Category Archives: History

Syncretism in the West : Pico’s 900 Theses (1486) : The Evolution of Traditional Religious and Philosophical Systems

Pico’s nine hundred theses provide a unique window not only into Renaissance thought but into the growth and decline of pre-modern traditions as a whole.

Pico published his theses in December 1486 as part of a grand plan to debate “all teachings” and “all sects” at Rome. Pico’s dispute, which was quickly banned by Pope Innocent VIII, was to be held the next year “in the apostolic senate” — before the college of cardinals—with the pope himself envisioned as supreme judge. The enormous scope of Pico’s project reflected over three centuries of Western textual revivals amplified by the early printing revolution; whatever its omissions, Pico’s text covers a wider range of traditions than any other known fifteenth-century work. The nine hundred theses throw light on hundreds of philosophical and theological conflicts tied to the “warring schools” of Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin scholasticism; on Renaissance Neo-Platonism and classicism (or so-called humanism) in general, in both of which Pico played a major part; on natural magic, numerology, astrology. Kabbalah, and related esoteric traditions, in which Pico’s Renaissance influences were large; and on scores of other topics tied to the complex traditions of the period. If any one text provides a handbook of late fifteenth-century thought, it is this one; indeed, Pico promises a discussion “of everything knowable” (de omni re scibili) at more than one point in his work. It was no accident that Pico’s text was the first printed book banned universally by the church.


The Story of the Transfer of Knowledge from Islamic Spain to Europe

How the World’s Ancient and Classical Knowledge Came to the West through Muslim Spain

Our knowledge of science was built up over thousands of years. People of many cultures and civilizations have contributed to what we know today. Modern advancements in science and technology are spectacular, but without the slow, patient accumulation of learning, humanity could not have achieved them. This reading tells the story of an important period of history when the foundation for modern science was laid. You will
read how the knowledge of the Ancient and Classical Civilizations of Greece, Rome, China, India and Persia passed to the Muslims in western Asia, in a time of tolerance and cooperation among religions. Centuries later, in western European Spain, during another time of toleration among religious groups, that heritage of learning was added to and passed along again, and brought this heritage of learning from ancient into modern times.


Part 1: Collective Learning and Preservation of Knowledge

Part of what makes us human is that each generation can build upon the work of those who came before. Humans can pass on knowledge through spoken and written language. This process, called “collective learning,” has gone on throughout human history, locally and globally. As human societies came in contact through trade networks and other forms of exchange, they shared knowledge and technologies across cultural
barriers. As networks of exchange spread, the pace of learning increased. The more we learn, and the more we share what we know, the more the
rate of new learning picks up. This sounds easy: progress in human knowledge is like a hike straight up a mountainside. In fact, it has not
been so easy. Setbacks in recording and preserving knowledge, wars that destroy people and institutions of learning, broken off connections in human exchange networks, and barriers to sharing have been as much a part of history as progress in sharing knowledge.

Person-to-person, oral transmission of knowledge was slow but effective. To help remember what was said, ideas were put into poetry and song. To prove that it worked, orally transmitted ideas have come down to us today in religious texts and epic poems from thousands of years ago. The next major advancement was writing systems. Scribes patiently wrote things down on clay, stone, wood, bone and skin. Alphabets improved. Instead of pictures, they used sound—phonetic—symbols. More people could learn to read and write. With the invention of papyrus, parchment, and then paper, ideas could be stored in smaller spaces. Written words became more portable, and could be carried over land and sea. Books hold more than scrolls, libraries collect books, and today, we collect and hare masses of knowledge in 1’s and 0’s inside computers and on plastic. Powered by electricity and radio waves, digital ideas are so portable that they can shoot around the world and even into outer space and back in seconds or minutes.

