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A comparison between (East) Han and Rome


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#1 Hschen

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 12:29 PM

Here's an interesting excerpt from the book "T'ang China: The Rise of the East in World History" by S.A.M. Adshead, which is a pretty interesting little book. Anyway, early on he does a few pages of comparison between the West and the East which I think members here would be interested in. Inevitably, being a quick overview, I'm sure it plays fast and loose with some facts or can be superficial, so I expect plenty of comments and bashing, B) . Plus he's got a quirky writing style peppered with foreign terms of which he seems to be the only one to use. Still, he's the only Western historian I've come across that devotes more than a page or two to east-west comparison, and even though the whole thing is sort of superficial, at least it's good to know that more professional western historians are starting to get interested. Anyway, here it is.

"Civilizations are multifunctional; they require analysis at different levels, of which political, economic, social and intellectual are only the most obvious. Comparison between them, where it is possible and incommensurables are not involved, may give different results at these various levels. Superiority at one level does not guarantee superiority at all. Similarly, shifts in superiority and inferiority at one level may be accompanied by countercurrents at others, which may in the long run reverse the major tendency. Nevertheless, these caveats admitted, a convergence of evidence indicates that in the first half of the Christian millennium, and specifically around the year AD 400, the balance of advantage lay with the WEst rather than China. This may be shown by a comparison between the Roman and Han-Jin empires."

SIMILARITIES

"At the political level, the Roman and Han-Jin empires were at least comparable. Both covered similar areas: Rome, under Hadrian, slightly larger at 1.8 million square miles, the Eastern Han, at the end of the second century AD, slightly smaller at 1.5 million square miles. Both operated through privileged bureaucracies composed, on the one hand, of the slaves and freedmen of Caesar's household, and on the other of the "guests" ke and proteges of great aristocratic families the Dou, the Ban, the Wang and the Sima. Both maintained large armies of infantry on closed, but porous, frontiers whose protection required limes: walls, watchtowers and security zones. Both empires began effectively in the second century BC. Both in their origins owed something to the example of the Achaemenid empire, the world's first imperial state, as reconstructed by Macedon. Both started from the western peripheries of their respective civilizations before moving east to take over older economic and cultural cores. Both then returned west to incorporate barbarians previously outside civilization. Subsequently, trajectories were similar: a lesser, political crisis around the beginning of the Christian era which saw a transition from republic to principate and from meritocratic Western Han, to aristocratic Eastern Han; a greater political crisis in the third century AD which led to a recasting of empire with new capitals, Trier and Constantinople in the West, and a new dynasty, the Jin, in China. Finally, both empires experienced disruption: earlier in China, on the lines of north and south, the first divided, the second united, later in the West, on the lines of west and east, the first divided the second united. In both areas of division, barbarian aristocracies, originally leaders of mercenary armies in search of employer states, were added to the existing ruling classes."

"At the economic level, both the Roman West and the Chinese East had advanced agricultural foundations, based in the first on wheat and barley, and in the second on millet and wheat. In both cases, irrigation, by aqueducts and water wheels in the West, by canals and water wheels in the East, played a part in raising per areal yields to support an urban superstructure. In both, too, arable farming was supplemented by pastoral, though at this time to a greater extent in the East where great aristocrats doubled as runholders in the Sino-Mongolian borderlands. Parallel to both kinds of agriculture, West and East both possessed basic techniques of metal winning and metal working in copper, tin, lead, iron and zinc and in their alloys bronze and brass. In textiles, wool principally in the West, hemp principally in the East, both shared a similar technology of spinning, weaving, plain or twill, application of vegetable dyes, tailoring and sewing. Both shared a preference in dress for loose civilized draping rather than tight barbarian shaping, though in both, trousers and the battle dress of the limes were making progress. Styles of building did differ, the East preferring wood, the WEst perferring stone, but overall the level of shelter provided for the generality did not contrast significantly. Both civilizations deployed an economic infrastructure which provided 50 million people with standards of living higher than those of Black Africa and pre-Columbian America, higher too than those of the surrounding barbarians, on whom consequently they exerted a powerful magnetism to install themselves within the limes, whether as mercenaries, economic migrants or asylum-seekers."

