How observing rats can lead to foundation of an empire: Li Si

The foundation of China as a unified people and culture is largely credited to Qin and adviser Li Si. It is quite unusual how he decided to become a politician in Ancient China after contemplating on a minor event.

Li Si

China used to be a collection of small kingdoms fighting with each other in a struggle of power. The state of Qin (Chin, the namesake of the English word) emerged victorious and became a single empire, there on, we have a series of breaking apart and merging again.
Most of the credit to the kingdom of Qin goes to Li Si, a Chinese politician from the nearby state of Chu. He used to be a student in Chu and he studied philosophy and other things scholars of that time were expected to know.
One day, he went to the outhouse and observed rats, and later that very day, he happened to visit a barn and observed some barnhouse rats too.
He saw that the rats of the outhouse were dirty and hungry, but those in the barn were well fed.
He realised that people are analogous to those rats. There is no set standard for honour since everybody’s life differs.
The values people have are determined their status and position, and just like rats, their status depends entirely on the random events which occur around them.
So, instead of limiting oneself to set pattern of moral codes, one should do what one finds the most appropriate at the moment.
He then decided become a politician and roamed around the royal courts of those warring states. He found Qin to be the perfect place and convinced the young king about his theories. Using them, he also secured his position in court and devised plans for unification of China under Qin.

I find this story very practical and fascinating in a world obsessed with political opinions. The view of the world Li Si had has been quite universal in its approach and immensely practical too.

An explanation for having and not having leap years.

Hello netizens! happy new year and other relevant greetings. Here is a simple explanation for having leap years. Basically, my take on something which has been talked about and explained many times already.

So, as you all know, The Earth revolves around the sun and rotates along its own axis (unless you are a flat-earther or did not go to school) and one full revolution makes one year.

Here is the explanation

1 year = 365.242375 days
(1 year is around 365.242375 days)

~= 365.25 days

therefore 1 day is added every 4 years (because 4 * 0.25 = 1)

in 100 years, 25 days are added, so, one day is skipped every 100th year.
The 400th year has the extra day

Didn’t get it? Go on, keep reading.

1 year is approximately 365.242375 days.
For convenience, we consider it to be 365.25 days. This 0.25 part is skipped for 3 years and an extra day is added to the fourth year to compensate the said skipping of days.
Following this, in 100 years, 25 days are added. 100 years are of 36524.2375 days. By rounding it off, they are 36525 days. In this manner, we are getting an extra day every 100th year. So, that extra day is skipped the 100th year to have only 36524 days.
In 4 sets of 100 years, or 400 years, an extra day is needed to compensate for the four sets of the 0.2375 day(s) left every 100 years.

Hence, Every 4th year is a leap year.
Every 100th year is NOT a leap year.
Every 400th year IS a leap year.

All this extra effort is due to the Gregorian calendar and limitations of human time-keeping ability.

Story of Sequoyah : the man who made a writing system independently

Sequoyah or George Gist, was a Cherokee who used to work with silver. He was born in 1770, at a time when the indigenous peoples of the America and Europe had frequent, often unpleasant, contact.
A Lithograph of Sequoyah

He is famous for creating the Cherokee syllabary. Despite having no previous exposure to any writing system and being illiterate. This is particularly worth taking a note of since very few individuals in recorded history have been able to do so. He completed making his writing system in 1821 and the Cherokee Nation officially adopted it in 1825.

Despite the fact that they initially suspected it to be sorcery, they soon surpassed their neighbouring European-American settlers in literacy.

Before Sequoyah’s endeavour, Cherokee was solely a spoken language, which was not written down.
His initial experiments were with logograms, but he soon gave up on that idea. Partly because it felt impractical to do so, and partly because his wife suspected him to be doing witchcraft and burned his initial work. He spent a whole year experimenting with logograms, leaving his fields without seed.
He then analysed a spelling book (or a dictionary) and copied some glyphs he found interesting and modified some of them to make his own. So, something looking like “CWy” spells “Tsalagi” (Cherokee). While they may resemble the Latin, Greek or Cyrillic alphabets, there is no relationship between their appearance (in other languages) and their sounds (in Cherokee).

Due to the belief that “talking leaves”, or written documents, were sorcery, adults were unwilling to learn his new syllabary. He first taught it to his 6-year-old daughter, Ayokeh.
He then travelled to another Indian Reserve in the west to attempt to convince the elders about the usefulness of his system. With the help of his daughter, he demonstrated the system (and the power of the written word) to the elders and gained the permission to teach the system to a few more people.
Upon completion of his lesson, he had them write dictated letters and read dictated responses to convince the rest of the people that he really did make a writing system. Thus dispelling the doubts that he was doing some manner of witchcraft on them.

