Jared’s Diamond’s “Guns, Germ and Steel” is an historical narrative that focuses on alternate explanations to the rise and fall of civilizations and the development of cultures and societies by tracing evolutions and nuances in world and human history dating as far back as 13,000 years ago to the present. It is an historical treatise that moves away from a largely Eurocentric model of the world towards a more objective analysis of the various environmental, biological, political and economic phenomena surrounding a continent’s growth.
The book attempts to unravel the varying fundamental and decisive causations to explain and answer why continents developed differently from each other. For instance, Chapter 16 of the book lays down the conundrum how China became Chinese today—what with its monolithic ethnicity and almost unified language and uniform racial identities, as opposed to its European and North American counterparts: Both of which are characterized by diverse cultures, language and races. Accordingly, China is the way it is now because of several penultimate causations.
Foremost of these reasons is that they gained a decided head-start advantage in terms of food production and animal domestication because of its strategic geographic location. There is the Yellow River in the north and the Yangtze River in the south which conveniently cut across the whole span of the continent thereby making trade and production much easier (331). Because of the advances in food production and animal domestication techniques compared to its backwards hunting-gathering neighbours at that time, ethnic north and south Chinese were able to dominate the entire socio-cultural landscape.
As early as 7,500 BC, Jared Diamond notes that based on the archaeological pieces of evidence found scattered in the East Asian regions, it would be fair to conclude that “China was one of the world’s first centres of plant and animal domestication” (229). These valuable crops and animals contributed to the growth of Chinese civilizations especially in terms of population, language and political and social structures because they jumpstart the economy of a given locality.
Diamond continues that “as elsewhere in the world, in China food production gradually led to other hallmarks of civilization” (330). The Chinese began to invent and discover the process of bronze metallurgy and its uses as substitute domestic tools and probably even in warfare. Furthermore, apart from the optimization of the post-Neolithic metal tools technology, the millennia that followed “saw the outpouring of Chinese technological inventions that included paper, the compass, the wheelbarrow and gunpowder” (ibid. ).
These are manifest indications or signs that the Chinese society has undergone a gradual yet upending process of unification or otherwise known as the great Sinification over the years that it had started to develop and took advantage of their valuable food and animal resources. The most interesting part of Diamond’s analysis however has something to do with the correlation he makes with food production and its residual yet significant consequences as with the spread of infectious diseases (ibid. ).
Since pigs, according to Diamond, were domesticated so early and became so important in the region, Influenza must have likely have risen in China (ibid. ). Nevertheless, suffice it to say that China is the solid and monolithic China of today because of the advantages in its geographic locations and the kind of culture that was nourished through time because of trade, domination, ethnic assimilation and language unification as also added consequences of early developments in food production and animal domestication.
In other words, because China enjoyed critical benefits during the formation of its civilization at such an early stage, it was able to mass up early and thereafter steam-rolled its neighbours in the Southeast and East Asian regions. Leaving in its wake are fragmented but major influences in other countries of today, such as Japan, Korea and/or Southeast Asian countries, by way of language, race and literature.
Indeed, as Jared Diamond concludes the chapter, he writes that the “persistence of Chinese writing in Japan and Korea is a vivid 20th century legacy of plant and animal domestication in China nearly 10,000 years ago” (333) and owing largely to the leaps and bounds advances in farming in the eastern regions of Asia, China became the Chinese of today and traces of its powerful and overwhelming culture can be gleaned from Thailand and other proximate Asian countries—their cousins (ibid. ). Of course, China is not China today solely because of its early advantage in food production and animal domestication as Jared Diamond argues.
There are other important factors which taken together with China’s historical development can make for another alternate hypothesis to explain its present day unified state. It would be a little too much of a stretch of the imagination to correlate present times with the circumstances then present several millennia ago. Although Diamond’s premises are elegant and sound, the simplistic and abbreviated accounting of Chinese history leaves more historical questions than it answers. Denis Sinor argues that China did indeed gain a strong foothold in development early on because of its geography (49).
But geography is not all that there is available that arguably led to Chinese domination in the region (51). For instance, the occasional barbaric attacks from the Mongol hordes from the north stimulated the solidification of the small communities in China to a powerful unit under one dynastic rule to parry away the constant threat of invasion. Assuredly, food production and animal domestication have little to do with the menace of warfare except for the fact that surpluses in resources can be a motivating factor for the invaders.
Still, because of these threats in the Chinese regions, the warring civil clans in China unified to face a common enemy (Sinor 65). In so doing, the Chinese developed a stronger and distinct identity from their neighbours. For lack of a better term, the Sinification was an offshoot of the fact that China has nurtured a crude sense of nationalism as reflected in their literary works, language and cultural masterpieces—including the building of the Great Wall of China simply because unification was a necessity for warfare.
Without a doubt, the lasting legacy of the Great Wall bespeaks that need to solidify China at a time when wars from its neighbours were imminent. It is also important to consider the varying political ideologies in ancient and modern China. Its important leaders and other iconic historical figures adopted a monistic approach to its rule. Laws were codified according to the changing needs of the time. This means that the Chinese had a justice system that is inspired the ruling dynasty replete with its own brand of religious, philosophical and social ideas which required everyone to obey with all zest (Sinor 72).
Nevertheless, going back to Diamond’s premises, there is no question that food and animal production acted as an impetus for development. Yet to heavily rely on such a primordial causation is to eschew other aspects of Chinese civilization such as its political and social history. True enough certain advantages in geography open doors for a nascent civilization but then again, once that door is opened, there are multitudes of other doors that the choice of one excludes other historical possibilities for a civilization.
It just so happens that the Chinese example is a result of a singular development from the start of its development up to the present time. Works Cited Diamond, Jared. “How China Became Chinese: The History of East Asia”. In Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Ed. Jared Diamond, pp. 322-333. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. , 1999. Sinor, Denis. Inner Asia, History, Civilization, Languages. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.