The Genius Complex Part 2: The Way of Song Dynasty China

September 17, 2019
I absolutely loved Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley.
The following is what I thought to be the best of the best of this book — my dog-eared page reading notes. This time, we go to Hangzhou, in Song Dynasty China in the 11th and 12th centuries.
(Part 1, over the Wisdom of Ancient Greece, is here.)
All quotes are from Eric Weiner. His books are great.
In China, genius is “nothing new,” more of the resurgence of something ancient and perennial — the Way.
Genius is at least partially about observing the nature of the here and now. Weiner relays the story of Shen Kuo, who settled in the place he called “Dream Brook” to write his masterpiece, “Brush Talks” a collection of random thoughts, observations, ramblings, and digressions, a porthole into the workings of a restless and brilliant mind.”
Weiner continues: “Shen possessed many talents but ultimately, I think his was the genius of observation. Not any kind of observation, mind you, but the kind that leads to instantaneous insight — what author Robert Grudin calls ‘the beauty of sudden seeing.’” I like this very much. Nature is a great teacher.
Social ties and networks are essential to works of creative brilliance.
This comes up again in research about “weak ties” and innovation (more on that later).

The Chinese revere what they call guanxi” which is “usually translated as ‘connections’” but that doesn’t convey it’s full import,” a “natural resource scarce but absolutely essential.”
Guanxi is one of those words that is difficult to translate into English, as it conveys a sense of social capital, influential relationships, industry connections, and friendly reciprocity that is crucial to doing great things (or big business).
Poetry can be a means to enjoy life. To this point, e get the story of “Su Tungpo, governor of Hangzhou, poet, painter, travel writer, and engineer.” The tour guide says: “Many of us are slaves of life, but Su understood life and how to enjoy it.”
One of Su’s poems, “Traveling at Night and Looking at the Stars”:
Peer at things up close and you may learn their true form,
but guessed at from afar, they seem like something else.
Vastness such as this is beyond comprehension —
all I can do is sigh in endless wonder.
As always, I hope that these reading notes help! What do you think?

Photo 1 by Alexander Ramsey on Unsplash

Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash

Photo 3 by 金金 陶 on Unsplash