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Most powerful polities in history


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#31 sindeee

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 10:59 AM

Actually yes. The only halfway reliable data from China are the population censuses, but even here complete and uncorrupted have survived only every several hundred years or so until the 2nd millennium.


You are not refuting my statement one bit. I've already stated that these data were not perfect, but your original claim was that "the ancients did not leave any such data behind", which is clearly not the case as numerous census registrations survived that enabled historians to construct a rough framework of the population of the time(which you could call halfway reliable data). While they are not absolute, they are not like the metal figures you've quoted for the Han, where no data is available for a construct to be even based around.


But guess what this is from a military point of view not half as important as you like it to be, as there is no evidence that the nomads ever fielded less biomass (men + horses) than the Chinese, so what military importance can you attach to the superior Chinese population size? It did not translate into superior manpower on the battlefield.


The steppe nomads is a different political organism all together as they are universally mobilized for war and should be treated separately from the sedentary civilizations. Not to mention, nomads defeating or stalemating large civilizations with far greater bio mass seemed to be a rule across Eurasia, not just in China.

But it comes even worse for your reliance on pseudo-numbers: total GDP is actually pretty meaningless, what rather counts is surplus which is expressed by GDP per capita and in this respect China (like India) was not above the Asian average (see Angus Maddison: The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, p. 263).


Maddison also mentioned that the Asian average was higher than the European average until 1300. And I hope you are joking with your claim that total GDP is meaningless, as it is a far more important determinant than per capita(as long as the population are not facing widespread starvation). This is why any sane international relation expert would place modern China, a third world country, as a greater economic power than Finland, the nation with the highest GDP per capita in 2000. And even Maddison noted that China was the most powerful state in the world until 1800.

Here again the proof is in the pudding: Although Great Britain's GDP was probably still less than that of the much more populous Russia and China, its army and navy still blew both into the weeds in the Crimean War respectively Opium War. Why? Because the Russian and Chinese GDP was of the agricultural type, that is it went from the hand to the mouth, before breakfast Manchu China was rich, but after it poor.


Exceptional cases doesn't support your argument. 19th century China had no industrialized factories or gunboats, while the productive force and weaponry in medieval China was the same as other civilizations across Eurasia, therefore numbers do matter significantly.

So yes, your figures are largely meaningless, not only because they are all rest on a very flimsy basis (which accidentally the scholars who forward them are the first to acknowledge), but also because you evidently don't understand how to use and interpret them.


While total GDP and military spending are not decisive measurements, they are far from "largely meaningless" and remains the two most important criteria in determining the power of a state in modern times. This might not be what you want to hear, but it is the truth.

#32 Tibet Libre

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 11:23 AM

I don't need to bring in any other argument with you. The Turks defeated the White Huns, a power which the Persians lost many battles against, and completely failed to crush; in fact one Persian king was even killed by the White Huns, and after defeating the White huns, the Turks went on to defeat the Persians themselves, that is enough prove that they are a first class world power, greater than the Persians who are roughly equal to the Byzantines.


If you are into these cross comparisons, then you surely have noticed that the same Caliphate which blew in 753 the Tang at their peak into the weeds, had suffered only slightly earlier in the Battle of Tours (732) a crushing defeat by the Carolingians. Makes Carolingians > Caliphate > Tang :greeting:

#33 Tibet Libre

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 11:42 AM

You are not refuting my statement one bit. I've already stated that these data were not perfect..


Which data are you actually talking about? I have not seen one bit.

The steppe nomads is a different political organism all together as they are universally mobilized for war and should be treated separately from the sedentary civilizations. Not to mention, nomads defeating or stalemating large civilizations with far greater bio mass seemed to be a rule across Eurasia, not just in China.


But these other civilizations were less often overrun as China was, even though they usually had more than one front to protect.

Maddison also mentioned that the Asian average was higher than the European average until 1300.


Wow, you know how to interpret a stats:

Year 1000
Western Europe 427
China          450
Asia           466

-> China's GDP per capita was barely 5% higher than Western Europe when the gap between them was perhaps the biggest.

