Not Your Mother’s China – WIF Around the World

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Incredible Facts

About China

China is crazy-big. How crazy-big? Let’s just say if they were having a contest for ‘biggest, craziest nation on planet Earth’, the Middle Kingdom would not only win hands down, it would leave all the other countries scratching their heads and saying “whoa, get a load of that guy.”

There are 1.357 billion people living in China today, a whole billion more than there are living in the USA. The nation is big geographically, too; only Russia and Canada cover a larger land area. And you better believe all this bigness leads to craziness. Craziness so big and bigness so crazy that it’s impossible to fit it all into a single top ten list. But, by gum, we’re gonna try.

10. They Have a Dam So Big it Slowed the Earth’s Rotation

Forget the Eiffel Tower, the Forth Bridge or the Hoover Dam. The Three Gorges Dam is the only true engineering marvel on this planet deserving of the title ‘mind-blowing’. The largest dam yet built, it created a reservoir the size of the Kingdom of Bahrain. It holds back some 39.3 cubic kilometers of water. But the truly crazy part? The dam is so big that its construction slowed the rotation of the entire planet.

Time for a quick science lesson. There’s something called the moment of inertia, which basically describes how fast an object can rotate about its axis. If the object is wider, it can rotate less-quickly, which is why Olympic divers curl up into a tight little ball when doing those crazy flips. Raise a whole load of river water 175 meters into the air, and you’re gonna affect the moment of inertia for the entire planet. The end result? Earth itself slows down.

Now, we should point out that the effect is microscopic. As in, the Three Gorges Dam adds only 0.06 microseconds to the length of the day. But to look at it another way: holy cow, that dam is so big it adds a measurable amount to the length of each day!

9. 30 Million Chinese People Still Live in Caves (and enjoy it)

Imagine being so poor you were forced to move into a cave. It’d suck, right? Like, that’s the sort of thing that nobody has done outside of a warzone in centuries. Well, not quite. Even as you read this, there are currently 30 million people in China still living in caves (equivalent to the entire populations of Australia and New Zealand combined). The craziest part? Most of those 30 million freakin’ love their living arrangements.

The majority of China’s cave dwellers live in Shaanxi province, where the porous soil and limestone cliffs make for easy excavation. Most have been wired up to the mains, many have plumbing, many come with multiple rooms and a lawn, and some even have mod-cons like refrigerators and TV. More importantly, in a country where people still earn low wages, you can rent a big cave for about $30 a month. That’s if it’s not for free. Some families have been passing down ‘luxury’ caves for generations. And the majority of these caves are bigger, nicer, and quieter than Beijing’s apartments.

The LA Times even managed to interview city workers and Communist Party officials who wanted to retire to Shaanxi caves. We’re betting 90 percent of overcrowded New Yorkers would happily do the same, too.

8. Millions of Kids Have Names that Sound Like Hashtags

Remember last time tragedy struck, and you showed your solidarity by retweeting a hashtag? China’s parents laugh in the face of your low-level commitment to good causes. In the People’s Republic, citizens don’t merely use hashtags to show support on social media. They name their children after them.

In mid-2008, a huge earthquake shook the province of Sichuan, killing nearly 70,000 people. In the weeks after, the BBC’s China service reported a wave of new parents naming their children things like ‘Hope for Sichuan’. Noble as this is, it’s also pretty bizarre. Imagine meeting a couple with a kid called ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and you’ll get some idea of how kooky this trend is.

But then people are always naming their kids after slogans in China. Also in 2008, 4,104 babies were registered with the name ‘Olympics’, in honor of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The BBC found records of kids called everything from ‘Defend China’, to ‘Build the Nation’, to ‘Space Travel’, and ‘Civilization’. That last one, by the way, was so popular nearly 300,000 babies wound up with it. And you thought your name was uncool in junior high.

