Micius

Earlier this week, a new satellite was launched into the skies above Earth. China launched “MIcius” a satellite built with quantum technology.

Quantum satellite Micius being launched from China’s western province of Gansu

Quantum physics is based on the principle that once two particles have spent time together, no matter how far you separate them, the information that one experiences quantumly jumps to the other. Faster than the Speed of Light. Think identical twins on a subatomic level. In physics, it’s called “entangled”. The two particles are said to have an “entanglement”.

Quantum Entanglement image from http://www.physics-astronomy.com/2014/04/chinese-physicists-measure-speed-of_16.html#.V7W3fRRdJlI

Physicist Pan Jianwei, said of the launch, it would “push the boundaries” of science. Was Micius built simply as a scientific challenge? Pan Jianwei says that China has an obligation to further scientific knowledge.

Many news sites, however, use this example: If the satellite is sent secure messages from Beijing , over in Urumqi the information instantly arrives, according to quantum mechanics. Why use the example Urumqi? Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang, where a separatist movement exists.

(Here’s The Guardian article)

If the information packet moves instantly from Beijing to Urumqi, its not going through hackable channels. The quantum satellite, using cutting edge quantum technology, was built, primarily as a secure messaging system. Unhackable.

UnknownIt’s been called Micius, after an ancient Chinese philopopher. Micius? Who is he? Micius, it turns out, is really墨子 Mo Zi. Mo Zi was a philosopher from the Warring States period,  living sometime after Confucius. His philosophies emphasized self-reflection, rather than following rituals and rites. Some see this as diametrically opposed to to Confucian thought – which raises the question, why would it be decided to honour Mo Zi by naming the satellite after him?

At a time when Confucianism is becoming more popular, and promoted by the government, wouldn’t the promotion of Moism be diametrically opposed to this?

Not necessarily. The Chinese philosophy of ‘yin and yang’ is well grounded in Chinese thought, culture, and even language. If I want to ask you do you like something, I say, “you like not like?”. This linguistic structure creates a sense of duality as normalcy in how we experience life. Chinese often speak of “the three religions” – Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism – and see nothing of lighting incense at a Buddhist temple on one day, praying at a Daoist temple on another, and bowing to Confucius the next day. Thus, naming the satellite after Mo Zi is not necessarily in conflict with promoting Confucianism. What both have in common is honouring ancient Chinese culture.

Mo Zi quote from http://statusmind.com/category/authors/mozi/

But where did Micius come from, and why latinize the name? Confucius’ name was Kong Zi, and his disciple, Mencius, who was responsible for writing down Confucian teachings, was named Meng Zi. Meng Zi honoured  Mo Zi for his writings, although he was the disciple of Kong Zi – Confucius.

 Mo Zi lived in the Qin dynasty. This was the time when an Emperor called Qin Shi Huang built a rather long long wall, and, rumour has it, burned a lot of books.

Wait a minute – ‘rumour has it’? Isn’t it historical knowledge? Well – yes … and no. Our historical knowledge of the time comes from a guy named Sima Qian. Sima’s job title was “the Grand Historian” and he lived in the subsequent Han dynasty (200 BC, followed by the Western Han and the Eastern Han which lasted till 220 AD ). His extraordinarily comprehensive history book detailing dynasties before his time was called “Records of the Grand Historian”.

Sima Qian was writing about a dynasty a few hundred years before his time. Back in the day, it wasn’t really the done thing to criticize the Emperor, if you valued your life, but its been a rather long tradition for Chinese commentators to criticize the current regime by alluding to previous dynasties. Shakespeare did a similar thing in his plays.

IMG_2983 John Mann, who investigated the terracotta warriors, the underground army of Qin Shi Huang, has given another interpretation. Perhaps, he says, Mr Sima was actually critizing Han Emperor Wudi, and that Emperor Wu was the real book-burning villain.

It’s certainly a theory worth investigating, even though it does shatter long held thoughts about the Qin emperor.

Tele-series The Legend of Qin, touches upon the life and times of Mo Zi,

( according to Wikipedia, anyhow) Here’s a teaser

The opening sequence is reminiscent of the Assassin Nameless, who in the movie Hero  attempts to murder Qin Shi Huang.

I haven’t seen the television series, and there is no  English subtitles, but the chariots look realistic, as do the hairstyles.

The original Micius – Mo Zi – was a carpenter, a philosopher, and a scientist. As a philosopher, he had many disciples, similar to Confucius, and his disciples mainly came from the working classes. As a scientist, he discovered, over 2000 years ago, that light moves in straight lines.

Scientists and technicians with Micius. Photo from http://english.cri.cn/12394/2016/08/15/2021s937591.htm

It is somehow fitting then, that this ancient sage, scientist and philosopher, should give his name to a quantum satellite that will send messages, theoretically, faster than the speed of light. Einstein, eat your heart out!