held central ambition of every young Chinese man to become a Confucian mandarin, a bureaucrat, rather than an engineer or scientist.

Not a few others, however — admirers of China and optimists in the main — say that in the long sweep of Chinese history, a mere 400 or 500 dark, non-scientific years are a mere blip, a hiccup, and that China’s innovative energies are now roaring back, with the universities and scientific institutions brimming as they did back in the golden ages of the great dynasties.

That had better be the case. China, in its headlong attempts to modernize, has often demonstrated a dismayingly cavalier attitude toward the well-being of its people: skyscrapers are built with little attention to safety standards and are invariably far from earthquake-resistant; huge dams — not least the monstrosity that has so ruined the Three Gorges of the Yangtze — are erected in a slapdash fashion; subways, like the system burrowing through the waterlogged alluvium beneath Shanghai, are built with incautious haste; freeway tunnels are bored through earthquake fault zones.

If the country does not occasionally stand back and pause for breath, then its future — at least so far as nature’s occasional moments of seismic madness are concerned — will continue to be marked by calamity. Until this week Dujiangyan was a place of which China could be proud; today its wreckage stands as a tragic monument to a culture that turned its back on its remarkable and glittering history.

Simon Winchester is the author of “The Man Who Loved China.”


再小的力量也是一种支持

 

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