March 21, 2010

Kenneth Pommeranz
Department of History
444 Murray Krieger Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-3275
Phone 949.824.5169

Dear Kenneth Pommeranz:

I enjoyed your chapter “Calamities without Collapse” in Questioning Collapse.  I have never seen so much history of China presented so clearly in so short a space and rarely if ever the history of any other region.  Only a fool or a madman would try to follow that and try to say more in less space.  So here goes.

Here is a graph of the survival of Chinese dynasties with the ages of dynasties on the horizontal axis and the chance of surviving the next half century on the vertical.

Information taken from John B. Teeple TIMELINES OF WORD HISTORY, DK Publishing, New York, NY, 2006, page 554, 555 Chinese dynasties.

That’s it.  I’m sure you could do a more authoritative compilation, but the bottom line will not change.  Chinese dynasties survive almost unscathed (save for a crisis at the 200 year mark) and then they all die at about 300 years.  Begging for now the question of why they all die, some conclusions can be reached.  First, China must rarely if ever be overrun by outsiders.  Otherwise dynasties would fail more often during those three centuries.  Second, there is no significant rate of truly bad decisions by the leaders.  Otherwise the foolish dynasties would collapse quickly and on average the more prudent ones would – having been tested for prudence – have a higher average survival expectancy.  The line would go up.  But it never goes up except while recovering from the 200 year crisis age. 

Climate change would parallel outside invasion.  Its likelihood is unrelated to the age of any one dynasty.  The same for any other extrinsic force. 

So what is neither inside the egg nor outside the egg?  The shell, of course.  In case, the dynasty fails because of the very fact that it is a dynasty, that it is a group of powerful people with a broad social horizon.  Primary producers must mate with near neighbors, which means kin; they have no other opportunity.  The elite have plenty of choice, and the exercising of that choice destroys their fertility.  There is evidence on the enclosed 10 minute DVD and more on the enclosed poster, which I shall present this coming week at a genetics convention in Albuquerque. 

If you want more, check out my website, where you will also find other letters I have written to experts. 

Meanwhile you might have a little fun with it.  Take say the group of dynasties that failed between ages 200 and 250.  Get a look for the reasons they failed.  Then look at the ones failing between ages 250 and 300.  I suspect the reasons will tend to be different.  Those failing slightly earlier will have succumbed to outside forces.  Those failing slightly later will have failed because of infertility, either lack of dynastic successors or unfortunate choices made by the elite.  When there are few coming to maturity among the elite there of course will be less talented people coming to power than when there were plenty of candidates. 

If I can clarify further or be of any assistance, do let me know.  Also please let me know what you think. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

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