Non-Western contributions to the modern world

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The modern world is largely the result of the expansion of Western European civilization over the last half millennium or so. Non-Western contributions occurred in three ways:

  • precursors of the Ancient Greek origin of Western civilization
  • things adopted into Western civilization at various points in its history
  • major regional survivals of the Westernization process

The arrangement in this article is by geographical origins.

Note that non-Western inventions later independently reinvented in the West are not contributions.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • the human race itself evolved in Africa
  • African musical rhythm has had a major influence on jazz and other popular music traditions, and on some modern classical composers

Middle East

  • agriculture probably first developed here around 10000 years ago
  • Jericho is widely considered the oldest city in the world, dating from around the same time
  • writing was originated around 5000 years ago
  • alphabetic writing in a broad sense around 4000 years ago, probably in Sinai (in a narrower sense the alphabet is Greek in origin)
  • the Jewish religious tradition, while numerically small, had a major influence on the world's two largest religions: Christianity and Islam
  • the Zoroastrian religion is even smaller, but its eschatology and pareschatology were adopted by the Jews in exile in Babylonia, brought back by them to Palestine, and inherited by Christianity and Islam
  • Christianity and Islam both originated in this region; the former was adopted as the main religion of the West, while the latter remains a major world religion
  • algebra was invented by the Persian al-Khwarizmi in the early 8th century; the Islamic civilization also carried on ancient Greek geometry and passed it on to the West from the 12th century on

South Asia

  • two of the wrold's major religions originated here: Hinduism and Buddhism
  • ancient Sanskrit grammarians such as Pāṇini developed linguistic science to levels the West never reached before Western linguists discovered the Indian tradition in the late 18th century; they then took up where the Indians left off
  • chess originated in India around 500 AD, though it went through major changes in 15th-century Europe to produce the form known today

East Asia

  • the ancient Chinese traditions known as Confucianism and Taoism/Daoism remain major influences in East Asian culture
  • 140 BC: essay examinations introduced in China; the British East India Company came across this and adopted it in India, and from there it spread back to the West
  • paper and printing originated about this time
  • the first explosive, gunpowder, was invented in 8th-century China
  • playing cards are first found about the same place and time; they reached the West, probably from Egypt, in the 14th century
  • 1088: first reference to the magnetic compass, about a century before the first Western reference

Pre-Columbian America

  • tobacco was grown, presumably for smoking, more than 3000 years ago