"At the social level, both the Roman West and the Han-Jin East were urbanized societies which culminated in splendid capital cities: Rome, Constantinople, Trier and Milan in the West, Ch'ang-an, Luoyang and Nanjing in the East. Both, at the apex, were dominated by politicla and military aristocracies: in the Roman empire, the old senatorial aristocracy plus the new aristocracy of the virtus Illyrica; in the han empire, the hao-zi, the grand clans, the old families who had restored the Han after the usurpation of Wang Mang, the newer wai-qi or consort families, with whom subsequent emperors had tried to control them. These aristocracies owed their social leverage less to land, though latifundia existed as basic investments in both East and West, than to portfolios of office, command, clientelae, cultural advantage, genealogy and marriage prestige, whose periodic readjustment ensured long-term survival despite accidents of politics and war. At the base of society in both East and West were the cultivators, esteemed in theory if often despised in practice. Their condition was diverse, more by terrain and crops than by status or class, but characteristically they were not a downtrodden peasantry or plantation peons. In China, in the central provinces of Henan, Shansi and Shensi, the smallholders were the basis of the tax registers and muster rolls and when they declined so did the dynasty. Sichuan by contrast, as indicated by the Hua-yang guo-zhi, the earliest Chinese local gazetteer, was a land of gentry villas which allied irrigated wheat and the production of well salt with fishponds, tea gardens, forestry and copper mines, but there too it seems farm servants and tenants shared in the prosperity. In the West, Tchalenko's thriving olive oil producing villages of the Antioch hinterland, Bagnall's prosperous grain-producing Coptic villages of the Egyptian chora and Wacher's comfortable co-resident farm workers on the 1,000 villas of lowland Britain have qualified Rostovtzeff's picture of a "dark people" cut off from classical culture. Rural alienation existed, but in both China and the West the threat to classical stability came less from such peasantry, but from soldiers, sectaries, barbarians and a potentially radical interface. For, at both ends of the Eurasian continent, between the urbanized apex and the rural base came a third layer, the liu-min, the people of the routes, positioned less in consumption or production than in distribution: carters, coolies, cameleers, travelling merchants, boat people, entertainers, vagrants, camp followers, quacks, pilgrims, students and emissaries, all who must resort to mobility. At the top of this third layer was an intelligentsia, not rich but educated and potentially powerful if given aristocratic protection, in a world where intelligence was at a premium."

"At the intellectual level, both the Roman and the Han-Jin empires were culture states, kingdoms of the written word. Herein they differed from their common ancestor the Achaemenid empire which rested on a dynasty, an ethno-class and a common protection of cults, with Zoroastrianism only the house religion of the ruling family. In Rome and China, the word which provided the cement of empire was the word of a paideia: the paradigms, manners and protocols of a curriculum. More a medium than a message, this word was rooted in bodies of literature, both prose and poetry, propagated through their memorization in the classroom, and acclimatized as the communications code of a male ruling class, though in both civilizations eminent bluestockings from Sappho to Ban Zhao to Hypatia were active participants. "Jing"--classics, warp, mainstream--did not exclude "wei"--apocrypha, weft, undercurrents in astrology, numerology, magic and theurgy. "Jing" could also accommodate "jiao", sectarian religion, whether native or imported: the revealed Word of scripture and sutra which in both civilizations was playing an icnreasing role from the middle of the second century AD. For paganism, the cultic component of the paideia, was less a religion than a ritual, piety rather than position. Neither St. Augustine (d.430) nor Hui-yuan (d.417) felt excluded from the paideia though both claimed to transcend it."

Next: dissimilarities... :P

Edited by Hschen, 18 October 2005 - 12:43 PM.


#2 Hschen

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 01:27 PM

DISSIMILARITIES

"At the political level, there was a difference in topography. Rome was both a land and a sea power, Han China, except episodically, only a land power. The Chinese world turned its back on the sea, because, till the third century AD, its local seas led nowhere. River power was significant in the regional wars of the San-guo period (221-280), but the significance was limited in that the Huang-he, the principal river of China down to 500 AD, with its shifting bed and rapid rises and falls, was more suited to irrigation than navigation. The Roman world, on the other hand, was built round the amphitheatre of the Mediterranean, an extended version of Plato's frogs round a pond. If warfare deserted the Mediterranean after Actium (the battle between Mark Antony and Octavian in 31 BC, btw), sea power was still required to safeguard the grain fleets from Africa and Egypt from piracy. When Caesar and the Julio-Claudians incorporated the manpower of the Celtic world, military sea power had a role in the narrow seas of the Circumterranean (one of this guy's fancy terms for "North Sea" limes and its admirals played a part in the regional wars of the third century AD. In AD 400, the emperor of the West Honorius had his capital in Ravenna, primarily a naval base, while his brother of the East Arcadius sat at the juncture of two seas."

"On land, the Chinese, like the Romans, built roads of standardized design, but they built fewer of them: 22,000 miles, an average of 14 miles per 1,000 square miles of territory, compared to the Roman 48,000 miles, an average of 28 miles per 1,000 square miles of territory. Topography again was a factor. The Chinese built most of their roads radially out from the imperial capitals of Chang-an and Luoyang into the loess-lands of Shensi and Shansi, a much dissected plateau of deep valleys, terminal ravines and sudden dead-ends, inimical to intercommunication. The Romans, on the other hand, could begin with the coastal plains of Latium, Campania, Apulia and Emilia, and once free of the Appennines and the Alps had only the plain of Celtic Europe and its forest cover to contend with."