He used his success with the western Cherokee to convince the eastern Cherokee to learn the script as well, by the means of a written speech from one of the western Cherokee leaders.

He had further plans to create a universal writing system for the indigenous people of the Northern American Subcontinent but he could not achieve his objective as he died in 1843.

Sword vs Spear: The Debate

Spear is a tool of survival, a weapon of war.
It is one of the oldest weapons and tools in use by human kind. Even other apes like chimpanzees and orangutans have been observed making and using spears for purposes of killing insects or fetching things. Being one of the oldest and most basic weapons, it is a quite effective melee weapon too.

The Sword is a symbol of courage and hounour … and of destruction and bloodshed.
It is not as old as the spear but its use was quite widespread across various cultures too. Most cultures have had an elite warrior class and a sword based martial art when they were at a certain era of cultural achievement.

It has been a long argument, which is superior? The spear or the sword?
This argument might be as long as the history of swords as well.

Let us consider how they might have come into existence…

Humans have an urge to live and survive. Along with this urge, they have another urge to save other people, resources or animals important to them. This urge bothered Hunter-gatherers too. The need to cut things like plants, pelts, flesh etc lead to knives. Knives are a great tool but they are not too much effective in keeping threats away. The very idea that might have lead to spears can be traced from the desire to keep threats or opponents at a distance, by attaching this knife to a longer stick. Easy to stab things at a distance.

Earlier they had to walk upto the target to stab them, with spears, they could do it at a talking distance.
The spear has accompanied mankind all the way to creation and maintainance of civilisation.

The sword, however could only have been possible much later when the particular civilisation in discussion had the technology to work with metal.
Metal, however, was expensive as it had costs of harvesting, extracting, refining, smelting, and forging.

A sword needs more metal than a spear. Naturally, it is much more economic to arm an army with spears than with swords.

The earliest swords had just been larger knives

What was the need of swords when we had spears?
Because, some swords could cut off some spears, or perhaps because swords are easy to wear and carry around than spears, they are smaller and lighter. Easy to get through a door etc.

Swords are fundamentally different from spears as they can do slashing attacks, they can do what spears cannot, chop off limbs or spears.

Yet, the spear has a longer reach and can be easily targetted to hit vital points. An argument against it is that the spear betrays its wielder when it is the most needed: when the opponent has come past the range where the spear can be employed. However, it is a good weapon to keep people at a distance, or end their efforts before they close the distance.

The popular response to this question is “it depends”. Indeed, it does depend on various circumstances and the context, however. There are more scenarios in recorded history where the spear has triumphed.

Spears have a mechanical advantage over swords. A swordsman has to get really lucky to be able to do damage to the weapon such that it is rendered ineffective. Furthermore, in a comparitively easier scenario, a swordsman has to get lucky not once, but twice to be able to render the spear ineffective, to close the distance AND deliver the killing bow. A spearman has an advantage in this aspect as they only have to do the latter, their weapon can do the former quite easily.

Thoughts on the Etymology of ‘Ninja’

Ninjas used to be professional spies and assassins in feudal Japan.
Their martial, philosophical and scientific knowledge or practices are called Ninjutsu.

Ninjutsu is widely understood as a martial art, but it was much more than a martial art, the study of Ninjutsu involved study and practice of various arts and sciences.
Ninja is the Sino-Japanese (‘Onyomi’) reading of these characters 忍者.
Using Kunyomi, they would be read as ‘Shinobi‘.

The Kanji for ninja looks like this 者
忍 + 者

忍 is formed of two radicals.
刃 (“knife”) + 心 (“heart”)

A heart (心) placed under a knife (刃).

In Chinese, it means to endure, to bear, to suffer or to forbear.
Ancient Chinese scholars who made the character must have thought of the feeling of suffering or enduring something.
The feeling like your heart is under a knife or stabbed by a knife.

In Japanese, it means patience, endurance or stamina.
Maybe the Japanese scholars who learned and adapted the Chinese characters for their own system thought of the feeling when one tries to be patient or struggles for something.

Keep in mind though, Chinese characters are not like words in Indo-European languages, they can have felxible meanings!

The second character 者 means something like “person” or “thing” (not exactly).
A closer translation would be “somebody who” or “that which”

So, A Ninja is not just a professional spy or martial artist.

A ninja , 忍者, is somebody who is patient.
Somebody who chooses to suffer for a greater purpose.
Somebody with a great stamina.

A Ninja is a person who Endures.
The one who places their heart under a blade, with patience.