Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/526

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522

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

the credit of the Chinese—gunpowder, printing, mariner's compass, paper, etc., but the original crude forms or methods were not improved. Their use among the Chinese apparently had no direct effect in promoting their development among western peoples, and in nearly every case the invention was founded on the specific properties of matter discoverable directly and did not involve any scientific concept of principle established and tested by observation. It would seem too that much of the Chinese servile imitation in mechanics, metallurgy and other arts is due to ignorance of the real nature of the materials they use, and yet it is not for long that such things have been intimately known to ourselves of the west. The Chinese have made little progress in investigating the principles of mechanics, but have, however, practically understood most of the common mechanical advantages involved in various simple appliances. The lever, wheel and axle, cog wheels, wedge and rack and pinion, have long been known, but the screw is not frequent. In many of their contrivances there is an excessive expenditure of human strength; in many the object is merely to give a direction to this strength, not to decrease it, as in their manner of carrying a heavy stone, instead of constructing a simple truck that would transport it with half the expense of human power; yet the use of a truck would require something more in the way of good roads than most parts of China can boast of, and again human labor is almost the cheapest thing in China.

While it is true that the manufactures of silk, of porcelain and of lacquered-ware were original with the Chinese, and that in none of these have foreigners yet "succeeded in fully equalling the native product, and while the French looms are practically the same as those in Canton, except that steam power takes the place of human feet, it is also true that the mechanical arts and implements of the Chinese have a simplicity which suggests that the faculty of invention died with the initiator.

Three accomplishments in Chinese engineering, however, challenge the rest of the world to show similar feats in any remote time. The Great Wall, traversing high mountains and large rivers, built two hundred years before the Christian era, still stands as the most extensive monument of antiquity to attest the high engineering skill and kingly energy of that day. Of like herculean proportions and for a more useful purpose is the Grand Canal which up to the date of its construction was the greatest public commercial work ever undertaken. The Great Sea Wall along the north shore of Hangchow Bay, judged in the light of the tremendous difficulties involved in its construction merits even greater praise for native energy and skill.[1] And yet the very present

  1. See "A Visit to the Hangchow Bore," The Popular Science Monthly, February and March, 1908.