February 5, 2012
to be posted on nobabies.net

Peng Gong
Center for Earth System Science
Tsinghua University
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management
University of California
Berkeley, California

Dear Peng Gong:
I have read with interest your article (Pen Gong Cultural History Holds Back Chinese Research, NATURE vol. 481 no. 7382 January 26, 2012 page 411) explaining China’s “poor performance” in research.  I’m sure there are those who say that being number two and coming on strong out of a field of hundreds of countries is not very poor performance.  Indeed by most measures – economic, artistic, philosophic, political – China has done better than the now ascendant Western powers, usually much better, for most of the past two thousand years.  Of course you are free to set your own standards of success.

You lament the influence of two ancient thinkers.  One is Confucius, who said intellectuals should become loyal administrators.  Back, oh, in the fifties, there were books like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Lonely Crowd and The Organization Man that were concerned with what makes administrators tick.  Those were a day of spectacular growth for the United States, so I think that is a point for Confucius.

Your other ancient authority, Zhuang Zhou is I think less familiar to most Americans, so I must take your word on what he had to say.  1) A harmonious society must isolate families.  2) A harmonious society must shun the greed brought on by technology.

As for point #2, wow!  Here we are demolishing our planet in the name of ever greater economic prowess, using ever more arcane technology, and the warning has been on the shelf for thousands of years.  I have accordingly ordered a translation of “The Inner Chapters” and will study that part of his writing with care.

As for point #1, you know something?  He’s right.  He’s absolutely right.  At least I think so.  Here’s how it works.  If you want to have a lot of babies, marry kin.  (An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816.  There is more evidence at nobabies.net.  Also you might wish to check out the blog by the renowned anthropologist Robin Fox http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-tribal-imagination/201107/kissing-cousins-mediogamy)  So consider what happens when families, extended families of course – kindreds numbering in the dozens to low hundreds) are NOT isolated.  Some like outsiders and marry outsiders and have few or no babies.  Some detest outsiders, marry kin and have many babies.  In time what happens?  Everybody hates outsiders.  There is no harmony. 
Of course at this moment in history, developed countries including China do not have enough babies for long term survival.  That is called the bad way of making peace. 
You go on to say that between them these teachers have produced a nation of independent thinkers.  Well that’s the best possible thing for science, I mean real science.  It is not the way to get grants reliably. 
So I expect great things to continue to come from China.  You need to fix that birth rate thing of course.  It’s just a matter of who marries whom.  I think if people know how it works they will make the right choices.  They just need to be aware of the references I mentioned.
Thank you for your fascinating and very helpful article.
M. Linton Herbert MD 

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