People who can’t understand each other’s language can’t communicate much beyond the basics. Language difference has been a key barrier to sharing knowledge. Translators must be found, and they are fairly rare. Merchants,  diplomats, and scholars need foreign language skills. Languages also get lost over time, and have to be de-coded to unlock their message again. Loss of recorded knowledge is probably the largest factor halting the spread of knowledge across time and place. Libraries have burned because of accidents, wars and intentional destruction of ideas. Books written on paper rot and decay. Even today, librarians worry about deterioration of books less than a century old. Modern technology might make recorded knowledge even more fragile. If no one has a record player, vinyl recordings of great music cannot be heard again. Floppy disks have become obsolete within only ten years. CD’s and tapes are fragile, even though they are amazing ways of recording words, sounds and images. When a computer breaks down, data losses can be huge. Today we can record masses of information, but it can be lost forever in the blink of an eye! When we look at the transmission of ideas this way, it is remarkable how much has survived. We have clues about how much has been lost. We also know of times and places in history when conditions favored the preservation of knowledge and its transmission across cultural barriers. Expansion of empires has sometimes resulted in great bursts of learning. Empires bring together people of many languages and cultures under one government—often a very wealthy one. Great leaders have paid for books to be collected from all over the known world, housed in libraries, and translated. Just as a nutritious meal gives the body energy, collection of knowledge and translation stimulates learning and sciences in these empires. This process is part of the development of civilizations. The spread of religions has also led to scholarship, travel, and exchange of ideas. The search for religious wisdom has often led to study of nature and the collection of booksdownload and their translation. Trade and even warfare can spread ideas and result in the desire to gain access to the best ideas that others have. The spread of religions has also provided scholars with the motivation to learn, and brought them into contact with others with knowledge and technology to share. Buddhist monks and pilgrims traveling along the Silk Roads carried knowledge and promoted literacy among their followers. The spread of Christianity into Africa and Europe stimulated reading, writing and study, as many early Christians wrote down their ideas. The Jewish tradition of learning has been carried into the many lands where Jews have settled and traveled for trade. Jews often became fluent in language, and served in the courts of rulers and communities of merchants as scribes and as scholars. The spread of Islam across Africa, Asia and southern Europe greatly encouraged the spread of learning, through the growth of cities, trade networks, and new technologies. Muslim civilization inherited, developed and passed on the learning of all the cultures with which it came in contact. Collection, preservation, and translation of the treasured learning from many sources were the key to these achievements.

Cooperation among people of different languages, cultures, and religions has taken place at numerous times in the past. Scholars of different faiths have from time to time sat down to listen to one another, to work out ways of translating their languages, and patiently transcribed the results. Places where knowledge is collected and society is tolerant—even for a time—have acted as magnets for those in search of learning.

Part 2: The Wisdom of the Ancients and the Classical Tradition

Science developed in ancient cultures as people observed the world around them, studied the night skies, and developed accurate calendars. They studied the human body and discovered medicines to cure illnesses. Counting and measuring developed into the science of mathematics. Chinese, Indian, Babylonian and Egyptian cultures are a few of the many societies that made important discoveries and wrote them down. In the Mediterranean region, many cultures contributed to what historians call “classical” learning. The Greeks, with their wide trade and colonial connections, gained wealth from land and sea. Greek thinkers wrote about mathematics, astronomy and philosophy—the study of wisdom. A Greek academy called theimages 5 School of Athens became a famous center of learning. In Egypt, Ptolemy wrote an important work about geography and the solar system. The Romans absorbed Greek sciences, and excelled in literature, politic
s and history, and engineering. Books from Greek and Roman sources, along with the heritage of ancient wisdom from farther east, formed the foundation for later cultures.


Greek, Roman, Chinese, African, and Indian traditions of learning grew during the classical period— from around 1000 BCE to around 500 CE. During this time, understanding of the natural world of plants, animals and earth grew, as did theoretical knowledge such as mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Alexander the Great built an empire that helped to spread Greek ideas and develop contacts among civilizations. Scientific knowledge led to advances in engineering and architecture, producing remarkable monuments and buildings. Religious and philosophical ideas, literature such as poetry, drama and prose explored problems and expressed ideas of beauty. As the classical civilizations declined, the institutions that preserved their knowledge did, too. A famous library at Alexandria, Egypt, and another at Pergamum survived for many centuries. The fall of the Roman Empire was an important event in Europe, but it signaled a time of decline and loss in culture that lasted for centuries. As Christianity spread in Roman territory, the Empire split into eastern and western parts. The Latin, or western part, suffered invasions and unrest. It was a time when groups of people built castles to protect themselves, defended by knights. What little learning and books there were left from Roman times were kept mostly by monks in monasteries or other Church centers. In the East, the Byzantines remained stronger, and continued trade with other eastern lands and seas. They continued to preserve Greek learning, especially, but the growing power of the Church over learning and ideas caused many scholars to flee toward Persia, in the east. These Christian scholars were especially welcomed at the royal Academy of Jundishapimageserur, where learning from India, Babylonia, the Hebrews, Greece and even distant China came together. With the help of Persian kings, many books were translated, copied and discussed by the people who gathered and taught at Jundishapur. The Byzantines also fell into wars with Persia during the 600s, and eventually both empires lost much or all of their territory to a new ruling group.

The rise of Islam in the sixth century resulted in the formation of a new empire and a world civilization. Rapidly expanding their territory from humble beginnings in Arabia, by the 700s, the Muslims governed lands stretching from Spain to the borders of China.

