Dialog between Roger Bacon and Li Qingzhao (fiction)

(Wallada Mustakfi, the daughter of a late caliph of Cordoba, invited poets and other intellectuals around the world to her palace for a grand literary gathering. After more than a year's arduous journey, Ms. Li Qingzhao finally arrived from the other side of the earth, China. One day after the formal poetry recital session, she met Dr. Roger Bacon, an English Franciscan, philosopher, thinker, and scientist.)

Li: How do you do, Dr. Bacon?

Bacon: How do you do, Madame Li? You may call me Mr. Bacon instead, for the doctorate degree was not formally bestowed upon me.

Li: Oh, how so?

Bacon: For the stupidity of the "elite" at Oxford, and the bigotry among the "intellectuals" and in the Church. Anyway, how was the journey? It must have been extraordinarily tiring and full of excitement.

Li: That was very much so indeed. But not full of the kind of dangers I had experienced when I fled the atrocities conducted by the Mongol barbarians in China.

Bacon: Tell me something about it. I've long admired the exquisite culture and intellectualism in the great kingdom of China. Are the Mongol nomads completely foreign to China?

Li: More than foreign, they harbor hatred, with hands full of blood. They persecute Taoists and Confucianists, destroy cities and cultural relics. I don't expect them to cultivate a sense of civilization in the decades to come.

Bacon: Indeed they mercilessly killed thousands of innocent civilians, and I wish their horses would not ride west to Europe. God bless us! But I heard that they're also mending roads, revamping the dilapitated Silk Road and clearing up the Big Canal in China. Isn't it something positive they're contributing to the people?

Li: I heard that too. But remember, all they do is to facilitate their further military campaign to conquer more peoples, kill more innocent citizens, and pillage more treasures. I don't see anything positive here.

Bacon: I disagree. Everything God created has two sides, including the war. The Crusades causes death to innocent people and otherwise innocent soldiers. But they improved exchange of ideas and treasures between the west and the east. In case you don't know, they brought back the Greek classics that were lost in Europe for hundreds of years, now in the translated form though.

Li: Let's agree to disagree then. By the way, you impress me by knowing a great number of languages, if I heard them say correctly. People in China hardly know any foreign language, even among intellectuals. In fact, some poets in the Tang dynasty even left words with connotation implying despise of the Buddhist scripture translators, who were assigned by the Emperor.

Bacon: Knowing a foreign language opens a new world to your vision, the joy of which is only experienced by those that practice it. The "intellectuals" in Oxford and the Church pretend to know the Bible or Aristotle's works by reading severely mistranslated text. On many occasions, I corrected their mistakes and misinterpretations, only to incur laugh and even imprisonment. Humans are not enlightened when they choose to live in a Dark Age.

Li: While I don't have the luxury to experience the joy, I can imagine what it feels like. My late husband and I spent a fortune collecting ancient epigraphs, which, incidentally, were mostly lost or stolen during this barbaric Mongol period. Some ancient Chinese characters imprinted in the epigraphs are no longer used, and some are even in a completely different writing style, so different you have to learn from the scratch, in anology to the change in your beautiful English language, from Anglo-Saxon to the current language.

Bacon: I have mastered ancient Greek, Hebrew and a few other Occidental languages. With my genius in languages, I take it as a shame being completely ignorant of any Oriental language. Since you're a famous poet in China, you may be a perfect instructor for me. Would you please show me a simple line of your poem and have each word interpreted for me?

Li: One that is both simple and yet easy to read to a person whose mother toungue is not Chinese may be this stanza, transliterated in Latin spelling,

xunxun mimi lengleng qingqing qiqi cancan qiqi

which literally means

seek seek search search cold cold clear clear sad ...

Bacon: Wait, wait. Why do you repeat the words? In English, we don't say the same word twice.

Li: You asked me to interpret each word for you, didn't you? The Chinese, and a few other languages, allow some double words for the effect of emphasis, affection, or baby talk.

Bacon: What a silly idea which never exists in English or any language I know!

Li: You have a perfect word to describe your own attitude, "bigotry".

Bacon: I beg your pardon, Madame.

Li: My knowledge of English is limited. But I know it's not completely free of what linguists call reduplication. You won't deny never hearing people say "Bye-bye", will you?

Bacon: What an enlightenment! I beg your pardon once more. (hand cupped over mouth, coughs politely). Excuse me. The Chinese language is quite different, and unique. The culture it carries must be quite advanced as well?