7. The Army has an Official Division of 10,000 Pigeons

In 2011, Chinese State media made a surprise announcement. No, not the unveiling of Beijing’s first stealth fighter (though well done for remembering that. We knew you were a clever sort of a guy). No, the announcement concerned the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) latest recruits. 10,000 of them had just been assigned to the Chengdu division. They’d been tasked with “special military missions” along the nation’s borders. Oh, and they were all pigeons.

That’s right. China’s PLA has a 10,000-strong official division of birds whose only discernable skill is pooping on statues of famous people. All snark aside, the reasoning here is actually pretty sound. Beijing is way paranoid about a nuclear or cyber attack knocking out their communications systems. In the event this happens, the pigeons would be tasked with delivering messages at high speed between the country’s military installations, especially along the remote stretches of border where keeping in touch is hard enough as it is. There’s even some precedent for this. When Japan invaded in WWII, messenger pigeons were a vital part of China’s defensive effort.

6. On-the-Go Organ Harvesting and Executions

You don’t want to commit a capital crime in China. While plenty of countries still have the death penalty, none kill criminals with the speed, efficiency or sheer gusto of the People’s Republic. China executes more people each year than every other executing country combined, a number that’s even crazier when you realize it includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North freakin’ Korea. And this bloodlust has led to some bizarre and unsettling innovations, the most-unsettling of which has to be the ‘Death Bus’.

 First reported in 2009, China’s death buses are essentially mobile execution vans that travel from village to village snuffing out the lives of local prisoners. Even more morbidly, the buses have a surgeon on standby so the dead prisoner’s organs can be quickly harvested after they kick the bucket, and sold on for profit. The key word here is “quickly”. These vans can rock up in villages and knock off 2-3 criminals in a single morning. That’s death row efficiency even the state of Texas would balk at.

5. There’s Only One Time Zone (and it’s crazy)

Before we can do this entry justice, we need to reiterate again just how big China is. It’s roughly the same size as the US. It’s over twice as big as the entire European Union. It dwarfs Australia. Each of those comparative nations/unions has at least 3 time zones, and as many as five. China, on the other hand has only one: Beijing time. And it applies everywhere.

This means Chinese time tends to make sense in Beijing, and is completely mad elsewhere. In the far western province of Xinjiang, for example, the sun doesn’t rise until 10 a.m. in winter, and sets after midnight in summer. That might make sense in Norway or Siberia, but China is way south of either of those places. In effect, locals at the extreme western points of the country have to put up with a timescale that makes zero sense for their circumstances.

As an additional headache, various ethnic groups in China refuse to recognize Beijing time, seeing it as cultural imperialism on the part of the Han Chinese majority. So a doctor’s appointment made for 3 p.m. in Tibet or Xinjiang may mean 3 p.m. Beijing time, or 3 p.m. on illegal Tibetan or Uighur time, and you probably won’t know until you get there and find the place shut.

4. You Must Have Official Permission to be Reincarnated

Let’s say you’re religious and believe in reincarnation. Now, let’s say that you wind up shuffling off this earthly plane in China. What do you think happens next? According to the governing CCP, the answer should be ‘depends on if I filled in the correct forms or not’. Since 2007, Beijing has required citizens to get official permission before reincarnating.

The law, issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, states that anyone intending to return to this mortal coil must follow a strict set of procedures, including informing the Communist Party of who they intend to come back as. Those who fail to do so will… well, we’re not sure, to be honest. Powerful as the Chinese government is, it seems doubtful even they have the ability to stop transmigration of the soul from taking place.

Of course, the real reason China brought in this hilariously odd law is to scupper the Dali Lama’s plans to get reincarnated and keep campaigning for Tibetan autonomy. The Dali Lama responded by saying he’d simply choose to reincarnate outside Chinese-controlled territory.

