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When we read about the history of Scientific Revolution during the Enlightenment, we come to know that the roots of Scientific Revolution first started in Europe during the Renaissance. But can you enlighten me why did this happen in Europe instead of Asia? Did other countries not face the same problems or they were suppressed by some strong laws?

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marked as duplicate by Tyler Durden, Mark C. Wallace, jwenting, Pieter Geerkens, Kobunite Jun 16 '14 at 7:06

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@RazieMah, thank you but it seems somewhat different. –  lavkush Jun 14 '14 at 12:42
@RazieMah, You are probably right. I was thinking about Asia, and nearby continents scenario. –  lavkush Jun 14 '14 at 12:46
Are you asking about the Renaissance (15th century) or the Enlightenment (18th century)? They are two different things. The scientific revolution is the Enlightenment. –  Tyler Durden Jun 14 '14 at 14:36

2 Answers 2

The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution are not the same; they are distinct, separate events.

The Renaissance is an European cultural movement during the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era, when Europe experienced a prolonged revival of interest in Classical Antiquity. It is a bit strange to ask why it took place in Europe first. the Renaissance was Europe's intellectual revitalisation, after a long era of stagnation. Similar events have happened throughout human history in many different civilisations - Western Europe's renaissance in the 12th century, for example.

Additionally, at the time of the Renaissance, the Islamic world contained some of the most advanced polities, both culturally and scientifically. The Byzantines, holding on to their roots as the Eastern Roman Empire, by and large kept its interest in the classics. It is difficult to experience a revival of interest in something you hadn't lost interest in, basically.

In any case, the Renaissance first happened in North Italy due to a combination of several factors:

  1. Byzantine refugees who brought to Italy classical works and ideas forgotten in the west.
  2. Italy's mercantile city states, which were intellectual crossroads due to trade
  3. Their comparative freedom in these "Republics", were more fertile grounds for thinkers
  4. Wealthy Patrons of the Arts from the above, who enabled and nourished the development
  5. And being surrounded by Roman ruins might have prompted some interest in Ancient Rome

The Scientific Revolution came on the heels of the Renaissance. It is the development of modern scientific methods, from sometime around the mid-16th century. Why it happened is a complex question with many theories, and the truth is probably in a mix of them. Some of the more notable reasons for why it happened in Western Europe:

  1. Luck: self-explanatory. European sciences benefited strongly from Medieval Islamic academics; the Scientific Revolution took place at a time when it became the Islam world's turn to experience stagnation. The other great centre of civilisation, China, was busy being conquered and dealing with the disastrous end of the Little Ice Age.
  2. Less holding back by dogma: Europe experienced a weakening of theological dogma's hold over society following the Renaissance, and further weakening of theological authority following the Protestant Reformation
  3. Trade and Commerce: Commercial activity not only provides an economic surplus for academic pursuits, trade routes bring together diverse people and ideas, exposing people to new ways of thinking and exchanging knowledge
  4. Competition: Western Europe had a fragmented political landscape, which promotes competition, which in turn means no polity could pursue a philosophy of intentional stagnation (c.f. Tokugawa Japan)
  5. Freedom: Europe had a comparative political freedoms and stronger limitations on government authority, which promotes academic developments and is less inclined to devastating society into focusing on basic needs (e.g. the first Ming Emperor of China was said to have bankrupted every middle-class family in the empire during one of his purges)

Because you mentioned Asia, I'll attempt to discuss the situation with China in more detail. Chinese society had a strong reverence for its forbears. If one reads the diaries of contemporary educated elites, it is all too common to see praise for those who are able to cite truly ancient texts. A sentiment fostered by successive governments since first Chinese unification in 221 B.C., and went hand in hand with its adoption of Confucianism as an official school of though.

Chinese governments thus fostered a belief in obedience and loyalty to the emperor, and emphasised the importance of order (i.e., knowing one's place). This also allowed a strong emperor, by force of will, to become an absolutist ruler. Political purges in Chinese courts were commonplace, and often destroyed whole families. The tactic of jailing people over speech is not one conductive to progress.

A strong factor in perpetuating this is the Imperial Examinations system enacted in the Tang dynasty. This system was installed for the purpose of recruiting bureaucrats (of which the empire needed many). Because serving in the government was the definition of success, the Chinese education system became geared towards producing scholars who can excel in that regard. As students everywhere probably knows, learning isn't quite the same as studying for an exam.

Unfortunately, the Imperial Examination system was clearly geared towards tradition-minded answers. While it changed throughout time, but since very early in its history, the exams had settled upon testing students based on their understanding of the Four Books and Five Classics. Later on the stifling of intellectual thought progressed more when examinee became required to write in a highly rigid, fixed style known as the Eight-Legged Essay. It was not an education system best geared towards thinking outside of the box.

I will emphasis at this point that these factors did not doom China to technological backwardness. It probably slowed it or hindered it, but it could not altogether prevent it.

Despite the Confucian dogma against merchants, commercial activity blossomed in the Southern Song Empire (A.D. 1127-1279). As was the case in Europe, commercial activity came hand in hand with a great intellectual flowering. The rationalist Neo-Confucianism, first developed centuries earlier, came into prominent during this period. It provided a marked opposition to mysticism, and believed that reality could be understood.