And I hope you are joking with your claim that total GDP is meaningless, as it is a far more important determinant than per capita(as long as the population are not facing widespread starvation).


Quote please. Actually, my argument is the received wisdom of the economic historian Paul Bairoch (1976): It is obvious that by itself the volume of total GNP has no important significance, and that the volume of GNP is not by itself the expression of the economic strength of a nation.

And even Maddison noted that China was the most powerful state in the world until 1800.


Quote please. I would be surprised to see Maddison, a macro-economist, make a statement which clearly falls outside the scope of his field and competence.

While total GDP and military spending are not decisive measurements, they are far from "largely meaningless" and remains the two most important criteria in determining the power of a state in modern times.


Quote please.

#34 mariusj

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 02:44 PM

Can't compare. We are living in a globalized world of intercontinental flights and missiles where the US and also other powers project their power globally and we have become all neighbours through TV, telephone and internet. The rest of your argument I find equally implausible.


Aside from me actually replying to your posts in what is unreasonable to me, you simply said the rest of your things are implausible.

I will give you enough respect to not do that.

On the other hand, you said I can't compare a globalized world of intercontinental flights etc etc, yet you are the one who uses modern comparison of what power projection is to compare China over 3000 years.

But that is a logical statement, I will humor you, and so I will ask, does that means the Roman Empire, who have no serious threats, are weak like China? They are protected by the ocean and water from 3 sides, no real threat from northern Europe, and only real threat is the distant Persians.


And I must point out on your comment on GDP/Capita. Was my explanation on why your logic flawed implausible? :thumbup:
You first used GDP/Capita as a justification, then said there are no real sources.
Well aside from a definition error [who cares about per capita when measuring national strength] that is also a conflicting statement from your end.
Or will you also just ignore this as implausible?

Edited by mariusj, 23 September 2010 - 02:48 PM.


#35 south

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 03:35 AM

If you are into these cross comparisons, then you surely have noticed that the same Caliphate which blew in 753 the Tang at their peak into the weeds, had suffered only slightly earlier in the Battle of Tours (732) a crushing defeat by the Carolingians. Makes Carolingians > Caliphate > Tang


A lame comeback, but wait isn’t that precisely your stance in the past that the Islamic Empire defeated the Tang in one single skirmish and hence proves that the former is a greater power? So thank you for ridiculing your own logic.

But unfortunately, your comparison is still poor and completely unrelated because Talas is just one battle, while the Tang has also to use your own words, "blew the Muslims at their peak into the weeds" in the past, in 718 to just give an example.

However, unlike you, I'm not going to repeat that nonsense because the White Huns didn’t just defeat the Persians in one skirmish, they overran the entire Eastern province of the Persians, killed its King, and even made Persia pay tribute. That is more than enough to prove that they are a first class power. On the other hand the Gokturk destroyed and conquered the entire White Hun Empire through repeated military engagements not just one, as you made in your poor example. There is enough sample cases to make my argument plausible, whereas yours appear ridiculously selective.


Your argument here is just that the nomadic empires are weak because they did not have a bureaucracy, GDP, or people. Yet when others point out that China surpassed all other states in that regard, you refused to accept it and stated that these figures were unreliable, so please tell me, what figures do you have that proved that the Gokturk Empire was unpopulous, lacked GDP, and had no navy? Or are you going to admit the obvious double standards you are applying here?

And are you going to respond at all to the fact that the Chinese did have large, populous, organized, bureaucratic, and diverse sedentary neighbours as well as the fact that the Gokturks defeated the Persians and White Huns or just pretend that they don't matter because you were wrong?

#36 JohnD

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 03:57 AM

If you are into these cross comparisons, then you surely have noticed that the same Caliphate which blew in 753 the Tang at their peak into the weeds, had suffered only slightly earlier in the Battle of Tours (732) a crushing defeat by the Carolingians. Makes Carolingians > Caliphate > Tang :greeting:


If you're referring to the Battle of Talas, then that occurred in 751, and it was at least partly the result of the defection of foreign mercenaries in the Tang army. Also, the significance of the battle is questionable.


As far as neighbors go, the Tibetan empire was nothing to scoff at, and neither was Goguryeo.