3. Books are Sold by Weight

The key to selling a book in the west is its title or author. A slim classic novel or a mega-blockbuster by a famous writer will go for far more than a bigger book by a total unknown. Not so in China. Go shopping for books on the streets of Shanghai, and you’ll find yourself paying not according to how good or famous a book is, but according to how much it weighs.

In practical terms, this means a 1,000 page tome by a guy who writes in crayon and can’t string a sentence together is considered far more valuable than a short book like, say, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Mad as this sounds, it’s actually kind of useful for students. A short, glossy volume of common Spanish phrases, for example, will attract a mid-range price in the US. In China, you can have it for pocket change.

Before readers in China flood the comments section to point out our bone-headed ignorance, we should note that selling books by weight isn’t standard across the entire country. It’s mainly prevalent around Shanghai and the eastern provinces. But since this includes some of the biggest, busiest cities in the whole of China, we’re gonna go ahead and include it here.

2. Censorship is Even-Crazier than You Think

Quick: what do time-travel, cleavage, The Big Bang Theory, South Korea, and ‘Western lifestyles’ all have in common? The answer is that China censors every single one of them (“they’re all awesome” is another acceptable answer, depending on your level of tolerance for the weekly antics of Sheldon Cooper). These are only a fraction of the innumerable things Beijing feels the need to block its citizens from ever encountering.

Some of the things China considers beyond the pale are crazy even by the standards of authoritarian regimes. Until April 2016, one of the nation’s top-rated programs was ‘Dad, Where are We Going?’, a travel show where fathers took their little tykes on trips around China’s historical landmarks. Then party functionaries suddenly banned ‘celebrity children’ and the show had to be canceled. Other recent bans have included shows featuring gay people, and shows that depict smoking, drinking, South Korea, ghosts, reincarnation, or “feudalism”. We’d guess there probably aren’t that many primetime shows about feudalism out there, but then again, what do we know?

We could go on. China has officially banned talking animals in movies, depictions of online dating when it involves army personnel, and anything starring Brad Pitt. At least they didn’t have to suffer through Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

1. One in Five Humans Alive Today are Chinese

If you need any proof that China is the planet’s future, this amazing statistic is it. It’s one thing to hear that China has a population of 1.357 billion people. It’s quite another to see it put down in such blunt terms. 20 percent of all human beings alive today are Chinese. By way of comparison, Americans account for less than 4.5 percent of the global population.

The only country that comes even remotely close to this mind-boggling figure is India. India has a population of 1.252 billion; still several million short of China, but at least within the same ballpark. After that, it’s a long, long drop to the US, in 3rd place, with a comparatively tiny population of 325.3 million. China’s Pearl River Delta urban conurbation alone has a population of around 42 million, more than the entirety of Poland, Canada, or Australia.

 It’s worth remembering that all this comes after decades of a crazy one child policy that saw the country’s birthrate plummet. If the CCP hadn’t dreamed up its oddball family-limiting plan, probably even India’s population figures wouldn’t be within touching distance. Believe it or not, crazy-big as China’s population is, it could be even crazy-bigger.

Not Your Mother’s China

WIF Around the World

Invention Origin Notebook – WIF Gadgets

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Hidden Truths About

Historical Artifacts

and Inventions

10. Iron Maidens Were Not For Torture

iron maiden

For those of you who don’t know, an Iron Maiden is an allegedly Medieval torture device shaped like a giant coffin that can fit a person. The door and the inside have giant spikes that slowly impale you as the door closes in on you. It’s easily the most metal torture device ever conceived, which makes sense considering a metal band has chosen it as its namesake. However, to the disappointment of Maiden fans everywhere, the torture device was never a real thing at all. TheIron Maiden was actually conceived by the 19th century version of a performance artist who cobbled it together from pieces of other old torture devices.

