In Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, the Seed is presented as a fundamentally Oriental solution to the existence of nanotechnology, and put in opposition with the Feed as a Western concept. The Seed is decentralized while the Feed is totally centralized.

I find it strange to paint the Seed as a Chinese/Confuscianist ideal. Deference to authority is central to the Confucianist ideology in the book, and the Celestial Kingdom is shown to be ruled by Mandarins.

So, how is giving full control and independence to everyone through the Seed something Mr. X would want? Sounds like anarchy to me. Or did I miss something?

  • "Sounds like anarchy to me." There are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean anarchist movements. Just an FYI. :)
    – Lexible
    Jan 11, 2022 at 23:21
  • 1
    Be as it may, the Celestial Kingdom and Dr. X are definitely not of the anarchist persuasion, quite the opposite in fact.
    – Moohbear
    Jan 11, 2022 at 23:50
  • feels more like an "agrarian vs industrial" than "disseminated vs centralized" contrast to me. Good question though.
    – Ben Bolker
    Jan 12, 2022 at 0:50
  • Dr. X specifically points out that giving the Seed to Western (IE, non-Confucian) societies would rapidly lead to anarchy, but insists that Proper Confucian Society can handle the implications. Thankfully we never get to find out whether he's wrong. Jan 13, 2022 at 8:58
  • It being a work of fiction, the author has free reign on the outcome. But I side with the Victorian and Hackworth on this, this has armageddon painted all over it.
    – Moohbear
    Jan 13, 2022 at 20:21

1 Answer 1


To quote Dr. X, the Confucian ideal valued farmers:

"These were rice paddies before they were parking lots. Rice was the basis for our society. Peasants planted the seeds and had the highest status in the Confucian hierarchy. As the Master said, 'Let the producers be many and the consumers few.'

The first Google hit for "Confucianism farmers" nearly agrees with this, although it elevates scholar-bureaucrats above farmers:

Confucianism is credited with making Chinese society fiercely patriarchal and defining its social stratification with: 1) scholar-bureaucrats at the top, because they had the knowledge and wisdom to maintain social order; followed by 2) farmers, because they produced the necessary goods; and 3) the artisans, because they possessed necessary skills. At the bottom were 4) merchants. All they did was buy and sell things.

As Dr. X was a scholar-bureaucrat, elevating farmers to the top of the hierarchy might just be self-effacing.

(emphasis mine throughout)

  • I remember that part of Dr. X explanation, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me. With the Seed, there won't be a need for artisans or merchants. That leaves bureaucrats and peasants. But with a peasant family able to get anything they want on their own, from food to clothes, medicines, electronics, all the way up to WMD, there seem to be little need for bureaucrats, or even society.
    – Moohbear
    Jan 12, 2022 at 18:53
  • @moohbear I think the implications of the rest of Dr. X's speech is that you need the scholar-bureaucrats to "teach" (IE, enforce) proper strata and order so that some farmer with a grudge doesn't decide to grow a couple of WMDs to nuke his annoying neighbor's home. Jan 13, 2022 at 8:51
  • I guess it makes sense thematically, but that's a really weak premise to go that route. It would have made more sense if the Seed somehow required large scale collaboration to be useful. Then, leadership given by the scholars/bureaucrat would have been meaningful.
    – Moohbear
    Jan 13, 2022 at 20:24

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