#37 sindeee

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 04:50 AM

Which data are you actually talking about? I have not seen one bit.


We are talking about population data, which you brought out yourself. Stop playing dumb. Also as someone who brings up Maddison so much, you couldn’t possibly have missed the fact that he gave a figure of 26%, 22%, 29% and 32% of world’s GDP for China during the Han, Song, Ming and Qing dynasties respectively.


But these other civilizations were less often overrun as China was, even though they usually had more than one front to protect.


Are you going to actually back up your claim or just expect us to buy it? China has only been over run once in its entire history by real nomads and that was during the Mongol invasion (The Jurchens, like the Germanic people that overrun Rome, were not nomads). And even here, China despite been fragmented, still put on a much greater resistance than Persia or Russia. So where is the basis for the claim that China was overrun more often?



 China's GDP per capita was barely 5% higher than Western Europe when the gap between them was perhaps the biggest.


I don’t see anything wrong with the statement that China is still higher than Western Europe, even though GDP per capita did not vary that much in the world before the 19th century. Oh and stop selectively use Maddison when other cases doesn’t support you, Paul Barioch which you just quoted below, puts Chinese GDP per capita above Europe’s even as late as 1800. So I would really take GDP per capita out of this discussion if I were you.

Quote please. Actually, my argument is the received wisdom of the economic historian Paul Bairoch (1976): It is obvious that by itself the volume of total GNP has no important significance, and that the volume of GNP is not by itself the expression of the economic strength of a nation.


You certainly haven’t received his other “wisdom” of putting Chinese GDP per capita above that of Europe’s in the 18th century as well as throughout much of history. Also Paul Barioch is merely criticizing the conventional acceptance that total GDP is the sole determinant of the economic strength of a country, which I already noted myself. Unlike you, he did not make the claim that total GDP had no importance whatsoever. With that said Maddison also stated that China’s economic power remained greater until 1800 because its population grew faster than Europe’s per capita.



Quote please. I would be surprised to see Maddison, a macro-economist, make a statement which clearly falls outside the scope of his field and competence.


Its seems that despite using Maddison so much, you haven’t really took a care note of his book, but let me quote him for you: "Until the 19th century, China was a much bigger and more powerful state than any in Europe or Asia. Its technical precocity and meritocratic bureaucracy gave it higher levels of income than Europe from the fifth to the fourteenth century. Thereafter Europe slowly forged ahead in terms of per capita income, but Chinese population grew faster."
He clearly didn’t make a claim outside of his field, because he stated that Chinese economic power was above others because Chinese population grew faster, therefore, total GDP is a much more important determinant than per capita at this time.

Quote please.



What is there to quote? This is a common sense matter. China is a far greater economic power than Finland because of its greater total GDP, not because of its GDP per capita, which is many times lower. Do you want to debate even this obvious issue?

#38 Tibet Libre

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:48 AM

Sindeee,

first I would like to say I find your argumentation thoroughly inconsistent if not outright paradox: On the one hand, you hold total GDP and population size to be the single most important markers for the power of an empire, but at the same time you argue that the northern nomads with their puny population and GDP size constituted formidable opponents. Care to make up your mind?

China has only been over run once in its entire history by real nomads and that was during the Mongol invasion (The Jurchens, like the Germanic people that overrun Rome, were not nomads).


Whether they were "real" nomads or only semi-nomadic, is a pretty pedantic point, I have to say. We have been talking here about the peoples on China's northern frontier. These clearly did not have established sedentary states or empires in the usual sense when they successfully invaded ancient China. And, my point is, this they did with much increasing success during the 2nd millennium:

1115-1234: Northern China occupied by the Jurchen (119 yrs)
1234-1271: Northern China occupied by the Mongols (37 yrs)
1271-1368: Entire China occupied by the Mongols (97 yrs)
1644-1911: Entire China occupied by the Manchu (267 yrs)

--> 520 years or 57% of its 911 years existence in the 2nd millennium ancient China was partly or fully occupied by foreign powers. This long time-span amply shows that ancient China's military power was becoming not stronger, but actually considerably weaker after the turn of the 1st millennium.