The artist and his friend gave it to a museum where it was mistakenly listed as a medieval torture device and before long the idea of the maiden was horrifying and captivating people all over the world. The point of the artists had been to show how awful the past was compared to the present, and to illustrate it by showing an example of what they thought the worst tortures of the past may have looked like. Instead, people were trolled into thinking that it was real, and now believe in a device that never existed. The truth is that they didn’t need to make a new device. Many medieval torture implements were more than brutal and horrifying enough that there was no need to make fake ones. Also, the maiden might be a painful way to kill someone, but it would have been impractical as a torture implement. Torture was generally used to extract a confession or get information – a device that killed someone so quickly and conclusively would not have been helpful for that purpose.

9. Chastity Belts Are Historically Controversial And Very Misunderstood


When most people think of chastity belts, they think of a time period in history when women were treated like objects in many respects. To many people, chastity belts are a vivid example of how women have been abused and used for sex throughout history. However, most of what people have been led to believe about them are wholly false. Museum exhibits showing what was supposed to be a prudish, relatively ancient device turned out to be made in the 19th century, and a couple that were from the middle ages were judged to actually be dog collars. Some historians and museum curators are coming increasingly to the conclusion that the vast majority (if not all) of said devices were made in recent years sheerly for the purpose of amusement.

Now, some have speculated that some very prudish 19th century parents may have used a device – very rarely – on daughters who they thought shouldn’t be acting on sexual urges, but there is very little evidence of that either, and even less that such devices were used in the middle ages. In fact, the only solid evidence of them being used in the middle ages was by the women of Florence, Italy. The important thing to note here is that the women were not forced into them, but instead used them as a means of protection in case the city was overrun. Back in the day, invading armies tended to rape women, so the women had an answer for that prepared just in case. This shows that the furthest back known use of the device was not as a patriarchal control mechanism, but a women’s self defense tool against rapists.

8. Powdered Wigs Were Designed To Hide The Symptoms Of Syphilis

powdered wig

Many people just think of powdered wigs as an incredibly odd fashion trend during an otherwise remarkable period of history, and just kind of pay it no heed. However, while it may have indeed been a silly trend, it didn’t begin with a whim that a wig covered in scented powder would look really good. It turns out that the reason that powdered wigs came into fashion in the first place is because most of the Western World was dealing with a raging bout of syphilis. Many, many men were affected, and the symptoms often were hurtful to people’s social standing when it came to their appearance. It could leave nasty sores, and it caused hair to fall out. This was particularly troublesome at the time, as baldness was definitely not in fashion. So, people started turning to wigs to save their reputations. Large, embroidered wigs could also help hide sores or other signs of syphilis.

Eventually King Louis XIV of France and King Charles II of England started using wigs when they contracted the disease, and before long everyone was wearing a wig whether they actually needed one or not. The powders that became so popular were used mainly to hide the foul scents that could be caused by the symptoms of the disease, and weren’t really a fashion statement in terms of color. While powdered wigs became common among non-diseased mainly as a fashion statement, many people also preferred them because of how easy it is to deal with things like lice when you have little to no hair and wear a gigantic wig.

7. Plate Mail Was Not Impractically Heavy Like Many People Believe

plate mail

A full suit of plate mail was something only the richer warriors in the middle ages could afford, if nothing else because of the incredible amount of metal required, not to mention the intensive labor involved. For this reason, it has become an iconic part of the time period and how we view it. When most people picture a knight they think of a warrior in full plate mail, and they also imagine him to be well protected, but heavy and cumbersome in battle. A warrior who is hardly able to move properly, and relies almost entirely on his advanced protection to save the day.

However, the truth is that a full set of plate mail was hardly all that heavy. Historians state that it was roughly the same weight as a firefighter with oxygen gear, which is coincidentally about the same amount of weight most modern soldiers carry into battle. Not only that, but because of how well the weight was distributed, they think this would have made knights in plate armor even lighter, and still extremely agile. It’s also been claimed that knights needed help onto their horses, couldn’t get back up if they fell on their backs, and couldn’t climb ladders in full gear; none of this is true. Knights were incredibly fearsome, lightweight, and agile warriors even donning full metal armor.