Islamic teachings place a high value on learning, and historians agree that the early Muslims were very open to accepting both the religions and cultural heritage in the lands newly under their rule. They left the Academy of Jundishapur intact, and later added to its treasures. There is an old story that Muslims destroyed the famous library of Alexandria out of ignorance of its value, but the tale has been proven false. In fact, the library had been destroyed centuries earlier. The Abbasid Muslim rulers ordered translations to be made of the works at Jundishapur and other places. This translation and preservation effort is an important example of religious and cultural cooperation. With the help of Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars working together, these books were translated into Arabic. Indian mathematics, including Hindi numerals—called Arabic numerals today—was also introduced to Muslims during this time. Literature, music and decorative arts were part of this exciting period of cultural exchange. Fantastic fables, fairy tales, and stories also came to Jundi-Shapur from India, and even some knowledge from as far away as China.


Part 3: The Heritage of Learning Passes to Muslim Civilization

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With the spread of Islam came the spread of the Arabic language across Afroeurasian lands from Central Asia to the Atlantic. Just as the Greeks, the Romans, and the Persians had done under their rule, Muslim governments established centers of learning to collect and translate scientific, literary, and philosophical works. Among the most famous effort was the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma in Arabic) the Caliph al-Ma’mun established in 870 CE in Baghdad. Under the leadership of al-Hunayn, a Christian scholar, a great effort to collect and translate available knowledge took place. Works in the library at Jundishapur played a role, and emissaries were sent out to purchase books from wherever they could be found. All of the great traditions were included. Just around the time the House of Wisdom was founded in Baghdad, a new technology gave a boost to the spread of knowledge. In the early 700s, the Chinese invention of paper arrived in the Muslim countries of Southwest Asia. Paper can be made from cotton, linen, other plant fibers, or even from old rags. Suddenly, making books became cheaper and easier. Parchment was a good writing material, but it was made from expensive animal skins. Papyrus was cheap, but not very durable. Now, in the growing cities of Muslim lands, more and more people bought books, wrote books, and collected books than ever before. Instead of having just a few copies of a work in existence, more could be produced, increasing the chances that the work would not be lost to history. Books and paper-making spread westward across Africa to al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. Use of water-power to pound the fiber was another technology that moved with the spread of paper-making. The result: libraries in Muslim lands grew to thousands of volumes, even though books were still copied by hand. The cities in western Muslim lands, including Cordoba, Toledo, Seville and Granada, shared in this exchange of books and scholarship. Muslims, Jews and Christians took part in the growth of learning and culture in eastern and western Muslim lands. Scholars in different places using the same book could correspond with each other, contributing to the growth of knowledge. Trade, travel and migration speeded this process, fueled by growing wealth and eased by the use of Arabic language and Islamic law across a wide territory. It was a very dynamic period for learning. The House of Wisdom was a translation center and library, a museum, and an institute for scholars. Scholars copied, studied and discussed its books and manuscripts from every angle. In the courts and palaces, in the streets, homes and book shops, Baghdad’s scholars also worked with the scientific ideas, and tested them by measuring, experimenting and traveling. In time, they developed a large body of new knowledge, in addition to the wisdom of ancient times. One important concern, which would be shared across religious boundaries, was the question of how these ancient ideas fit in with Islamic teachings. If scriptures, based as they believed on revelation from God, contained all wisdom, was it permitted to look to other sources of knowledge? Numerous scholars wrestled with this issue, and they generally reached agreement that faith, or belief, and reason, or independent investigation, are not just permitted, but encouraged. God created the human being with the capacity to think and to reason, and like other human abilities, it could be used for good and evil. The search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are another way to discover God and glorify Him. This important balance between faith and reason would be explored for centuries, and passed on through the work of Muslim, Jewish, and later Christian, philosophers and scientists. This shared understanding among the Abrahamic faiths put in place one of the cornerstones of modern science, and the scholars of al-Andalus played an important role in its formation and transmission.

The Sufis, Idries Shah (Al-Ghazali of Persia):

While the Normans were consolidating their domains in Britain and Sicily, and the How of Saracenic knowledge to the West was increasing through Arabized Spain and Italy, the empire of Islam was less than five hundred years old. The topheavy priesthood, whose functions were prohibited by the religious law but immensely powerful in fact, was desperately trying to reconcile Greek philosophical method with the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Muhammad). Having accepted scholasticism as the method whereby religion could be interpreted, these dialecticians yet found themselves unable to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs by intellectual means. Society had, through the circulation of knowledge, outgrown formal dialectic. Excellent economic conditions had produced a large intelligentsia which needed more than dogmatic assurances or the assertion that the “State must be right.” Islam was the State. Islam seemed likely to fall apart.