And, significantly, it was overrun by the Manchu when much of Eurasia was already well into the gunpowder age, a military blunder of the very first order which honestly should have never occurred and which did never occurr to the real gunpowder empires of the West, including the Ottomans. Nor were Persia and India so late in history so comprehensively beaten by peoples from horseback. And in Europe proper, for the last successful nomadic invasion you have to go back all the way to the 9th century (by the Hungarians), these are 800 years which China was lagging behind!

Powerless against the nomads, unchallenged on its other land frontiers, non-existent on the sea...if this is your most powerful state on earth, I recommend reading a world history book, you may be surprised.

I'll reply later to the GDP topic

Edited by Tibet Libre, 24 September 2010 - 07:01 AM.


#39 Tibet Libre

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:53 AM

If you're referring to the Battle of Talas, then that occurred in 751, and it was at least partly the result of the defection of foreign mercenaries in the Tang army.


A leaf from the book of Sun Tzu, what is wrong with that? You have theorists and you have practitioners...

#40 Tibet Libre

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 08:01 AM

...you couldn’t possibly have missed the fact that he gave a figure of 26%, 22%, 29% and 32% of world’s GDP for China during the Han, Song, Ming and Qing dynasties respectively.


And yet 22% Song and 29% Ming were crushingly defeated by nomadic peoples with minimal manpower and GDP. And India, which, due to its similar population size, held a similar GDP, was similarly in the military defene, so what is your point? You have not in the least answered my question how your figures relate to actual military powerfulness.

... selectively use Maddison when other cases doesn’t support you, Paul Barioch which you just quoted below, puts Chinese GDP per capita above Europe’s even as late as 1800.


Pot..kettle...black. First, you conveniently ignore that Maddison actually strongly disagrees with Bairoch, and secondly, Bairoch later revised his position anyway:

Maddison:

In Maddison (1983), I contrasted the Landes view with Bairoch’s (1981) assessment of relative income per head. He suggested that China was well ahead of Western Europe in 1800, Japan and the rest of Asia only 5 per cent lower than Europe, Latin America well ahead of North America, and Africa about two thirds of the West European level. This highly improbable scenario was never documented in the case of Asia, Latin America or Africa. His figures for these areas were essentially guesstimates. Bairoch consistently took the position that the third world had been impoverished by the rich countries (see Bairoch, 1967), and he was, in fact, fabricating ammunition for this hypothesis (see the critique of Chesnais, 1987).


Maddison:

To me the most surprising and interesting part of Bairochs' 1997 study is his discussion of the relative performance and interaction of the European and Asian economies between 1500 and 1800. He suggests that Asia was probably somewhat more advanced than Europe around 1500 and that by the eighteenth century this advantage had disappeared. The Muslim advantage over Europe in the Abbasid caliphate peaked in the 10th century; Chinese superiority had been greatest in the 12th century; the peak for Moghul India was in the 16th century, and that of the Ottoman Empire around 1600. Stagnation or decline followed thereafter, whereas Europe made substantial progress from 1500 to 1800. This analysis is difficult to reconcile with his earlier position, but it is much nearer to my view of the relative performance of these two parts of the world economy between 1500 and 1800.


Unlike you, he did not make the claim that total GDP had no importance whatsoever.



Read Bairoch's quote again and tell me what is so hard to comprehend. Five Chinese peasants living close to the subsistence level could be richer in sum than a single English merchant, yet all they produce is immediately consumed for sustaining their lifes, while the single merchant could amass a surplus which could be invested (e.g. in arms).

It is obvious that by itself the volume of total GNP has no important significance, and that the volume of GNP is not by itself the expression of the economic strength of a nation.

SOURCE: Bairoch, Paul (1976): "Europe's Gross National Product: 1800–1975", Journal of European Economic History, Vol. 5, pp. 273–340 (276)


Notably, you find the same point, with explicit reference to Bairoch and China, made by the notable military and political analyst Kennedy, Paul (1987): ''The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000'', Vintage Books, ISBN 0-679-72019-7, p. 152

"Until the 19th century, China was a much bigger and more powerful state than any in Europe or Asia. Its technical precocity and meritocratic bureaucracy gave it higher levels of income than Europe from the fifth to the fourteenth century. Thereafter Europe slowly forged ahead in terms of per capita income, but Chinese population grew faster."


