Index > Briefing
Monday, June 01, 2020
Concerning Errors in History
Chan Kung

In most of the time, history is not a subject that can be accurately measured by quantification. The research models in our modern time, like fact tracking on the time axis and data models, are inadequate in the discussion and the study of history from the scientific perspective. The so-called fact is a set of variable functions. Those who study the economy know that time series is a set of random variables sorted by time, including gross domestic product (GDP), consumer price index (CPI), weighted stock price index, interest rate, and exchange rate are all time series. We cannot look at and study the so-called historical facts in the same way. Therefore, it is inevitable that errors occur in history. There is the same error in the mutual understanding for Eastern and Western countries as well.

Historically, the superpowers of the East and the West have seriously misunderstood each other's existence and reality. As two superpowers in the East and the West, what China and Rome wrote about each other are surprisingly similar, where both sides heap praises to the other.

Because of silk trade, the West knew China from a very early time. In Ancient Greek sources, China was known as Seres, i.e. “Land of Silk”. The beauty of Chinese silk enchanted countless Greek heroes, so the Greeks imagined China to be a land of wonder. Hence, in Greek imagination, people from Seres were as tall as 20 feet, having red hair, loud voice, and a lifespan of over 200 years. The Orient, where Seres was located, was considered to be the source and the fountainhead of all wisdoms.

In 27 BC, after the founding of Rome, the Romans inherited the Greeks’ praises for China. The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela described the Seres as a just, honest people, and when they conducted trading activities the sellers placed the goods in the wilderness, then the buyers would come to take their goods after the sellers were gone.

If these praises are due to the fact that the Romans had never been to China, and are the products of mere speculations, after the Romans came to Luoyang in 100 AD and saw China with their own eyes, they still extolled their praises.

In the Book of the Later Han, it is recorded that in the winter of 100 AD, ambassadors to China were sent by the two kingdoms of “Mengqi” and “Doule”, identified by some scholars as Macedonia and Tyre, both under the Roman rule that time. Meanwhile, the geographer Claudius Ptolemy who lived in Alexandria of the Roman province of Egypt, wrote in his Geographia that a Roman traveler by the name of Maës Titianus travelled to the land of Seres. All these show that by 100 AD, some Romans did come to Luoyang in China by treading the Silk Road. Ptolemy then described the Seres as a peaceful people unwilling to engage in warfare, but eager to sell their products, chiefly silks, skins and iron.

While the Romans continued to trade with and travel to China, the descriptions of China in Roman sources were as fabulous as ever. In the 4th century AD, Greco-Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus described Seres as “for ever unacquainted with arms and warfare” and “trouble to none of their neighbors”.

China too, heaped praises to Rome. With the expansion of the Romans to the east of Mediterranean, the Chinese knew about the Eastern Roman Empire and called it Daqin, or the Great Qin, comparing it to the Qin Empire in China. Some Chinese even believed that Daqin was named so because it was founded by Chinese who went westward after the fall of the Qin Empire.

In 97 AD, the Chinese general Ban Chao sent a person by the name of Gan Ying as an envoy to the Roman Empire. As Gan Ying reached the Persian Gulf, the Parthians, not wishing China to have direct contact with the Roman Empire, told him that voyage to cross the sea might take a long time and it was rather dangerous. Therefore, Gan Ying stopped his journey, and China lost its chance to have direct contact with the Roman Empire.

But some Chinese might have made it to territories governed by the Romans. Extensive Records of the Taiping Era, a 10th century AD Chinese collection of stories, tells us that to go to Daqin, one could travel with huge vessel from the Bay of Bengal during the right monsoon season, and the journey would take around month. This is an indication that perhaps some Chinese did make it to the Roman Empire.

In the Book of the Later Han, the king of Daqin is said to be selected from the “most worthy man”. The same Chinese chronicle tells us that “the people of this country are all tall and honest. They resemble the people of the Middle Kingdom (i.e. China) and that is why this kingdom is called Daqin”, and that it produces various kinds of wonderous gems and precious stones. Another China record, the Book of the Jin, paints the Eastern Roman Empire as a sort of paradise, “Daqin is also known as Lijian (a name variously thought to be derived from Alexandria, Hyrcania. Petra, or Seleucia), and is located at the west of the Western Sea. The territory extends for several thousands of li (a unit of distance, 1 li is approximately 350 m). There is a walled town in the kingdom, extending for more than a hundred li. For the houses in the town, the structures on the top of the house pillar are made from corals, the walls from azure stones, and the pillar bases form crystals.”

The History of the Northern Dynasties, yet another Chinese chronicle, recorded that the king of Daqin held councils with ministers of the four directions, and took their advices; if the king committed major mistakes, he would be dismissed and replaced by another deserving person.

From these historiographies, we can see that the Romans praised the Chinese as just and gentile, while the Chinese considered the Romans were ruled by worthy people. Apparently, the two great powers, separated by thousands of miles, enthusiastically glorified each other.

We have systematic records, interpretations, and researches on history, and there is even quantitative history. China itself inherited the most complete textual records of history, for this reason, Chinese people can easily blindly believe in history. However, in this modern age, we still have to respect facts. There are errors in history, and some of these errors are unintentional. Therefore, a healthy dose of skepticism and scientific spirit would be indispensable for any research.

Information analysis is just the opposite of history. It uses strict time series to objectively record and study every fact variable to deduce what will happen in the future. The so-called tracking study of information analysis is actually an effective and continuous study of a set of fact variables on the basis of time series. The prediction and derivation of information analysis is based on such a model, and errors exist only in two aspects: the first is that some fact variables are ignored; the second is that the derivation is not based on continuity of fact variables. Therefore, the reliability of information analysis is far more accurate and credible than some so-called specialized disciplines based on assumptions. Any specialized discipline has a clear theoretical framework. These frameworks are the basic boundaries of the discipline. This creates conditions for the use of theoretical tools, but also establishes a false background for the practical application of professional disciplines.

What we see is not necessarily real, and what is real is not necessarily what we see, and history has always been so.

Final analysis conclusion:

Historical studies have always distinguished between "true history" and "historical truth." The former refers to the objective existence of material production and activities in human society, and the latter refers to people's selective memory and subjective interpretation of historical facts. In reality, a complete and systematic "true history" is not available. People can only subjectively interpret the history in their own perspective based on the information fragments of historical memory. Information analysis provides analytical tools based on time series, fact variables and logical derivations, which helps to reveal some deviations in historical research.


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