Educational institutions such as schools, universities and libraries spread across the network of Muslim cities. Mosques offered classes in reading Arabic, and the wealthy employed tutors in theirs homes or palaces. In the centuries from the 800s to the 1100s, formal schools and colleges were established in major Muslim cities, and several important universities for teaching and research existed. In al-Andalus, there was a college in Cordoba attached to the Umayyad caliphate, the Seljuk Turks had established the Mustansiriyyah in Baghdad, and Cairo’s famous al-Azhar university had been founded by the Fatimid rulers. Traveling students came to these colleges. Among the students who were young European scholars. They came, learned Arabic, and transmitted important ideas, and even styles of song, poetry, and new foods when they returned home.


During the time when Muslims ruled territory in Spain and Sicily, people in those lands became centers of Muslim learning and culture. Spain and Sicily are Mediterranean lands within Europe, and linked to the East. Both warfare and peaceful contacts brought to Christian Europe information about the advanced way of life, luxury goods, music, fashions and learning available in al-Andalus. Some curious scholars, including Church officials, traveled to al-Andalus to learn first-hand and see the libraries of wondrous books available there in Arabic, on many important and useful subjects. Like a mirror of the translation effort in the House of Wisdom at Jundishapur centuries earlier, groups of scholars—Jews, Christians, adownloadfghjnd Muslims—sat down together to translate these precious books. With the support of some wise Christian rulers, they began to translate into Latin the Arabic books they found there. During the 1100s and 1200s, Latin translations of Arabic books helped to bring about changes in Europe’s schools and growing cities. Books about mathematics, including algebra, geometry and advanced arithmetic, introduced Arabic numerals. It took another 200 years before they replaced Roman numerals in Europeans’ everyday life. Use of Arabic numerals by North African and Italian merchants helped to spread them first among accountants (people who do bookkeeping for merchants). Other books brought knowledge about astronomy—contributions from Greek, Persian, and Arabic sources. Geography and maps, as well as careful measurements of latitude and longitude, helped Europeans to see the world in a new way, and instruments for navigation eventually helped them to cross the Atlantic and discover the Americas. Among navigational instruments were the astrolabe, the quadrant, the compass, and the use of longitude and latitude to create accurate maps and charts (calculating longitude at sea came in later centuries). Medical books, especially works by Ibn Sina, al-Razi and al-Zahrawi, and some classical Greek works, lifted the cloud of superstition over illness. Descriptions of diseases and cures, surgery, and pharmacy—the art of preparing medicines–helped develop a medical profession in Europe. To summarize the importance of the translation work that took place in Spain after the Christian conquest of Toledo in 1085, modern writers Francis and Joseph Gies wrote:

It was the Muslim-Assisted translation of Aristotle followed by Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy and other Greek authorities and their integration into the uhniversity curriculum that created what historians have called “the scientific Renaissance of the12t century.” Certainly the completion of the double, sometimes triple translation (Greek into Arabic, Arabic into Latin, often with an intermediate Castilian Spanish) is one of the most fruitful scholarly enterprises ever undertaken. Two chief sources of translation were Spain and Sicily, regions where Arab, European, and Jewish scholars freely mingled. In Spain the main center was Toledo, where Archbishop Raymond established a college specifically for making Arab knowledge available to Europe. Scholars flocked thither. By 1200 “virtually the entire scientific corpus of Aristotle” was available in Latin, along with works by other Greek and Arab authors on medicine, optics, catoptrics (mirror theory), geometry, astronomy, astrology, zoology, psychology, and mechanics.”

P a r t 4 :  C la s s i c a l  a n d  Is la m i c  L e a r n in g  E n t e r s E u r o p e

The knowledge that entered Europe in the 1100s would not have had an effect if the European education system was not ready to receive it. As it happened, a new desire for learning was developing, especially in the towns. Farming was improving, and trade began to grow, so towns along trade routes expanded. Growing towns needed skilled artisans and merchants, and stronger governments. They needed systems of law and people to keep records. Church learning was not enough. Schools began to educate the sons of wealthy merchants in more worldly subjects. With the entry of newly translated books from Spain and Italy, the quality of learning was gradually updated. Philosophy means “love of wisdom” in Greek. Aristotle, Plato and other famous Greek philosophers wrote and taught about reason, moral teachings and human behavior. The heritage of Greek thinking is an important set of ideas shared among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Philosophers in all three religions have discussed how Greek ideas could be melded with the teachings their scriptures. They wrote about the links between God-given reason and God-given revelation and faith. How can humans balance the urge to question with the necessity to believe? People have spent whole lifetimes thinking, writing and teaching about such questions.

