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The World History Rewritten
History of China
Speaking about the history of China (and then about history of India) I will try to show you that it is not so different form European history, and historical processes and laws are basically the same.
You should also remember that China has extremely large share of the World population. For the whole history (except XVIIIth and XIXth centuries) 1/4 of the World population lived in China. The same is true for India.
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For this lecture I will divide the history of China (before XIXth century) into five stages. Map below illustrates these stages, and also shows basic geography of China: rivers, deserts, mountain ranges (cities are today’s cities).
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First stage: Ancient China
Before 770 BC. Historians have very limited knowledge about the first China’s dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou). Those dynasties are mentioned in China tradition, but most of the early literature and historical writings were destroyed according to orders of emperor Shi Hunagdi, when he fought with political opposition to unite China. Chronologies before the year 841 BC are constructed based only on archeological discoveries and have the fault that historians could mistake cultures (people who use the same pottery, weapons, etc.) with dynasties (families of rulers). But we can safely assume that before the year of 770 BC there was three cycles of rise-and-fall of early feudal China states (called Xia, Shang and Zhou). We also know that Zhou dynasty was real and started form barbarian invasion.These times early China state, probably formed in Shaanxi, Henan and Shanxi provinces, expanded East along the river Hunag-He. The Shaanxi province was originally called “The Land Between Mountain Passes” (or sometimes “west of the mountain passes”) and is really the great valley, where a few important trade routes are stressed together and cross. Maybe this was the reason the first state was formed here not in the North China Plain (East form Shaanxi close to the sea), where the local rulers cannot so easy control many trade routes. It is also useful to note that Huang He river (Yellow River) very often changes its river-bed (in Medieval for some time Huang He went to the sea thorough the River Yangtze).
Of course it is hard to say, was it more a military or peaceful economic expansion. In my opinion, because of geography of Huang He river basin, the expansion of Ancient China probably resembled the expansion of early medieval Russia from river Dniepr basin to river Volga basin: peaceful colonization of higher-technology nation was (when necessary) supported with military force by rulers.
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Second Stage: Feudal fragmentation
Feudal fragmentation (divided into two periods: “Springs
and Autumns” and “Warring Kingdoms”)
but rulers of China were loosing their power gradually for some time
For five centuries China was divided into many kingdoms fighting with
other. It was the period of wars and chaos, but also the acme of
Continuous wars (the same as renaissance wars in Italy inspired Machiavelli) inspired Sun Tze (or Sun Tzu) to write a tractate about the art of waging war.
Finally China was reunited by kingdom of Quin (see map).
Probably the reason for Quin strength and conquests was the income from
the export by the Silk Road (a trade route from China to Middle East,
Europe and India) plus maybe better iron weapons and other war
technologies imported from West.
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221 BC - IXth century AD. Emperor Shi Huangdi (name means “The First Emperor”) - famous for his funeral terracotta army and from movie “Hero” - from Quin, who united China was the real creator of China Empire. He introduced many reforms: unified law, administration, currency, systems of measures and built roads. His methods were brute (like methods of Peter the Great or Ivan The Terrible in Russia) - many opponents were killed, many nobles were deported, many books were burnt. And he also built the Great Wall joining together many smaller walls protecting China from barbarians.
After Shi Huangdi death, a great rebellion destroyed the Quin
dynasty, but thanks to his reforms the Empire survived the civil
war, and next dynasty - Han
- ruled China for four centuries.. Anotherr reason for this political
stability was the economic prosperity because of colonization of
low-populated South China and export by the Silk Road. China
(peripheral state) had lower income than Middle East and Europe (core
states), so could easy export goods that China manufacturers had a
technological monopoly: first silk, then china (delicate pottery), tea,
China is one of the best examples of feudal state with a
strong role of government and administration. The feudal hierarchy was
the hierarchy of offices (like ex. in XIXth century Russia). Moreover
China officials (like in the Inca Empire) were usually highly
educated. We can say that in Europe generally dominated a
“free-market-oriented” feudal system while in China a “state-oriented”
Free market is generally more effective, but government
regulated marked also have some advantages, which are generally the
same as a monopoly or great corporation with big market share has:
Of course a government-regulated market has some flaws. One of them is an inflation when government spendings are to high. China experienced this after the year of 133 BC as an effect of wars with barbarian tribes of Huns (the same nation that a few centuries later invaded the Roman Empire), when emperor - because of the costs of war - had to spoil money, but Huns were defeated and started a migration to the west.
It is useful to note here that China had a very limited
deposits of precious metals, except copper (comparing with the demand
for money created by the China’s economy). So when Chinese a
several centuries later discovered paper money, they really discovered
the hyperinflation, which, as you recall, is a side-effect of stagflation
crisis in a government-regulated economy.