I see, it is p. 117. Clearly, Maddison, an economic historian, ventures here out of his field. And at any rate, he simply asserts this and does not present an argument, so it is worthless. If you want an analysis from an expert in the field why China was a peripheral loner in 15th to 20th century world politics, consult Kennedy's several page analysis of Ming China in his seminal study quoted above.

While total GDP and military spending are not decisive measurements, they are far from "largely meaningless" and remains the two most important criteria in determining the power of a state in modern times.


Whom do you quote? Yourself?

Edited by Tibet Libre, 24 September 2010 - 08:02 AM.


#41 JohnD

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 08:10 AM

A leaf from the book of Sun Tzu, what is wrong with that? You have theorists and you have practitioners...


I don't know what you mean.

#42 sindeee

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 09:11 AM

Sindeee,

first I would like to say I find your argumentation thoroughly inconsistent if not outright paradox: On the one hand, you hold total GDP and population size to be the single most important markers for the power of an empire, but at the same time you argue that the northern nomads with their puny population and GDP size constituted formidable opponents. Care to make up your mind?


The feeling is mutual, and I think I'm not the only one who feels that way. I never said GDP and population size are the single most important markers, please read back. I said they are the two of the most important factors and are the only objective criteria which we can go by, avoiding the rest of the subjective tropes that you and the others are throwing around.

As for why nomads were formidable opponents, many of us already explained it, but you just don't want to hear it; its because of their mobility and military organization that separates them from any sedentary people. So yes, when we compare the steppe to the sedentary people GDP and population size should not be a major determinant(much less cities, the lack of which actually made them more mobile), but that cannot be said in regard to comparisons between sedentary states themselves, where GDP and populations matter significantly.

On the other I would also like to question your double standard in regard to denouncing the Xiongnu and Gok Turk as weak empires because they had according to you, no bureaucracy, little cities, and low population and GDP, yet when we use the same standards when comparing China to the rest of the world, you call these factors insignificant. So make up YOUR mind.







Whether they were "real" nomads or only semi-nomadic, is a pretty pedantic point, I have to say. We have been talking here about the peoples on China's northern frontier. These clearly did not have established sedentary states or empires in the usual sense when they successfully invaded ancient China. And, my point is, this they did with much increasing success during the 2nd millennium:


We definitely agree on that and in fact nomads are vastly greater powers than sedentary people of the same population size. But even here, I hardly see the case that China has been overran more often than any other major empire.

1115-1234: Northern China occupied by the Jurchen (119 yrs)
1234-1271: Northern China occupied by the Mongols (37 yrs)
1271-1368: Entire China occupied by the Mongols (97 yrs)
1644-1911: Entire China occupied by the Manchu (267 yrs)



Some corrections, northern China were not overran by the Jurchens until 1127, not 1115, when the Jurchens overran the Liao. The Mongols only occupied the Song in 1279, not in 1271, when the Yuan was established. The entirety of China was not occupied by the Manchus in 1644, that was only accomplished in 1664. 258 years of total occupation and 508 years of half occupation is hardly significant in a country that spanned back over 3000 years when we compare it to other large empires which lasted at least 2 thousand years. Take Egypt for instance. Starting from the Old Kingdom in 3100, half of it was occupied by the Hyksos from 1648-1530(Although there are historians now which argue the Hykso was more of a migration than an invasion). Then by the 25th dynasty of Nubia(760-652), then the Assyrians (671-663), Persians (525-402 BC)(343-332BC), Macedonians (332-31 BC), Romans (31BC-7th century), then Arabs and the end of ancient Egypt. Thats over 1000 years of foerign domination in roughly 3500 years of Egyptian history, or about a third of Egypt's time.

Now look at Persia. Starting from the Achaemenid in around 550 BC, Persia was conquered by Macedonians (330 - 141 BC), Parthia(141-224), Arabs and Mongols(650-1501). Even the Safavid dynasty was not of Persian origin, but I'm not going to count it as some foreign dynasty since they were established within Iran; if we do, then poor Persia won't be independent until the 20th century. Thats almost 2000 years out of 2600 years of Persian history or nearly 80% of time under forerign occupation!