Li: The great kingdom of China is one of the best epitomes of human civilization. We believe, Confucianism, after the philosopher and sage Confucius, is the best strategy to organize the society and advance science and technology.

Bacon: How is science conducted? Do the scientists conduct experiments, gather evidence, and make conclusions? Do they go by inductive or deductive logic?

Li: Eh, excuse me. What is inductive and deductive logic?

Bacon: To the extent the Aristotlian philosophy is concerned, induction is to gather sufficient evidence and make a conclusion based on the evidence. Deduction is to derive one conclusion (called corrolary) after another, each based on the premise preceding it, and is not concerned with your experience outside of the premise-conclusion cycle on paper or in talk.

Li: Sorry. I have not done any science work. Educate me on this subject.

Bacon: Take induction as an example. From your observation of every human, you notice that he must live with water. Without water, he will eventually die, typically in a few days. So you may conclude a human relies on water to live.

Li: I see. But sometimes there're exceptions. If you taste the water of a lake, it's not salty. Taste it in many lakes. It's still not salty. Can you conclude that no lake waters are salty? No. I came upon many a lake on the Silk Road whose water was salty.

Bacon: Indeed. Exceptions exist. You must rely on reasoning to make a judgement on whether you can make a conclusion.

Li: Because exceptions possibly exist, you can never make any conclusion. Even if you see and everybody so far has seen that the sun rises from the east, can you conclude it always rises from the east? Can you predict beyond the shadow of doubt that it will rise from the east tomorrow morning?

Bacon: What a smart woman you are! I'm discussing the general principle which science should be based on. The scholastic environment here in Europe is such that every "scholar" shuts himself behind the door making deductive reasoning starting from the Bible and Aritotle's books. I want them to stop that practice and conduct experiments, make observations of nature, and make conclusions based on their observations. Short of that, how would they ever know how a firework work?...

Li: There're fireworks in Europe?

Bacon: I was about to say. A certain tradesman came back from the Mongol Empire. He demonstrated a small firework he brough back from there. It was such a remarkable toy, and I foresee it being used in a war. He told us that fireworks were invented in China.

Li: Every time we Chinese have a festival, the Spring Festival in particular, we'll play fireworks. The noise they make and the light they shine signify the happy spirit of the people. Firecrackers make extremely loud noise, which can drive demons away.

Bacon: What a happy people!

Li: Not any more. The Barbarians are destroying all these, everything of the Confucianist tradition, persecuting Confucian scholars and Taoists...

Bacon: Wait. I heard that Genghis Khan was quite religiously tolerant. Even his wife was a Nestorian Christian.

Li: No. His son, not he, was said to marry a Christian. The barbarian Mongols may be showing restricted kindness to Christians. They're forcing many people's conversion to the Christian faith, but show no mercy toward the religions that had been in China for more than a thousand years. His "religious tolerance" may be good materials for a farce on a small stage.

Bacon: Your attitude toward the Mongols is understandable considering your sufferings and tribulations over the years. I believe a bigger face on a much bigger stage is already being performed here in Europe, mostly north of the English Strait, much less so in Cordoba, thanks to the open-minded rule of the caliph as the father of Ms Walladah Mustakfi.

(A group of guests come in the room, calling for an evening ball and wine party.)


1. Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia, Lexicon Publications, 1981. It provides general descriptions of Medieval history, Chinese literature, Song and Yuan dynasties of China, Inductive and deductive logic.
2. Roger Bacon, http://www.nndb.com/people/582/000114240/. Life and works of Roger Bacon.
3. Bertran Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 2007, pp.463-66. A little description of Roger Bacon, and philosophy.
4. Hu Pin-Ch'ing, Li Ch'ing Chao, Twayne Publishers, 1968. General description of Li.
5. Li Ch'ing-Chao: Complete Poems, trans. and ed. by Kenneth Rexroth, Ling Chung, 1979. Great translation of her poems, including the one "seek seek ..."
6. Ualada Almostacfi (Wallada), http://www.andalucia.cc/viva/mujer/mujerw.html#Wallada. General description of Wallada. Read through http://translate.google.com/#es|en| since it was in Spanish.
7. Judy Bonavia, The Silk Road, Odyssey Publications, 1999. It has detailed maps of the Silk Road.

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