The classical works of Greek and other ancient philosophers and scientists might have been lost to Europeans if they had not been preserved in the Arabic language through the House of Wisdom. Muslims translated them, and also wrote comments and explanations, and added their own ideas. The Spanish Muslim Ibn Rushd commented on Aristotle, as did the Jewish thinker Maimonides—both were born and worked in Muslim Spain. Other Muslim philosophers like al-Kindi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna, the medical writer) and al-Ghazzali, had also written about faith and reason. Their works were translated into Latin, and stimulated Christian scholars to discuss reason and faith. If Islam and Judaism had not contained similar ideas with Christianity, these translations and commentaries would not have held so much meaning for thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, a scholar of the 12th century who wrote a famous work on this subject, called the Summa Theologica. It contains ideas from the Greek and Arab/Muslim thinkers. Europeans and Muslims alike were attracted to Aristotle and Plato’s ideas, but they knew that the Greeks believed in many gods. To those who believe in One God, it raised the question of how Aristotle’s ideas could be true. Classical knowledge and wisdom from other cultures had been transformed by Muslim intellectuals into something compatible with belief in One God. Most important, the work of the philosophers, whether Greek, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, offered solutions that opened the way to scientific thought. They made it acceptable to investigate the natural world, to draw conclusions about it, and to try and discover the laws of nature. The entry of new learning into Europe had a huge effect on higher education. Students and scholars wanted to study these important new works, and they eagerly sought out teachers who had read them. Colleges developed in Europe as centers for teaching and research in medicine, law, mathematics, astronomy, and physics. Universities in Paris, France, Oxford and Cambridge, England, were founded. A college at Bologna specialized in law, and another at Salerno taught the new Arabic medical knowledge. Changes in knowledge opened up new ways of thinking among educated Europeans. Libraries filled with volumes of ancient wisdom, new learning and literature. We now call this period in history the Renaissance, or rebirth. The discovery of classical and Arabic learning had set off the search for other works that had been “lost” after the fall of Rome. Roman writings in law, history and poetry had lain forgotten in monastery libraries. During the Renaissance, European scholars took a new look at these works and brought a fresh perspective on the past. They put aside the rigid, narrow thinking of the Middle Ages and found ways to build a better life for the future using these ideas. The humanists’ discovery of Greek and Latin writings led them to travel, discuss, and debate. The humanists also improved the teaching of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and even Arabic.

Even with changes taking place in the universities, the new knowledge reached only the tiny group of Europeans who attended college. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450 set off an explosion of literature and learning. Joined with the technology of paper-making that entered Europe through Muslim Spain, it became much easier and cheaper to produce books. Books became trade goods sold on the expanding trade routes all over Europe. Wealthy customers—often merchants and aristocrats—bought scientific books to add to their libraries. The scientific books translated from Arabic two centuries earlier in Spain now became available in print. Authors with Latinized Arabic names like Avicenna for Ibn Sina, Geber for Jaber, Averroes for Ibn Rushd, and many others appeared in the new printed books on subjects like medicine, astronomy, agriculture, metallurgy and meteorology. Most of the works that had such an impact on teaching in the early European universities back in the 1200s now had an even greater impact. Some were printed and re-printed during the next three hundred years. The work of these Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars centuries earlier jump-started a new age of discovery in Europe. The Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries has roots in the transfer of knowledge five centuries before, and the developments in scholarship and education that led to the Renaissance.

The Moors: Light of Europe’s Dark Age:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Moors, as early as the Middle Ages and as late as the 17th century, were “commonly supposed to be black or very swarthy, and hence the word is often used for Negro.”

Early in the eighth century, after a grim and extended resistance to the Arab invasions of North Africa, the Moors joined the triumphant surge of Islam. Following this, they crossed over from Morocco over to the Iberian Peninsula where their swift victories and remarkable feats soon became the substance of legends.

The changes that led to the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution – which in turn brought about the Industrial Revolution—were not the accomplishment of just a few people in one part of the world. Knowledge of history proves that modern inventions and scientific understanding were the product of exchanges among many cultures, over a very long period of time. They are the result of humanity’s desire and cooperation to preserve and pass on knowledge from one generation to the next.

China & The Bush family: Middle Kingdom rainmakers


The Bush family: Middle Kingdom rainmakers
By Zach Coleman

HONG KONG – George Herbert Walker Bush arrived in Beijing 30 years ago as the official United States representative to China with one goal above all else: expanding his buddy list.