Han dynasty (the same as Tang dynasty a few centuries later) -
every feudal government supported by GPI,
I call the planters-faction (i.e.
group of political interests that represents feudals and merchants
interested in export) - was open for new ideas. China even sent
expedition of explores to the West.
Centuries from IIIrd to VIth were another period of feudal fragmentation in China. One of the reasons for this decline was the economic and political crisis in the Roman Empire, which reduced the demand for Chinesee export and thus weakened China’s government which had monopolistic control over the export. With the economic recovery of populistic Byzantine Empire, China recovered also. Of course there is some latency in economic cycles in both regions.
In the times of another great dynasty, Tang
(VIIth-IXth century AD), the process of colonization of South China
ended, and populations of both regions equalized. The trade between
Southern and Northern China became more important than the trade with
the West. In result the capital of China was moved from the Shaanxi
province (Xi’an) closer to the Grand Canal. (It is not unusual for the
capital of the state to be moved, when trade routes shifts or
government changes the economic policy. Great examples are removals
Roman Empire capital from Rome to Constantinople or the Russia capital
from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back).
After a few centuries when conditions changed, Confucianism ideology was so strongly rooted in China tradition that could substitute the religion. But in the times of Tang and Song dynasties (VIIth-XIIth) there was some times periods or serious religious conflicts between main religious and ideological movements: Buddhism, Taoism (in many aspect very similar to religion but not so formalized), Confucianism, Islam and Christianity. And government periodically organized haunts for followers of non-China religions. As you can see, China was not really so different from Europe - when different factions fought to gain control over country’s politics, ideological conflicts were intense.
With the shrinking demand for Chinese export in the Middle East and with the less profitable trade exchange between South and North China when economic levels of both regions equalized, the power of central government declined, and Tang dynasty failed (at the beginning of Xth century). And another period of feudal fragmentation started.
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Fourth stage: Relatively isolated feudal state
Xth-XVIth century. Since Xth century China was a relatively isolated feudal state that had its own cycles of rise an fall (more or less as the Ancient Egypt). Economic policy of the Emperor’s court changed many times and because of many reasons. Originally I have planed to use China as an example to show the reasons for transitions of government policy in a feudal state (to explain when different feudal factions take over the leadership). But then I realized that the whole lecture is too long for this short introduction to the Mechanics of History. I present short explanation in the frame below.
The Empire of Song dynasty
- which united China again (and ruled the Empire till the Mongol
invasion 960-1225 and till 1279 in South China) - was rather peaceful
comparing with Han and Tang dynasties. This time the Empire was smaller
and strong half-barbarian kingdoms controlled the Great Wall, northern
mountain passes and the Silk Road. Simply speaking, China was a quite
country these times and has no profitable lands to conquer in close
vicinity, so the pacifism was the most reasonable economic policy.
Also there was no reason to control trade route to the West because the economic gap between China and the West (i.e. Europe and Middle East) almost disappeared and therefore export to the West was not so profitable as before. China Empire was one of the richest countries these times. Also the technological gap between China and the West was smaller. Chinese made many important discoveries like: gunpowder, print, compass, paper.
But we have to remember that China was still less technologically developed than the West. These discoveries were spectacular, but there were only a few of them while Europeans and Arabians had known many technologies which Chinese did not know (in metallurgy, warfare, constructing, engineering, math, writing, mining, ships building). Here are only a few examples:
It is the irony of history that the country ruled by civil service of very educated officials
- because education was the main criteria to become a state official
and then to go up in administration hierarchy (as you recall feudal
class in China was the class of state officials) - had slower
technological growth than countries of the West, often ruled by
uneducated rulers. The main reason is, the scientific development is
chaotic of nature and its rate slows down when the government controls
and regulates the country’s economy.
We should also remember that many of Chinese inventions were really the toys for the Imperial Court and for rich officials, and were not implemented in every day life or were not implemented in the most efficient way. On the other hand, European inventions were usually not so spectacular, but had greater impact on economy. It is like comparing the technology of Soviet Union and USA in 50-ties and 60-ties. Launch of Sputnik (first satellite launched by USSR) was spectacular, opposite to computers, genetics, plastics, television, and many other US technologies, which however had greater practical value. But to stay honest: in early Medieval (VIth-Xth centuries AD) China had probably higher technology level than Western Europe (but probably not higher than the Byzantine Empire and Arabian Middle East). Then with the emergence of populistic city-states in Italy in XIth century, the rate of technology development in Europe speeded up and China technologies were slowly becoming more and more obsolete.
