Part 1: A Lesson in Tortoise Shell Eclipses and Planetary Shields
How a country that was once scientifically behind the rest of the world may be the first to contact alien life
As we all know China is in somewhat of a scientific renaissance. The amount of money that China is spending on scientific research is on track to outpace the US in the near future and it currently passed a five-year budget plan that includes spending 2.5% of its GDP on research. China has already built the world’s fastest supercomputer and has initiated a massive environmental project to stop the Gobi from advancing and desertifying the landscapes of China, but now it sets its sights on deep space. This part of the two-part story will discuss the history of science in China and the work being done in the sector of science that deals with extraterrestrial life.
History of Chinese Science
The Chinese were among the first to really gaze at the stars and try to decipher their purpose, positions, and meanings. Court astronomers pressed impressions of cosmic events into ox bones and tortoise shells some 3,500 years ago. One of these court astronomers was the first to document a solar eclipse. Even emperors used to look up at the stars, as the stars were a key place from where emperors drew their political legitimacy. Space has played such an important role in Chinese life that while other Western countries were discovering the new world, China had already set its sights on space. When the Ming Dynasty’s capital was moved to Beijing, the emperor began constructing a castle-like observatory right near the forbidden city that housed astronomical instruments like a celestial globe. However, shortly before China seemed poised to become a scientific powerhouse, it stopped its advances and the Western world was able to surpass it. It stopped advancing for a few reasons. First, at the time China stopped, it was being heavily influenced by Confucian thought. Confucian thought emphasizes the importance of tradition and since science is the nemesis of tradition, the Chinese were forced to pick a side and they chose tradition. Also, the Chinese at the time had little competition from other countries in the Asian region. Japan was considered China’s little brother and Korea was a mere tribute state. As a result, this lack of regional competition failed to spur the Chinese’s desire to make new scientific advances. Finally, many point to Chinese ethnocentrism and lack of curiosity about foreign lands as the real reason why China stopped its advances. Whatever the reason may be, China’s decision to stop advancing and modernizing was detrimental to China’s place in the world. China’s isolationism led to it lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of technology which led to it becoming the Western world’s “punching bag”. In fact, on one occasion, China’s Ming Dynasty observatory was looted by Western powers and some of its most-prized ancient astronomical instruments were stolen. However, China’s inferior position in geopolitics was quickly reversed when Deng Xiaoping opened China up to the rest of the world in the 1980s. Deng Xiaoping encouraged China to get involved in the sciences. At first China focused on more applied, practical sciences, but now China has opened itself up to the more abstract, fundamental sciences like astronomy. In recent years, China has set its sights on Martian exploration… and beyond, becoming a force to be reckoned with in the scientific world at the same time.
Alien Studies 101
The U.S. was one of the first countries to come up with the funding for a SETI program which stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It used a radio telescope called Arecibo which is based in Puerto Rico to try and detect signals coming from other planets. However, about 25 years ago, the program was defunded by Senator Richard Bryan who stated that the US should not be hunting for Martians with taxpayers’ dollars. So, alien hunting has been relegated to private industries and universities. However, these outcast alien explorers have made serious progress. They have created more advanced telescopes and observatories that are capable of seeing into planets’ atmospheres. They have also figured out ways to detect traces of artificial pollutants on distant planets and can even detect giant structures designed to shield a planet from the force of a supernova. If such structures were ever found, it would be definitive proof of alien life. Also, universities are also carrying on the fight for the discovery of alien life as well. A Russian billionaire named Richard Milner has granted $200 million to UC Berkeley for the sole purpose of finding alien life. The research team at UC Berkeley conducts a multitude of SETI experiments. Their latest idea is stationing a laser beam in a remote part of Chile that will scan the Alpha Centauri star system for life. There’s even an organization that is dedicated to figuring out what to say to aliens if we ever find them. This organization is called METI short for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence and this organization has summoned top minds in the fields of social science, natural science, and the humanities to try and figure out what message we would like to disclose to our celestial counterparts. Liu Cixin, China’s most trendy science fiction writer, has thoughts about what to say to aliens. Liu Cixin’s science fiction novel, The Three-Body Problem, is a widely acclaimed book that has been enjoyed the world over. It has won the prestigious Hugo Award and has even been read by world dignitaries such as Barack Obama who liked the book so much that he asked to read the sequel as well. The movie adaptation to The Three-Body Problem promises to be China’s version of Star Wars. He is clearly authorized to speak on any matter regarding aliens. When asked by The Atlantic as to what he would say to aliens, he said that he would not tell the aliens too many specifics about human history. His reasoning behind this was the dark nature of human history might make us appear threatening to our neighbors in the sky. However, all of these experiments and planning will be for nothing if a country does not get serious about funding alien contact. Thankfully, China is that country.
Sorry to leave you hanging, but when readers are left on a cliffhanger, it always makes the conclusion much more satisfying. If you want to know more about China’s role in alien exploration tune in soon to read part two of China: Alien Hunter.
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