6. Medieval Moats Were Absolutely Disgusting Trenches Of Filth


When many people think of castles, they also think of the iconic moats that you see around most of them. In movies the water may look clean, or at least fairly normal or natural. Unfortunately, we can assure you that this was not at all the case. See, you may have noticed that most historically known moats weren’t really all that deep or all that wide either, which may have made people wonder why they were considered such a useful defense tool. The reason lies in how a medieval castle’s plumbing works. See, inside a castle’s walls all the primitive restrooms would drain down under the ground beneath the keep, and slide into the moat. In some cases, people would also fling any extra sewage into the moat if it wasn’t going in properly.

What this meant is that moats were a great defensive barrier because they were absolutely disgusting pits filled with the most vile filth imaginable. To put it bluntly, falling into a castle moatwould be similar to falling into a modern day septic tank. Considering how limited medicine was at the time, and how easily you could contract a disease falling into a pit like that, it would almost certainly lead to a horrible death within weeks at best. This also means that while used for defense, it was hardly the primary purpose of a moat. It certainly doubled nicely as a protective measure, but it was also an integral part of medieval sewage technology.

5. Air Conditioning Is Not A Modern Invention


While we know that ancient people used various methods to insulate themselves from the cold, and had many methods of warming up, we don’t really think of them as having a way to really fight the heat. For the most part, people from the past are simply assumed to have toughed it out as best they could. However, humans are very ingenious creatures and considering that they’ve been having to deal with the heat for a very long time, our modern air conditioning turns out to not be the first major attempt at cooling. Now, while some civilizations in the Middle East built their structures in such a way as to properly circulate wind in an attempt to cool off using architecture, the ancient Romans were perfecting air cooling technology that was largely lost until recent modern inventions.

Back in the days of ancient Rome, it’s known that they possessed an aqueduct system that distributed water and removed waste water very efficiently throughout the city. It was easily the most advanced plumbing system anywhere in the world, and we wouldn’t see anything like it for a very long time either once Rome had fallen. Some emperors like Elagabalus took things a step further than most would and had huge mountains of snow imported in for cooling, but regular Romans had come up with ingenious ways of using the aqueduct system to circulate cool water through the walls of their house. This allowed a very advanced system of air cooling that would likely have also required a lot less power and upkeep than ours need today.

4. The Holy Grail Originated From Ancient Celtic Legends And Not The Bible


Everyone has heard of the legend of the Holy Grail, the alleged cup that caught the blood of Jesus Christ and was passed down from Joseph of Arimathea to various different groups or protectors, depending on who you ask. The story has featured heavily in Arthurian myth, where the king is obsessed with the finding of the Grail itself. Most of these stories attribute incredible power or knowledge to whoever possesses the grail, and many groups have been said to search for it throughout history in the hopes of enriching their existence. We all know these stories well, but what many people don’t realize is that the Arthurian legend most people know of is not based on biblical legend, but actually on old Celtic Pagan myths about a cauldron of the Gods.

It all started in Celtic legends about their Gods known as the Dagda. These Gods leave a cauldron on earth that many men seek, and is known to heal wounds, and grant great power and riches to those who find it. Historians have explained that the Arthurian stories are basically a retelling of the story of a Celtic God King called Gwydion, who had very similar adventures to Arthur in pursuit of a Cauldron with almost the same attributes. While this may be surprising to some, it was also not uncommon for one religion to rewrite some of another’s tales when they came to prominence over the other faith. It would certainly not be the last time religions have repurposed historical myths for their own.