"The advantage of a double communication system and the greater facility it afforded to mobilize resources and information affected the agenda of the Roman state and its agents. It enabled it to undertake welfare functions such as the annona: the free distribution to citizens not only of bread but also of olive oil, salt, pork and wine, along with free entry to the baths and games. Caesar's munificience set the tone for his patricians: the euergetist mode of distribution which provided, at private cost but to public benefit, so many provincial cities with their amenities--baths and their fuel, amphitheatres and their animals, theatres and their actors, basilicas and their orators. Jean Durliat may have exaggerated the dependence of the ancient macro-city on the annona, but "bread and circuses" became a defining characteristic of urban Romanitas and a source of its greater magnificence and fragility in comparison to the polity of Han-Jin China."

"At the economic level, however, China enjoyed the advantage in the basic technologies of agriculture and metallurgy. An obstacle to road-making, the loess soil of interior China was an asset in arable farming. Its porosity enabled it to replenish itself by absorption of both sub-surface and atmospheric nitrogen. More continuous cultivation and less frequent fallowing were thus possible. Chinese farming therefore showed higher average yields per area over time than those of the West. Moreover, its characteristic cereal, millet, produced both higher yields per unit sown and per area than did its rival in the West, wheat. Further, though needing it less, the Chinese manured more via stye-reared pigs and the use of human nightsoil. Thanks to the Guan-xian barrage and the Wei valley scheme higher percentage of Chinese farmland was irrigated in comparison with the West, which in those areas will have led to another doubling of areal yields. In addition, the Chinese farmer had better tools than his Western counterpart. Since as far back as 500 BC, the Chinese had been able to cast and not merely to work iron. Cast iron is more britle than wrought iron, but it is less likely to bend and can be sharpened to greater acuity. Consequently, the Chinese farmers employed superior hoes, ploughshares, sickles, axes, knives and spades. Similarly, the Chinese infantryman ahd the edge over the Roman infantry in the sharpness of his sword, spear and arrow heads, and it put him into a better position to defend his limes against the barbarians. Possession of high-carbon cast iron as well as low-carbon wrought iron allowed Chinese metallurgists, by a process akin to the Bessemer method, to make an intermediate product: steel, the Seric iron so much admired by Pliny, which escaped both brittleness and bending and could be sharpened to ane ven higher degree. This metallurgical precocity had deep roots. It went back to the ability, already displayed in the Shang and Zhou bronzes, to raise higher temperatures through stronger bellows. This greater mastery over fire may have derived from the fact that in East Asia, ceramics, possibly first produced in Japan, came before agriculture rather than the other way round as in Western Eurasia."

"Nevertheless, the Chinese economy was not without its bottlenecks, particularly in the field of energy. Never well timbered, a land of copses rather than forests, interior China suffered both from the Chinese preference for building in wood rather than stone and from the supeiority of the Chinese axe. Even the seemingly limitless timber resources of sub-Himalayan Sichuan were beginning to fail under the Han, where Rome and Constantinople with good local supplies and the Hyrcanian forest to command had no such problems. Timber was the major source of energy in antiquity. Whatever the use of stone, bronze, and iron, all ages before the Industrial REvolution were timber ages. Despite its inferiority in basic technology, the Roman world probably consumed more energy per capita and in total than the Chinese world. Whether it consumed it more efficiently and effectively is open to question, but it may be guessed that its ecological lavishness did provide its society with higher standards of living, at least in the things of culture. China migh be better at production, but the Roman world with its superior communications was better at distribution and consumption."

"At the social level, while at the apex both Rome and China were urbanized societies, there were more cities in the Roman world and a higher percentage of the population lived in them. One reason was again the greater mileage of communication in the West which allowed more cities to be supplied by roads and sealanes. Another was that while the Greeks, Macedonians and Romans multiplied cities; the Chinese empire, as evidenced by archaeology, reduced them. In China cities were primarily places of government. When government became united and centralized after 221 BC, there was less need for provincial capitals and no need for rival places of courtly glamour. Many former capitals therefore atrophied. IN the West, cities were primarily places of enjoyment and civic life. The Roman empire, a welfare state, had to provide these things either directly or through the liturgies of local oligarchies. Cities therefore were maintained, extended, or created. Under the Antonines the Roman empire became a federation of cities where the Han empire remained a territorial state with a primate capital. At the base, however, Chinese producers, the
nong and the gong better endowed by technology in agriculture and metallurgy and less oppressed by their urban superstructure, probably enjoyed higher status than their counterparts in the West. As the Han period advanced and became the Three Kingdoms, and then the Jin, the imperial tax registers and muster calls shrank as farmers and artisans commended themselves as ke, "guests", that is tenants and retainers, to great aristocratic clientelae. Although the shift from smallholders to dependents was deplored by political theorists committed to the imperial state, it is not clear that the change represented a deterioration of social conditions: possibly an improvement, since the clientelae were vehicles of social mobility for their ke. Between the apex and the base, thanks to the greater availability of routes by both land and water, the third layer was thicker in the West than in China, particularly in regard to business. Sima Qian has a chapter in the Shi ji on millionaires in the Western Han, but they were transitional figures like the Russian oligarchs of the Yeltsin era and were not characteristic of the long aristocratic age which followed. Business in Han China did not match the sophistication of the Greco-Syrian connection in the West: the Antiochene inheritors of Athenian proto-capitalism, whose activities extended from Britain to India, diffusing Christianity to Lyon and Bath in one direction and to Muziris and Mylapore in another. Even subsequently, the new commercialism of salt, fish and overseas voyages associated in the San-guo period with Sun Quan and the kingdom of Wu at Nanjing did not reach the level of Antioch and its more etatiste competitor, Alexandria."