“My hyper-adrenaline, political instincts tell me that the fun of this job is going to be to try to make more contacts,” he wrote in his first diary entry. “And it is my hope that I will be able to meet the next generation of China’s leaders – whomever they may be. Yet everyone tells me that that is impossible.”

Bush Sr, already a champion networker, wasn’t to be denied. In a final triumph at the end of his stay, Deng Xiaoping, then vice premier, threw a farewell lunch for Bush Sr and his wife.

“You are our old friends,” said Deng, according to a Chinese government website. “You are welcome to come back anytime in the future.”

Bush Sr and his relatives have turned that open invitation into a family franchise over the years, setting themselves up as gatekeepers between lucrative business opportunities created by the opening up of China’s economy and the US corporate and political establishment. If Iraq is the place where the Bush men fight once they leave the oil fields of Texas, China is where they have made money.

China policy has been a hot-button issue in US presidential campaigns for more than half a century. This time around, many politicians are linking US job losses to the country’s exploding trade deficit with China, leaving the family trade in promoting US-China commerce with the potential to embarrass President George W Bush in his 2004 re-election drive.

Bush Sr and his brother Prescott both lowered their profile in the family business last year. Yet the Bushes’ business suddenly hit the headlines again in November, when documents and testimony from the divorce trial of the president’s brother Neil showed that he had signed a contract to receive US$400,000 a year from Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing, a Chinese company co-founded by a son of former president Jiang Zemin, in return for business information and advice. Fair enough, but Neil Bush has no background in technology. His brother’s administration, however, is leaning on Beijing to reduce tax discrimination against imported semiconductors.

There is no evidence that Chinese companies or officials have influenced US policy under Bush Jr by playing up to his relatives. Indeed, last May, Bush Jr penalized China North Industries (Norinco), a company with which Prescott once worked, by halting Norinco’s $150 million annual export trade with the US for two years, after concluding that the company had shipped missile technologies to Iran.

Yet Chinese companies and officials continue to hold Bush family members in special regard.

Last month, the government Xinhua News Agency reported discussions that took place between President Hu Jintao and Bush Sr in Hainan Island province during the Boao Forum for Asia about “issues of common concern”. Hu delivered the barely veiled message that the US needed to be more sensitive to China’s position on Taiwan’s independence in order to get more cooperation on the US priorities of trade and terrorism. Bush Sr replied, according to Xinhua, that Bush Jr “highly valued the important role that China has made in the efforts for peaceful solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula”.

US companies also still see the Bushes as Middle Kingdom rainmakers. In December, Bush Jr invited a business group founded by Prescott to send 50 members to a reception on the White House lawn for visiting Premier Wen Jiabao. And a group of bankers and financiers travelled from the US with Bush Sr last month to an environmental protection conference in Shanghai that featured top officials from the standing committee of the National People’s Congress and other government bodies, according to the Shanghai Star.

It all makes for a lucrative niche. There are no publicly disclosed figures on how much the family has made overall in the last three decades as China brokers. But the deals continue to add up.

Prescott Bush Jr:
Prescott Bush only made his first visit to China after his brother Bush Sr had moved into the White House as vice president in 1981. He quickly became a regular, leaving behind his 33-year career in the insurance brokerage business in preference for Chinese deal making. A 30 percent stake in one early project, an $18 million golf club in Shanghai, gave Prescott the opportunity to strike up a friendship with then-mayor Jiang Zemin (who now heads the communist party’s powerful standing committee of Central Military Commission).

Now 81, Prescott Bush still travels to China two to four times a year, according to the website of Plus Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed company focused on China, which hired Prescott as a special adviser three months after Bush Jr’s inauguration. The website features Prescott’s picture at the top of its home page. “He has many friends in China,” the site says in its biography of the special Bush family adviser.

Prescott Bush Resources, his consulting company, has put together more than 30 joint ventures in China since 1978, according to the website of Global Access, a US consulting company active in China, which retains Prescott as chairman of its advisory board. “Mr [Prescott] Bush has also facilitated meetings and approvals at the highest levels of the Chinese government,” the site adds in its biography.

“I don’t get a lot of business because my nephew is president or my brother was president,” Prescott insisted in an interview with USA Today in 2002, though he admitted, “You can meet a lot of people because of it.”

Prescott capitalized explicitly on the family tie-in by forming the US-China Chamber of Commerce in 1993 after serving on its predecessor, the Hong Kong-US Business Council, during his brother’s presidency.

“My brother, George, has been instrumental in the development of US and China relations since 1974,” he wrote in his letter to prospective members. The chamber pitches itself as a networking hub, which “provides the business communities in both countries with direct access to leading business people and government officials who are important in their business development efforts”.