3. Modern Birthstone Legends Are Likely Little More Than A Marketing Ploy


You may have noticed that birthstone lists on jewelry websites seem to hardly ever be consistent. There are some gems like diamond or amethyst that seem to stay the same, but others seem to differ wildly based on the jeweler. Not to mention the countless sites that ascribe various mythological powers to each stone, most with very dubious sources in terms of where they got their historical information. This means that in general, there is a lot of misunderstanding about birthstones and where they actually came from. Many people know that they have an ancient origin, but aren’t aware of the details of it – nor are they aware that most common birthstones were decided upon by jewelers as a marketing ploy. Back in 1912 a bunch of American jewelers got together and came up with a quasi-official list, that still isn’t often followed by some sellers if it doesn’t fit their inventory. This list has been criticized by some for being designed mainly to sell as many shiny stones as possible, regardless of historical veracity.

The reason many people are disappointed with how jewelers went about this, is because the historical origins are being completely ignored. The very start of the birthstone stories began with a Jewish historian named Josephus, who believed that the breastplate of Aaron – a treasured armor plate from the bible with 12 sacred gems set in it – was connected to the 12 months of the year and to the signs of the zodiac. However, to add to the confusion, the writings of Josephus themselves have two separate and contradictory lists. Also, in modern birthstone lore people are expected to buy one for their birth month and wear it most of the year. However, when superstitions regarding birthstones first began among early Christians, the fashion was to wear the appropriate stone for the appropriate month that you were currently in, not just wear the one from your birth month all the time.

2. Globally And Regionally Organized Time Is A Recent Invention


Many people tend to take time for granted, but they forget that it’s an entirely invented construct designed to organize meeting places and make sense of our surroundings. Or to put it simply, time is relative to the place that we are right now, and the point of reference we’re using. While this may seem a strange way to mention time today, what with organized time zones throughout the world that work like clockwork (uh, no pun intended), the truth is that not even 200 years ago, even entire countries didn’t operate on the kind of standard, organized time system we have now. Even as recently as the mid 1800s many towns simply had their own timepiece that used the sun as a local reference for what time it was. This was simple and made perfect sense for the time period, as high speed travel and communication was not really particularly in use.

However, as train tracks started to expand throughout the country, it began to become imperative that there was a set standard for time. Without time being properly organized, trains would have a good chance of slamming right into each other, and there were in fact some avoidable train crashes before standard time was implemented. While early attempts at standardizing time and adding time zones had been attempted before, it was the dangers of the new railway system and the precision needed that finally created the catalyst necessary for it to become encoded into law in 1883. What this means is that not even 200 years ago, time was completely local and thoroughly disorganized throughout the world. It’s hard to even begin to imagine just how different having standard time has made everything.

1. The History Of Cars Goes Back Much Further Than Most People Realize


Most people think that the first cars were created in the early 1900s when Henry Ford’sexperiments in gasoline-based engines began to pay off. As we all know, he started a motor company and perfected an assembly line process that quickly pumped out massive amounts of cars, and changed the face of the world forever. Before long, using animals to pull your transportation was a thing of the past, and burning fossil fuels became the new thing. However, what many people don’t realize is that the reason cars’ popularity is so recent is not because an automobile is a new idea, but because Ford was the first to perfect it in a way that made it appealing and somewhat practical to use – as well as the first person to find a way to easily mass produce said process. People had been experimenting with vehicles that could move without an animal’s help going back hundreds of years.

Back in the 1600s a skilled inventor named Ferdinand Verbiest built a self-propelled steam vehicleas a toy for the then-Emperor of China. This vehicle, however, was likely not large enough to hold or propel a person even when it was actually built, and was little more than a novelty. However, in the 1700s, a French inventor named Nicholas Joseph Cugnot invented something that could actually be described as the world’s first truly self-powered vehicle capable of carrying people. It was an absolute monstrosity of a steam powered creation that weighed roughly 2.5 tons, was a whale to steer, and could reach a speed of roughly five miles per hour at the best of times. Due to these limitations and the amount of energy required it just wasn’t seen as that practical or impressive, and people kept using animals to haul goods until Ford came along with a much improved version.

Invention Origin Notebook

– WIF Gadgets