Here's where he proposes a quirky theory...:huh:

"At the intellectual level, though both the Roman and Chinese empires were culture states, their cultures differed in the spectrums they covered. Intellectual activity may be plotted against a grid formed by two axes; a horizontal axis of meaning, according to which thought is either paradigmatic or syntagmatic, that is, rhetorical or realist; a vertical axis of intention according to which thought is either categorical or critical, that is, directed to objects or to its own processes. This grid, itself a piece of low-level critical thinking, provides a fourfold spectrum: paradigmatic and categorical, categorical and syntagmatic, syntagmatic and critical, critical and paradigmatic. In terms of this spectrum, the bodies of thought most characteristic of Han China, and transmitted to the San-guo and the Jin, were concentrated in the two paradigmatic quadrants. China was strong in literature, poetry especially, and in literary criticism. It was less strong in the categorical and syntagmatic quadrant especially in metaphysics and cosmology, though in historical scholarshiip, Sima Qian may be accorded second place above Herodotus but below Thucydides. Categorical realism was inhibited by the shift within the Confucian tradition from the xin-wen jia, the New Text school, to the gu-wen jia, the Old Text school, which occurred during the usurpation of Wang Mang. This shift represented a move away from the correlative cosmology of Dong Zhong-shu and before him of Zou Yen back to the literary paradigms of the classics themselves. Empirical theories, for example in medicine, were resignified as a priori categories. Han thought was weakest in the syntagmatic and critical quadrant, but there, until the late middle ages, the West was not much stronger. Prescinding for the moment from religion, because in AD 400 Christianity had conquered in the West while Buddhism and Taoism had not yet done so in China, the West's intellectual preeminence lay in its competing cosmologies: the rival syntheses of Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotins and the Atomists as transmitted to the Roman world by Lucretius. These represented a decisive extension of thought from the paradigmatic to the syntagmatic. Without such an extension, thought remained confined in mythology in Levi-Strauss' sense of mental exercises and preparatory categorization. Chinese myth might be aniconic or historicized, rather than rooted in epic as in the Mediterranean or India, but myth it remained."

"If the West covered a wider intellectual spectrum in Antiquity than China, it also did so in a greater range of languages and scripts. Translation, it has been claimed, was the great discovery of the Hellenistic world. Though Greek and Latin were initially the only classical languages, by the end of Antiquity their number had been extended to include Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian and Ethiopian, sometimes with new scripts. Meanwhile, the Chinese paideia remained monoglot and monographic though the Chinese language itself was being enriched by Iranian loan words to do with wheeled transport, medicine and magic through contacts with a wider world in Central Asia."

"China did not yet possess a Sinosphere or effective institutions of translation. It remained shut up within its own script and texts separated by mental and physical barriers from the rest of civilization. It was the resulting sense of isolation and provinciality which had driven emperor Han Wudi to send his emissaries to the West and from the middle of the third century AD sent Chinese Buddhist prilgrims int he same direction. It was a state of affairs which the next half millennium was to reverse radically."

"Civilizations are seldom superior or inferior to each other in all respects. They are not blocs, but aggregates and distinctions between levels and within levels must be drawn. That said, if an overall judgement has to be made, it is difficult not to conclude that around AD 400 the Roman world was more advanced than the Chinese world. China might have the better economic infrastructure, on which a great future was going to be built, but in terms of superstructure--political, social and intellectual--Rome held centre-stage. It is the rise of a new Chinese centrality that we must now examine. The Rise of the East was a genuine novelty and not just the reaffirmation of an existing reality through a fresh super-Kondratieff".

What do you guys think? Personally I think the author has tried to be fair on the whole, but based on his evidence you can call it either way, although I'll agree with him on the greater variety of texts and types of literature in the West. His thesis is that China was dominant in the years 500-1000 AD though, so of course he would want to make the decision he did.