While I'm not saying these are in any way comparable to the scientific rationalism of modern science, I'd suggest we can detect more than slight trace of Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment in these intellectual development. Except, then Mongols conquered China.

Centuries later when a native regime re-established itself, commercial activity slowly flourished again under an unintentional laissez faire policy that a notoriously lazy emperor allowed to happen. The traditional limitations of movements of people, and laws enforcing the hereditary occupations, fell apart. Commerce flourised and further developments in Neo-Confucianism took place, such as the School of Mind.

It was around this period that what Nathan Sivin had argued to be a "Chinese scientific revolution" occurred. Adopting new ideas from Jesuit missionaries, Chinese scholars began to radically change many methods. And then, the Manchurians conquered China.

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Among other issues, this didn't answer the question. You instead confounded it. –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 14:55
@RazieMah I pointed out what advantages Europe had and contrasted it with issues China was held by back. What issues exactly are you seeinf with my answer? –  Semaphore Jun 14 '14 at 15:02
I think you need to explain why China isn't meeting those criteria. You also didn't say that it wasn't, so if people don't already know this, it isn't obvious. The confounding part here though is I do think Confucianism is similar to European humanism, but you didn't tell me why its different. You blame the Mongol invasion, but that doesn't make any sense here. –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 15:08
I've explained why I believe the dogma of revering ancient words was a major impediment. I had thought the effects of a devastating war of conquest and occupation is self-evident. I'm not sure what you're talking about with Confucianism vs humanism, but I've edited in a point about China's relative lack of freedoms. –  Semaphore Jun 14 '14 at 15:37
The Renaissance was a time period of revering ancient texts also. The Mongol invasion was a few decades, in the 13th century and didn't destroy Confucianism. The philosophies of the Renaissance contributed to science because they were humanist, about people rather than other worldly or religious things. Confucianism is also humanist, but its also a code of conduct, so its not as liberating for counter cultural behaviors, which some scientific progress certainly was (for example dissecting bodies). –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 15:54

The Renaissance occurred in Europe from the 14th-17th centuries. The main difference to me compared to Asia is that Western Europe at this time experienced relative peace and government stability after centuries of constant warfare and invasion in the so-called "Dark Ages." Europe did not however experience religious stability, which allowed new secular ideas to flourish. The Black Plague, rumblings of the Reformation and the Aviognon Papacy (anti-pope) occurred in the 14th century all undermined a central religious authority.

Other parts of the world were still experiencing internal warfare and many parts of Asia did not have access to enough outside ideas due to policies of isolationism.

In Asia, the largest powers were China and Japan. In the 13th century Japan and Western Europe repelled invasion by the Mongol Empire, but China was conquered by them until establishment of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. The stress of warfare with the Mongols caused the government of Japan to become deeply endebted and it was overthrown, starting a period of internal strife.

Influenced by Confucianism, the Ming Dynasty in China started a long period of isolationism in the 14th century, which hurt its ability to include outside ideas in cultural and technological progress.

Due to the collapse of the Kamakura government, this time period until contact with Europeans in the 16th century in Japan was an Age of Civil Wars. Feudal lords fought to control the Kyoto court. The instability in the country likely contributed to an inability to have a "Renaissance." Japan then entered a period of isolationism in the 17th century.

From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called kaikin.

Korea was also an important power but it was subjected to constant invasion and wars with the Mongols, China and Japan. It also had a policy of isolationism.

Korea was under Mongolian occupation from 1231 until the early 14th century and was repeatedly ravaged by Chinese (government and rebel) armies. Beginning in 1592, the Japanese warlord, Hideyoshi, launched several military campaigns to take the peninsula. The Choseon Kingdom managed to repel Hideyoshi's armies with the aid of Ming China. However, the experience impelled the Yi court to choose a policy of foreign isolation, with the exception of China. It was this period of isolationism from which Korea earned the name "The Hermit Kingdom" in the 19th century.

Other nations were feudal kingdoms fighting for control of territory, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand and thus did not have the stability yet.

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How are you quantifying this "relative peace"? 14th century Europe does not seem particularly more peaceful based on wikipedia. As for your Asian examples, Japan's Nanboku-chō period started in the 14th century, and its Sakoku Edit was issued in the 16th century. Neither explains why Renaissance was first in Europe when it started, according to this answer, also the 14th century. –  Semaphore Jun 14 '14 at 15:17
@Semaphore There are still wars, but it is nations fighting each other. There is mostly peace within the nations themselves. –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 15:30
@Semaphore I don't understand the criticism about Japan...since yes, I compared the time periods. Do you think it should go earlier in history –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 15:33
My point (which also applies to Ming China) is that it doesn't make sense to talk about why the Renaissance happened in Europe first by citing things from after that had happened. Also, I feel the distinction you're making about the wars is quite arbitrary. –  Semaphore Jun 14 '14 at 15:46
@Semaphore The wars is a well accepted theory, so we will have to agree to disagree. But yes, I will have to include the time period prior to this. –  Razie Mah Jun 14 '14 at 16:00

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