And Greece? It wasn't even a single state or empire but if we examine the cultural ethnic region, it was occupied by the Macedonians, Romans, and the Ottoman down to the 19th century, thats also over 80% of its history under "foreign occupation".

Rome? Etruscan rule lasted about a century and a half. Then after the fifth century, the eastern Empire never restored the western half, until it was slowly eaten away by muslim(and Western European too) power until 1453. Thats still more than half of time under foreign domination.

I think you already know about India, but actually, I think Indian records are more impressive than those of Persia and Rome come to think of it. Starting from the Vedic Age to the present, at least most of its territory and population remained independent for more than half of its existence(the raj are more native rulers than forerign conquerers). The only conquerers which gained any significant parts of India was the Bactrian Greeks, kushans, ephialtes, delhi sultanate, Mughal, and the British.

Even examining states like Britain, we see that MOST OF ITS HISTORY IS UNDER FOREIGN DOMINATION. Starting from the Danish invasions of the 9th century, the Danes were in Britain for over 2 centuries, often occupying as much as half, or even at one time most of it. Then starting from the 11th century, the house of Denmark again conquered Britain (1013-1042), then the famous William the Conquerer and the house of Normandy, which will continue the line of French originated kings until well, 1603, with the end of the house of Tudor. But then we still have a series of none-English kings, although its true that they did not invade to attain the throne. But we have the Dutch invasion of 1688, although some choose to call it glorious. But to be fair we can say that the House of Lancaster was the last one which had any French connections, but thats still almost 700 years of foreign presence in less than 1500 years of English history, or half of it.


Now for China, the period between 314-589 was not really an invasion, but a migration of a sort. So the real foreign occupation began around 1127 with the Jurchens and ends in 1368 with the Mongols. Then Manchus 1644-1911. Using the Zhou as a marker for beginning of China(the Shang's origin is iffy). Thats only about five centuries in over 3000 years of Chinese history, or only 1/6 of it under "foreign" occupation. Thats much better than the other regions we've just examined.

--> 520 years or 57% of its 911 years existence in the 2nd millennium ancient China was partly or fully occupied by foreign powers. This long time-span amply shows that ancient China's military power was becoming not stronger, but actually considerably weaker after the turn of the 1st millennium.



But why are you only selectively looking at the second mellenium only? China extends back to the 1st mellenium BC and the second mellenium is perhaps the mellenium that it was occupied the most. But even 508 out of 1000 is not that significant compared to many other major empires.

And, significantly, it was overrun by the Manchu when much of Eurasia was already well into the gunpowder age, a military blunder of the very first order which honestly should have never occurred and which did never occurr to the real gunpowder empires of the West, including the Ottomans. Nor were Persia and India so late in history so comprehensively beaten by peoples from horseback. And in Europe proper, for the last successful nomadic invasion you have to go back all the way to the 9th century (by the Hungarians), these are 800 years which China was lagging behind!


But thats a weak argument, because the Manchus were themselves a powerful gunpowder empire like the Ottomans, Safavids and the Mughal, who also rode on horseback and this is before they occupied China. And I beg to differ about your claims that Persia and India were not conquered by warriors on horseback. The Mughals began as horseback conquerers and occupied India as early as the 16th century, even the Safavid dynasty were of non-Persian origin.

Powerless against the nomads, unchallenged on its other land frontiers, non-existent on the sea...if this is your most powerful state on earth, I recommend reading a world history book, you may be surprised.


They are hardly powerless, the late Ming was dominating the Mongols on the battle field. I really recommend you reading a Chinese history book.

And yet 22% Song and 29% Ming were crushingly defeated by nomadic peoples with minimal manpower and GDP. And India, which, due to its similar population size, held a similar GDP, was similarly in the military defene, so what is your point? You have not in the least answered my question how your figures relate to actual military powerfulness.