#3 Hschen

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 07:43 PM

No comments? I guess it was too long to read online...probably should have chunked it up :unsure:

#4 ih8eurocentrix

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 02:31 AM

china has 22.000 miles of roads compared to 48,000 , he doesnt mention that china roads were very wide lige highways,nether does he mention that canals were used more for "communication".

i think this article is rather biased agaisnt chinese philosphy and favours ancient western philophy as superior

#5 fcharton

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 03:25 AM

The date he chooses to make the comparison (400 AD) is very important. Intellectually, it was just before the Roman Empire began to decline. It had integrated christianism, yet not lost its greek and latin heritage, it did cover a very large mosaic of people. This is really Rome at its best (intellectually).

On the other hand, I am not sure 400 AD is a very favourable date for China. The debates of the 100 schools of thought are long dead, and buddhism is just beginning to develop.

As such, I am not surprised by his conclusion. However, had he chosen an earlier date, it is quite possible that the results would have been more favourable to China.

This said, I like his point on languages and translation.

Francois

#6 Hschen

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 10:47 AM

I'm not sure I'd agree that 400 AD was the best time for the West intellectually, but this may be because as a classics major I read almost nothing beyond Tacitus.

Like I said, the actual evidence he presents would seem to lead toward a draw, especially if you skew towards basic technology. Although I do agree with him about the the "welfare state" aspect of the Roman world--but I think that has a lot to do with cultural differences, arising from the custom of gladiatorial combat as a sort of sacrificial ritual, and the need from early on in the republic for officials to please the people. I also think his point about the "magnificence and fragility" of such a state is interesting; reminds me unsettlingly of America's lavish overconsumption, "driving straight into a brick wall in a luxury car".

As for roads, he says it's because of China's topography that less roads were built; whether that fact is important or not I don't know; I really don't know anything about the canals at this date...

As for no "Sinosphere", that's also an accident of geography; sometimes I think Chinese civilization is like one created in a lab: take a civilization and place it in a huge and fertile area with natural borders on all sides and watch it grow and develop in isolation.

I'm surprised he doesn't make a point about literature overall, which I think is valid: Chinese lit had less variety at that time compared with the west, which had more genres, most importantly narrative verse (epic) and verse drama, even proto-novels in Petronius (60s AD) and Apuleius (200 AD). I've always been frustrated by the fact that the various bits of interesting mythology didn't cohere into major works like Homer or Indian epics.

Edited by Hschen, 19 October 2005 - 10:56 AM.


#7 Barciad

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 11:54 AM

china has 22.000 miles of roads compared to 48,000 , he doesnt mention that china roads were very wide lige highways,nether does he mention that canals were used more for "communication".

i think this article is rather biased agaisnt chinese philosphy and favours ancient western philophy as superior


Okay, some questions about the canals during the Han period.

Firstly what was the comparible geography of the Han and Roman Empires - was Han more or less mountainous - did it have more open plains?
As a result, how would the whole canal system have worked if in fact the land in China was rugged? Was a form of lock gate invented yet?

On the issue of Roads, simply saying that they were wider merely says that there was more traffic between less cities in the Han Empire with regards to Rome. This would then suggest therefore that the Han had fewer-but-larger cities than Rome. This assuming that waterways (be it intenal (i.e Canals) or external (i.e The Mediterreanen)) traffic in the respective empires was roughly equal.

#8 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 03:55 PM

I read that book, he tries to be neutral and I like that. But his ideaology is still built upon previous biased views. And thats a problem.


First of all, on political development, he mentioned NOTHING on the government structure and the bureucracy of the two. All he mentioned was the INTEGRATION. How could he possibly claim political superiority based on that alone? bureucracy is alot more important than integration. The very fact that Han had a far more centralized and systematic government makes it more politically integrated. And just about all the historians I came across consider Han to be politically more sophisticated.

Second on economic: he mentioned nothing regarding to the methods of agriculture. The plows used, the systematic farming system of Han, the breast collar, and much more. Trade is but a fraction of any ancient empire's total output. Ashead seem to still rest on the age old assumption of Roman economic strength. Modern medieval historians already discarded that ridiculous theory. Rome's economy is backwards, its slave based, with unimpressive agricultural technology. The only thing that give it splendour is the integration and forced government distributions. Medieval peasants of the 12th century is at least twice as productive to an ancient Roman. And Han's GDP/capita should have been at least twice as great as well.
And I don't understand why he still think Tang is the first time China is the center of a "world" economic system. The silk road study already show that the net exporter of the silk road in the 1st century was China. Rome was a importer and at a deficit. China initialized the silk road, started it, and the collapse of the Han weakened it. It was the primary driver of the silk road, that is very clear.

Third on social; again he completely neglected the most imporatnt aspect of society, the law. Its hard to imagine how he could consider Rome to be socially more developed when a quarter of its population are slaves!