Members of the chamber’s “Chairman’s Circle” include US agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Wanxiang America, whose parent company markets products made in China to US customers. ADM and Wanxiang are also among the China clients listed on Prescott’s corporate biographies, which also typically mention Norinco, Anheuser-Busch and China National Cereals, Oils & Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp (Cofco).

In an e-mail reply to the Weekend Standard, Prescott said his work with Norinco consisted of trying to help the company secure the assistance of a US automotive manufacturer to set up a truck factory. “It was dropped because of lack of financing,” he said. “My relationship with Norinco was finished long before 2000.”

Norinco has operated under a cloud of suspicion in the US for years because of its links to the Chinese military and a case involving the smuggling of thousands of Norinco AK-47 assault rifles into the US in 1996. The Bush Jr administration last month slapped new sanctions on Norinco for its Iranian activities, which involved shipping missile technologies to Iran.

By contrast, as president, Bush Sr granted a “national interest” waiver to allow a deal to proceed for shipping $300 million of Hughes Aircraft satellite equipment to China in December 1989, overriding sanctions imposed by Congress a month before in response to the Tiananmen Square incident – regarded as a massacre of peaceful demonstrators by most observers. Prescott had visited China just before his brother that February and returned weeks after the Tiananmen violence for talks with officials on several deals, including one for a US company pitching a satellite communications network that would utilize the Hughes equipment.

“We aren’t a bunch of carrion birds coming to pick the carcass,” Prescott told the Wall Street Journal at the time. “But there are big opportunities in China, and America can’t afford to be shut out.”

Then in April 2001, Prescott flew to Beijing hours after news broke of a collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet off Hainan Island. He was an an invited passenger on United Airlines’ first Chicago-Beijing flight, and stayed on in the country well after the other passengers had returned home.

He told USA Today a year later that he didn’t get involved in the settlement that resolved the high-tension spy plan crisis during his stay. Certainly he had business to do.

Since Bush Jr’s election, Prescott’s China clients have closed a flurry of deals, including some with each other. Anheuser-Busch signed a deal in 2002 to ramp up its stake in Tsingtao Brewery and this month announced a HK$1.1 billion ($141 million) investment in Harbin Brewery. With Prescott Bush’s help, ADM opened and expanded a slew of joint-venture factories – including some with fellow client Cofco – to become China’s largest oilseed processor. In January, Wanxiang America took a stake in Sageworks, a US financial software company that appointed Prescott to its board of advisers in 2002, and took up Chinese distribution of its products.

Prescott himself, though, has kept a low public profile of late. He says he resigned the chairmanship of the US-China Chamber in April 2003 because “it was time to let younger people take over”.

Neil Bush
As a member of the younger Bush generation, Neil only entered the China trade 10 years ago, setting up Interlink Management Corp as a matchmaker between US and Asian firms, especially the Charoen Pokphand Group of Thailand, a conglomerate controlled by a Sino-Thai businessman. Through Interlink, Neil helped CP Group form a joint venture with Koll Real Estate for a $300 million mall in Shanghai and a joint venture with Beaulieu of America to sell carpet in China.

George Herbert Walker Bush
Since his presidency, Bush Sr has stayed out of the undignified business of actual deal making. Instead, he has been collecting hefty fees from US companies to be their icebreaker.

It’s easy money. Companies pay Bush Sr $125,000-$150,000, plus first-class expenses for three, and must fly him over by private jet, according to his representative, Brooks International Speakers & Entertainment Bureau. In return, Bush gives a speech at a banquet or conference. His presence alone usually draws dutiful attendance by top Chinese officials, who are then chatted up by sponsors.

Companies that have hired Bush Sr to talk in China have included the CP Group, Arco, the Chubb Group, IMC Global and the Carlyle Group. Carlyle, a US investment firm, appreciated Bush Sr’s 1998 China trip on its behalf so much it made him a senior adviser to its Asia advisory board the next year, a position he resigned from last October.

“If you’re unknown in China and trying to get known, and you’re trying to get a license there, having a former president at a reception might get people to come who might not come otherwise,” a Chubb official told the Los Angeles Times. “We get to rub shoulders with them and get to know them better.”

Chubb got its insurance license a year after Bush Sr’s visit. Similarly, IMC closed a deal to sell fertilizer to a Chinese government agency two months after Bush Sr’s talk at its Beijing conference.