Before the XIXth century one of the basic economic evidences,
which country was richer is the direction of coins (money) flows. We
just need to see which country was an exporter of goods (China), and
which one had to export money (Middle East, Europe). Country that had
to export money, usually is richer - demand for the goods imported from
abroad is so high that the country have not enough exportable goods to
balance the import and thus have a permanent negative trade balance
is true only when economies of most countries are
government-regulated). As I said before: rich country have a comparative advantage at
An effect of economic stagnation in China was the neighbouring
barbarian tribes grew in strength. Song dynasty lost the north of China
for the half-barbaric rulers in 1126 - Ruzhens (or Jurchens), founders
of Jin dynasty. And finally China
experienced the Mongol invasion. Mongols leaded by great chieftain Gengis Khan conquered Northern China at
the beginning of XIIIth century. (Song dynasty survived in
Southern China till 1279 AD, when the grandson of Gengis Khan, Kublai
Khan conquered the rest of the China.) The Mongol Empire of Ghengis
Khan and his descendants (called Yuan
dynasty) was probably one of the greatest empires in the history. (See map) As I said before, one-fourth of human
population lived in China, so Mongol barbarian conquests launched
by the fall of China have to be extraordinary. Especially because
steppes and grasslands of Eurasia (from Hungary to Manchuria) are a
very easy travel route for nomad tribes.
Armies of Mongols conquered and subordinated China, Siberia,
Central Asia, the great part of Middle East and Russia. (Of course most
of the feudal countries conquered by Mongols were more or less
decomposed.) They even plundered Poland and Hungary in Central Europe.
But aside from the destruction and fire that Mongol conquests brought
to many cities and states, had also some positive effect: uniting the
Asia opened again the trade route from Europe to China. Before Mongols
the Silk Road was controlled by several countries and the costs of
trade exchange were very high, because of many taxes merchants had to
pay - now it was much easier to
travel and trade.
Opening of new trade routes brought extra profits to Italian
populistic merchant republics of Genoa and Venice. With the travels of
Venetian merchant Marco
Polo. Europeans gained knowledge about China and the Court of Kublai Khan. But for China
export to the West was these times not such profitable as before. The
main source of government income for Mongol Emperor - who resided in
Bejing - was the salt monopoly.
Under the rule of Kublai Khan the empire of Yuan dynasty
reached the peak of its power. Mongols as every barbarian tribe which
conquered China were absorbed by the higher civilization of conquered
Emperor even tried to conquer Japan,
but the strong resistance of Japanese and the fortunate storm called Kamikaze (divine wind), which destroyed
the invasion fleet, saved Japan from Chinese conquest. It is useful
to mention that even the invasion was successful, the large population
of Japan (plus the logistic problems) would made the long occupation
of Japan isles impossible.
The rule of Yuan dynasty was ended with national rebellion
against Mongol Emperors and that was the start of Ming
(1368-1644) dynasty famous in Europe from precious china. In the times
of Ming dynasty European sailors (Portuguese) arrived in China, and
since then trade exchange with Europe was not longer conducted by the
Silk road but by the sea.
It is also worth to mention here that in times of Ming dynasty
- and a few decades before the Great Europpean discoveries - between the
years of 1405-1433 Chinese admiral Zheng He
(Muslim eunuch) made a number successful expeditions to India Ocean
a map). His fleet reached even the eastern coast of Africa, but
then his journeys were prohibited by the Emperor. Zheng He expeditions
reached only the well lands known for a few centuries to the Arabian
sailors, which had for some time trade outpost in South China (and also Chinese merchant sailors
according to Arabic chronicles). But the strange decision of
China Emperor is a good example that in feudal countries with
government-regulated economy there is very little economic pressure to
explore of new lands and made geographic discoveries, because political
interests of merchant class are poorly represented.
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However sea export to Europe was extremely profitable for
officials (often corrupted by European merchants), so for some time
government did not react. But in XVIIth century China Emperors started
take some protectionist measures - more or less the same time as
Japan did. To be honest, the reason for this change in policy was
protect the Emperor income from taxes and monopolies than to protect
The last dynasty of the Emperial China was the Quing dynasty (1644-1912). Emperors of
Quing dynasty came from Manchuria (region north of Bejing and Korea
east from Mongolia), which conquered the China when Ming dynasty was
ended with civil unrest. After the years of unrest rule of external
invaders were reasonable option for Chinese elites. Manchuria (Manchu state) was a
half-nomadic tribe, but Manchu were not really barbarians, because
there was many Chinese cities in Manchuria these times. As I said
before, when a feudal
falls, it is usually invaded by barbarians,
but invaders could also come from a neighbouring middle-income country.
Isolationism made China terribly technologically
underdeveloped, so British Fleet had no problem to defeat China ships
and army in two Opium
Wars. These wars ended the China’s isolation and opened the
Empire for European trade and investments.
As you can see, the country with
(third in my classification) also could
wage “dirty” and morally doubtful war if such war is profitable. And
reasons behind the promotion of free trade are not always
Last revision: September-November 2006
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|MECHANICS OF HISTORY - laws to understand the histtory|