I wouldn't even go into intellectual. That is the most biased category and I can't understand how any historian would even claim superiority from such studies. In tern of rationaity, Roman aren't any superior, they depended on astrological divinition just the same. And their historical record of the past are probably alot more exggerated than Han. And I can't imagine how someone would consider a developed school of religion as sophisticated. Organized religious sects are detrimental in my opinion. And the schools of Han are well organized.

As for "translational schools", thats just an opinion. There would be many that simply consider the unification of writing of Qin a lot more sophisticated than translating texts.
And the author seem to ignore the fact that all these activities the Romans done are WITHIN their empire. Not those outside of it.




Last but not least, he does not understand what "center stage" means.

More sophisticated doesn't make it the center. Or else the Song would have been the absolute center of the world stage. Center stage requires influence and affluence. Which Rome doesn't have.

In the Book "Rome and China" by Hirth(if my memory is right) pointed out the various decisions that the Han court made can affect all the events as far as the Balkans, he traced all the events of rebellion and invasion on the Roman northeast and can match them up with the Han court's decision in central Asia. He said that all these evidence show that its more than just coincidence. The Han directed the world's political history uncounsciously, and the major affect happened when Han destroyed the Northern Xiongnu, the huns fled northwest, altered the map of Europe, the Ephtalites went southwest, altered northern India's political map as well as changing the policies of Persia.
Thats influence.

#9 Hschen

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 01:57 AM

I read that book, he tries to be neutral and I like that. But his ideaology is still built upon previous biased views. And thats a problem.
First of all, on political development, he mentioned NOTHING on the government structure and the bureucracy of the two. All he mentioned was the INTEGRATION. How could he possibly claim political superiority based on that alone? bureucracy is alot more important than integration. The very fact that Han had a far more centralized and systematic government makes it more politically integrated. And just about all the historians I came across consider Han to be politically more sophisticated.

Can you give me the names of these historians and their books? Also, can you explain a bit more about what you mean by "sophisticated"? Libertarians and advocates or small government probably wouldn't agree with you there. And would you say the US system, with states having some powers, responsibilities, and jurisdiction, is less sophisticated?

Second on economic: he mentioned nothing regarding to the methods of agriculture. The plows used, the systematic farming system of Han, the breast collar, and much more. Trade is but a fraction of any ancient empire's total output. Ashead seem to still rest on the age old assumption of Roman economic strength. Modern medieval historians already discarded that ridiculous theory. Rome's economy is backwards, its slave based, with unimpressive agricultural technology. The only thing that give it splendour is the integration and forced government distributions. Medieval peasants of the 12th century is at least twice as productive to an ancient Roman. And Han's GDP/capita should have been at least twice as great as well.
And I don't understand why he still think Tang is the first time China is the center of a "world" economic system. The silk road study already show that the net exporter of the silk road in the 1st century was China. Rome was a importer and at a deficit. China initialized the silk road, started it, and the collapse of the Han weakened it. It was the primary driver of the silk road, that is very clear.

Again out of curiosity, can you give me the names of these medieval historians and their works? I'd like to know more. As for Adshead, I think he mentioned enough about Chinese superiority in agriculture and technology for a summary of that size, and that the living standards of the Chinese peasant were probably higher than that of the Roman. Besides, it's a different perspective again: what do you do with all that wealth and GDP? Save it up or spend it and thus show it off? Which is more impressive looking on the surface? You may say it's superficial, but I don't think you can discount that factor. It's like Americans, they'd rather spend than save; short-sighted and careless, yeah, but they've got fancy cars and clothes to show for it.

Third on social; again he completely neglected the most imporatnt aspect of society, the law. Its hard to imagine how he could consider Rome to be socially more developed when a quarter of its population are slaves!

I think you can see it as a matter of perspective; the very fact that there are slaves means the rest of the population is freer and hence socially "more developed". Seems like you couldn't have both at once; either slaves or use corvee labor like the Han, which I don't find particularly enlightening either.

I wouldn't even go into intellectual. That is the most biased category and I can't understand how any historian would even claim superiority from such studies. In tern of rationaity, Roman aren't any superior, they depended on astrological divinition just the same. And their historical record of the past are probably alot more exggerated than Han. And I can't imagine how someone would consider a developed school of religion as sophisticated. Organized religious sects are detrimental in my opinion. And the schools of Han are well organized.

Of course as this category doesn't deal with hard numbers, it's the more subjective. But he's not talking about scientific objectivity or secularism, which we being raised in modern states have come to acknowledge as the top priority. He's saying paradigmatic thinking, which is listing the elements of your thought without drawing a general conclusion, is inferior to syntagmatic thinking, which is drawing a conclusion from said elements. That's been the aim of every western philosopher (and probably Indian, i know they had logic systems as well, but I'm not informed about them) from Plato to Kant, and he's saying that that was what characterized Chinese philosophy in the Western Han era, not the Eastern Han. And I agree with him there: aren't we taught in writing research papers to marshal facts and small, localized arguments, in order to group those together, link them mentally through logic, in order to form a grand, overarching thesis? That is obviously more mentally taxing is regarded as being more rigorous than being piecemeal and leaving it to the reader, and so that is why he ranks it more highly.