So do you agree that GDP size, population size and lack of full fledged bureaucracy does not make a nomadic empire weak as you have been arguing in the case of the Gokturk and the Xiongnu Empire?
Also, the last time I checked, the late Ming won nearly every single engagement against the Mongols and made them vassals for the most part, they are hardly weak against the nomads. Similarly, the Qing was not able to overrun China until 1644, when the Ming already collapsed from internal rebellion.
And against other pure sedentary states in war such as the various Viet states, Japan, and Koreanic states like Koguryo, China has never faced any threats whatsoever, it was able to overwhelm them precisely because of its greater size, population, and resources. This only further supports my case that conventional indicators of power such as GDP and population does not apply to the nomadic empires(at least not in the military dimension, but they do apply economically, since China was often able to force the nomads into vassalage by its control of trade) but they do apply greatly when comparing powers between sedentary polities.

Pot..kettle...black. First, you conveniently ignore that Maddison actually strongly disagrees with Bairoch, and secondly, Bairoch later revised his position anyway:


Where did I ignore this fact? In fact I'm the one who pointed out to you Barioch's estimates and how you are selectively choosing Maddison's over him so we should ignore per capita all together due both to these numerous descrepancies and the fact that Maddison himself did not see per capita before the 19th century as all that important.

Read Bairoch's quote again and tell me what is so hard to comprehend.


There is nothing I'm incomprehending. You are the one who does not understand that Bairoch only stated that GDP BY ITSELF(keyword) is not the determinant, but no where did he claim GDP is not important at all. Neither did Paul Kennedy, who you clearly misunderstood. Actually, even in page 149 of Paul Kennedy's "Rise and fall of Great Power", GDP was used as a measurement for peaks and troughs of different important countries. So Kennedy clearly didn't see it as meaningless.

Five Chinese peasants living close to the subsistence level could be richer in sum than a single English merchant, yet all they produce is immediately consumed for sustaining their lifes, while the single merchant could amass a surplus which could be invested (e.g. in arms).


You need to reread Maddison very carefully because your datas are clearly wrong. Chinese peasants weren't below the subsistence line. According to Maddison, Chinese per capita was $600 or $200 above the subsistence line, and has been above for at least more than two thousand years. That means surplus. European's GDP per capita was only around $1100 even as late as 1800, or around $700 above the subsistence line, so even in 1800, 2 Chinese would already be richer than an average European and 5 Chinese would already produce more surplus. The per capita between China and Europe is not that different even according to Maddison. Considering China's population was way more than ten times that of any European country, having a much larger surplus and been much more economically powerful isn't something hard to comprehend.
In fact Maddison even stated China's power was greater BECAUSE of its population expansion which gave it a greater overall GDP.


I see, it is p. 117. Clearly, Maddison, an economic historian, ventures here out of his field. And at any rate, he simply asserts this and does not present an argument, so it is worthless. If you want an analysis from an expert in the field why China was a peripheral loner in 15th to 20th century world politics, consult Kennedy's several page analysis of Ming China in his seminal study quoted above.


Speaking of venturing out of his field, Paul Kennedy's economic analysis almost solely relied on those of Paul Bairoch's estimates, so how is he more authoritative than Maddison who is also an economic expert? Not to mention Paul Kennedy is a political scientist whose expertise lies in modern British political history. He is hardly an expert in regard to early modern Chinese history or its role in the world, and the book is more than 25 years old. In fact much of his information and theories still relied on the models proposed by John Fairbank, which has already been challenged for more than 20 years. For a real expert, I suggest you read Huang Ray's "1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline" which made a significant contribution in the field of early modern Chinese history in that it overthrew many traditional ideas in regard to China, trade isolation been one of them.
Furthermore, economic historians like Andre Gunder Frank had already challenged the Eurocentric models of Chinese peripheralism for quite some times by examining the vast amount of world silver entering China and concluded that China and India were the real economic centers of the world where Europea trades revovled around.
On the other hand, power is multi-dimensional, and economic power is a very important dimension of it. Quoting the political scientist Meng Honghua; "people(international relation theorists in the mid 20th century) had already become aware that national power does not only mean economic strength, although the latter provides the basis of national power." Through an economic analysis, Maddison's description of China as a greater power because of the growth of its total GDP from population surge which outgrew the total GDP through per capita growth in Europe is not stepping out of his field as much as you would like to think, and it certainly denounces your idea that GDP per capita is more determinant than total GDP.