With his son in office, Bush Sr’s recent trips have more often been sponsored by Chinese government organizations. Last month’s Shanghai conference was co-sponsored by the Association for International Understanding of China, the China United Nations Association and the US-China Foundation. The sponsors threw a birthday party for Bush Sr, who will turn 80 next month. The subsequent stop in Hainan Island, where Bush Sr met with President Jintao, came under the banner of the annual Boao Forum.

In 2002, the northern city of Tianjin, together with Business Week magazine, hired Bush Sr to headline a conference in the city. The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, an affiliate of the Foreign Ministry, picked up the tab for trips that year to Shanghai and Beijing and last October to Beijing. The association also co-sponsored a conference at Texas A&M University in November together with the university, its George Bush School of Government and Public Service and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation that featured a who’s who of past and present officials, such as former vice premier Qian Qichen, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger. The Bush Foundation lists the Chinese government as a $50,000- $100,000 contributor in the lobby of the presidential library.

Regardless of who’s picking up the tab, a visit by Bush Sr to China is usually an occasion to call on Jiang Zemin and, since his official retirement, his successors. On his October trip, his hosts hustled Bush Sr to separate sessions with Jiang, President Hu and Premier Wen. Bush Sr also met up with Jiang on Jiang’s visits to Texas in 2002 and 2003.

Although he has not held a government post in 11 years and has been collecting fees for promoting China trade in the meantime, Bush Sr often speaks up on current US-China relations both at and away from his meetings. In 2000, he weighed in strongly in favor of US legislation that set the stage for China’s entry to the World Trade Organization. A year later, with his son in office, he praised China’s support for Bush Jr’s anti-terrorism drive as “a rather courageous stand”. In October, he told Hu that, in the words of Xinhua, “The US side understood China’s concerns over the Taiwan issue.”

Jiang Zemin made clear to a Washington Post editor two months after Bush Jr’s inauguration what he expected from Bush Sr. “The father of President Bush, Bush Sr, came over to China many, many times and had many meetings with me in the seat you are now occupying,” Jiang said. “We believe Bush Sr will definitely push Bush Jr to bring US-China relations to a new level.”

George W Bush
Bush Jr arrived in China for a six-week visit on June 4, 1975, after finishing Harvard Business School and stayed through his 29th birthday. His father commented in his diary that his son was impressed by China’s universal health-care system after getting his tooth fixed for 60 cents – US.

As president, Bush Jr hasn’t asked China for help in fixing the US health-care system, but he has drastically changed his policy toward China since the early months of his presidency. In those days, his administration focused on China as a strategic threat and the president had expressed unqualified support for Taiwan, even referring to it directly as a country. Relations reached a low point with the standoff over the return of the US spy plane and crew involved in the Hainan collision.

Bush Sr has sidestepped questions on how much he’s talked to his son about China during his presidency. Outside the family, Bush Jr counts among his biggest campaign donors two businessmen deeply invested in China, Hank Greenberg of AIG and Sam Fox of the low-profile Harbour Group.

Certainly the Bush Jr administration’s views on China have been affected by the need for Beijing’s acquiescence to US actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, countries that soared ahead of China as priorities after the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes.

“He is able,” Bush Sr recorded in his diary when his son left town in 1975. “If he gets his teeth into something semi-permanent or permanent, he will do just fine.”

Queen Philippa: England’s First Black Queen

England’s First Black Queen, Mother of the Black Prince

Philippa was the daughter of William of Hainault, a lord in part of what is now Belgium. When she was nine the King of England, Edward II, decided that he would marry his son, the future Edward III, to her, and sent one of his bishops, a Bishop Stapeldon, to look at her. He described her thus:

“The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is cleaned shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are blackish brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full and especially the lower lip…all her limbs are well set and unmaimed, and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us.”

Four years later, Prince Edward went to visit his bride-to-be and her family, and fell in love with her. She was betrothed to him and, in 1327, when she was only 14, she arrived in England. The next year, when she was 15, they married and were crowned King and Queen, in 1330, when she was heavily pregnant with her first child and only 17.

This first child was called Edward, like his father, but is better known as the Black Prince. Many say that he was called this because of the colour of his armour, but there are records that show that he was called ‘black’ when he was very small. The French called him ‘Le Noir’.

Philippa was a remarkable woman. She was very wise and was known and loved by the English for her kindliness and restraint. She would travel with her husband on his campaigns and take her children as well. When the King was abroad she ruled in his absence. Queen’s College in Oxford University was founded under her direction by her chaplain, Robert de Eglesfield in 1341 when she was 28. She brought many artists and scholars from Hainault who contributed to English culture.

When she died, Edward never really recovered, and she was much mourned by him and the country. King Edward had a beautiful sculpture made for her tomb which you can see today at Westminster Abbey.

via Moorish History.