Same with history: Thucydides and Tacitus are admired today (the former much more) for the conclusions and insights they draw from facts and figures, not just from collecting them. And we already know that Livy exaggerated and used anachronisms: that Herodotus indulged in fairy-tales; that Tacitus was biased against Tiberius based on his experiences under Domitian; can we not say that Sima Qian was also similarly biased against Qin Shi Huang based on his experience under Han Wudi (this is what Watson hints at in the intro to his translation)? Modern historians of the ancient West already acknowledge that the ancient Greco-Roman historians erred; can you show me modern historians of China who prove that ancient Chinese historians were not merely less prone to error, but also intentionally more objective? I think one recent scholar, Grant Hardy, argues that Sima Qian meant to write history as moral judgment based on Confucian concepts, not necessarily on objectivity based in the western manner.

As for "translational schools", thats just an opinion. There would be many that simply consider the unification of writing of Qin a lot more sophisticated than translating texts.


Who are they, and why do they think so?

And the author seem to ignore the fact that all these activities the Romans done are WITHIN their empire. Not those outside of it.
Last but not least, he does not understand what "center stage" means.

More sophisticated doesn't make it the center. Or else the Song would have been the absolute center of the world stage. Center stage requires influence and affluence. Which Rome doesn't have.

In the Book "Rome and China" by Hirth(if my memory is right) pointed out the various decisions that the Han court made can affect all the events as far as the Balkans, he traced all the events of rebellion and invasion on the Roman northeast and can match them up with the Han court's decision in central Asia. He said that all these evidence show that its more than just coincidence. The Han directed the world's political history uncounsciously, and the major affect happened when Han destroyed the Northern Xiongnu, the huns fled northwest, altered the map of Europe, the Ephtalites went southwest, altered northern India's political map as well as changing the policies of Persia.
Thats influence.



I found a "Rome and China" by Teggart, if that's what you're referring to; if so, it was published in 1939, which is a warning bell in itself because of age, but even if not, the whole theory as judged by your summary smacks of a global conspiracy, especially the phrase "directed the world's political history unconsciously", that is better used of world domination plans by the Jews, Freemasons or Illuminati. So I'll check it out, but my skeptic meter is running very high. Besides, the Romans were quite capable of directing the affairs of client states such as the ones bordering Parthia, installing and deposing kings according to their desire.

Edited by Hschen, 20 October 2005 - 02:39 AM.


#10 fcharton

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 09:46 AM

can we not say that Sima Qian was also similarly biased against Qin Shi Huang based on his experience under Han Wudi (this is what Watson hints at in the intro to his translation)? Modern historians of the ancient West already acknowledge that the ancient Greco-Roman historians erred; can you show me modern historians of China who prove that ancient Chinese historians were not merely less prone to error, but also intentionally more objective? I think one recent scholar, Grant Hardy, argues that Sima Qian meant to write history as moral judgment based on Confucian concepts, not necessarily on objectivity based in the western manner.


There is a longstanding chinese historiographic tradition of doubting ancient texts. A number of comments in the three official commentaries of the Shi Ji (the latest of which dates from the 8th century) clearly criticise Sima Qian's facts. More recently, from the Qing dynasty to mid 20th century, the authenticity of nearly every pre Qin historical book was contested at some point. The Zuo Zhuan was considered to be a 1st century forgery, the Guo Yu did not receive better treatment, and the similitude between some chapters in Sima Qian and Ban Gu led some chinese historian to infer that, instead of Ban Gu quoting Sima Qian, these chapters might have been rewritten, and incorporated in the Shi Ji, much later. If I were to compare chinese and western historians, I would say that chinese scholars have a much longer tradition of criticism than western historians...

On Sima Qian, there is probably some bias towards Qin Shihuang, but the more I read it, the less I know which way it goes... On the one hand, he quotes the Guo Qin Lun (which he did not write) in two different places of his work, and is not kind towards Qin's excesses. On the other, he devotes one reign (benji) to the ancestors of the first emperor (putting them on the same standing as the Zhou), whereas other kingdoms rightly get a lineage (shijia), and quotes the laudative stelas written by Qin Shihuang in full. I am really not sure that he is biased against him.

I have not read Grant Hardy's arguments, but I find his thesis very curious. Sima Qian seldom rewrites, wherever he has some prior texts available, he quotes them. This can be seen by the changes in his style all through the Shi Ji, and from other surviving texts which get quoted in full (Zuo Zhuan, Shu Jing, sometimes Guo Yu and Zhan Guo Ce, or a previous version of it). True, he does provide some comments to most chapters (the last paragraph, beginning with the famous words "Taishigong Yue"), but he always indicates when he does so, and these comments are very short. Finally, his choice of characters in biographies hardly looks like a confucean catechism.