Whom do you quote? Yourself?

No, I'm actually quoting from an entire academic field of research in political science conducted in the PRC called Comprehensive national power(CNP) for your information. Its a method which PRC analysists make in trying to quantify the power of a state; http://docs.google.c...L1Hq5XDMcN7YALQ
Among the 8 determinants of CNP, military spending and total GDP are two of them, while unsurprisingly, GDP per capita isn't. In fact, economic resource, in the form of total GDP is the leading determinant of the 8, and had a high coefficient of 1.0. To quote Hu Angang; "We measure economic resources by GDP. It is the sum of the gross values aded by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products." Similarly, "Military resources have two major categories of indicators: (1) military expenditures...(2)armed forces personnel"

Quoting yourself is what you have been doing in numerous places. You quoted yourself when you claimed GDP per capita was more important than total GDP, you quoted yourself when you claimed that the nomadic empires was weak, you quoted yourself when you said China had no powerful neighbors. Do you want me to go on?
In fact your logic is heck of a mess and many of your data is outright wrong.

And why are you still ignoring the case that modern China is a greater economic power than Finland because of its total GDP? In fact name me any countries today that is considered economically powerful simply because their per capita is high while their total GDP is low. You can't find one. The matter is very simple, larger total GDP allows for a greater tax revenue and hence a larger budget, it doesn't matter how high the per capita GDP is if the total revenue remains low. I don't think this common sense matter is something I need to go over with any rational person unless he is in utter denial.

Edited by sindeee, 27 September 2010 - 04:32 AM.


#43 mohistManiac

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 03:08 PM

Using the Zhou as a marker for beginning of China(the Shang's origin is iffy). Thats only about five centuries in over 3000 years of Chinese history, or only 1/6 of it under "foreign" occupation.


I'm not sure why you said the Shang's origin is iffy. Didn't they begin the practice of writing using a developed Chinese writing system that can still be deciphered today or are you attributing this to the Zhou dynasties achievements because it happened late and abruptly during the Shang dynasty period?
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#44 mariusj

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:13 PM

What of mighty Roman Empire, Tibet?
In its existence, from Augustus to Constantine XI Palaiologos, how long was the Empire occupied by nomads, [and those who aren't nomads]?

Why don't you list 10 of the most powerful political entities, and let us see how well their fare under your logic.

#45 Tibet Libre

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 07:49 AM

Let me conclude my remarks by a brief summary:

In international relations, power is not an absolute, but a relative property: The single most important determinant of an empire's military power is the strength of its enemies and how it measures up against it (the close analogy is the world of sports where you are only as good as your direct competitor allows you to be).

Abstract figures such as population size and GDP are not entirely meaningless, but the naive belief in pseudo-objective numbers is detrimental to any serious research into the question of power for three reasons:

- Any modern estimate of population or GDP size from pre-1800 is highly speculative and often altogether conjectural; very often, the modern guessimates vary by several hundred percent, making any ranking based exclusively on it practically number-juggling.

- Total GDP has little significance if taken by itself. Many people, like agricultural China had, can produce much, but also immediately consume almost as much merely to sustain their life. What rather counts is what is left after dinner, the surplus. This surplus is best expressed by GDP per capita, that is the value which can be actually invested in other goods beyond the immediate necessities such as food and clothing. As such, GDP per capita is closely related to economic wealth, but, here it comes, Chinese GDP per capita appears to be mostly average throughout history (as was India's, for which these observations also apply).

- Historically speaking, there appears to be only a very indirect relationship between economic power and military power. Ironically, this is particularly true of China's history, a country which was defeated and conquered many times by nomadic peoples who never held more than a tiny fraction of either its population and GDP size.

Based on these reasons and observations, I wouldn't lightly place any 'Chinese' (=Han + foreign) dynasty among the top 10-15 mightiest premodern empires, particularly when considering its nearly total failure as a sea power.




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