My personal impression is that, in a time (western han) when many scholars did try to rewrite all past history in the light of confucianism, Sima Qian actually stands as an exception.

Francois

#11 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 12:48 PM

Can you give me the names of these historians and their books? Also, can you explain a bit more about what you mean by "sophisticated"? Libertarians and advocates or small government probably wouldn't agree with you there. And would you say the US system, with states having some powers, responsibilities, and jurisdiction, is less sophisticated?

I don't remember all of them, the only one that comes to my mind right now is Tonabee's Man kind and mother earth, a few other source online I have already posted in the other Rome vs. Han thread as were a lot of other sources already stated. One major difference is the ability to conduct census, and the problem of succession as well as keeping the military under control.


Again out of curiosity, can you give me the names of these medieval historians and their works? I'd like to know more. As for


Again, the sources are numerous, I didn't memorize their title, if you want I would go search for them again. The only book I have with me is Western Europe in the Middle Ages by Sdney Painter and Brian Tierney, you can check that out.

As for Adshead, I think he mentioned enough about Chinese superiority in agriculture and technology for a summary of that size, and that the living standards of the Chinese peasant were probably higher than that of the Roman. Besides, it's a different perspective again: what do you do with all that wealth and GDP? Save it up or spend it and thus show it off? Which is more impressive looking on the surface? You may say it's superficial, but I don't think you can discount that factor. It's like Americans, they'd rather spend than save; short-sighted and careless, yeah, but they've got fancy cars and clothes to show for it.

He didn't mention the agricultural methods, thats another major factor. In any case, Rome is poorer, the urban population is but the small minority of the population, you cannot judge civilization's development by mere cities, that is what Ashead emphasize on alot.
"Showing wealth" doesn't affect the GDP/capita which is simply how much each person's total net production is. Not to mention Han emperors showed their wealth in other ways than architecture, there were many artificial canals, the military, a much larger horse industry and iron industry, handicrafts, and silk, and Han wooden buildings easily deteriorate. None of these can be calculated by simple archeology.

And despite mentioning Han's economic superiority, why he said Tang is the first time China became economic center rather than periphery causes doubt in my mind.



I think you can see it as a matter of perspective; the very fact that there are slaves means the rest of the population is freer and hence socially "more developed". Seems like you couldn't have both at once; either slaves or use corvee labor like the Han, which I don't find particularly enlightening either


The problem though, is that the rest of the population ISN"t freer, Roman free peasants aren't any more free than Han peasants. On top of that they were much poorer due to inferior technology. Even the horses in the Roman empire had a inferior living standard because of that. Only the top class enjoy such privilege, its a social deteriation than strength, showing the tremendous gap of wealth greater than it is present in Han.

#12 Hschen

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 12:51 PM

There is a longstanding chinese historiographic tradition of doubting ancient texts. A number of comments in the three official commentaries of the Shi Ji (the latest of which dates from the 8th century) clearly criticise Sima Qian's facts. More recently, from the Qing dynasty to mid 20th century, the authenticity of nearly every pre Qin historical book was contested at some point. The Zuo Zhuan was considered to be a 1st century forgery, the Guo Yu did not receive better treatment, and the similitude between some chapters in Sima Qian and Ban Gu led some chinese historian to infer that, instead of Ban Gu quoting Sima Qian, these chapters might have been rewritten, and incorporated in the Shi Ji, much later. If I were to compare chinese and western historians, I would say that chinese scholars have a much longer tradition of criticism than western historians...


Interesting. I wasn't talking about criticism of historians by "non-historians" though, but how accurate the historians themselves were and whether there was a trend or not; is there anything in English on that? Unfortunately, history isn't my strong suit, so the only example I can think of on the western side is Plutarch (cf. 150 AD) (who was none too rigorous himself in his biographies) who wrote an essay attacking the lies of Herodotus.

On a related note, texts like Zhuangzi and Laozi, IIRC, are generally considered to be a few centuries later than traditionally claimed, am I right? and at least for Zhuangzi, only the inner chapters written by him. You can make a comparison to some of Plato's lighter works and letters, which are now considered forged, although there's still some debate about the seventh letter. Still, the majors works like Republic, Symposium, etc. are considered genuine. I wonder if there's any room for maneuvering there...

On Sima Qian, there is probably some bias towards Qin Shihuang, but the more I read it, the less I know which way it goes... On the one hand, he quotes the Guo Qin Lun (which he did not write) in two different places of his work, and is not kind towards Qin's excesses. On the other, he devotes one reign (benji) to the ancestors of the first emperor (putting them on the same standing as the Zhou), whereas other kingdoms rightly get a lineage (shijia), and quotes the laudative stelas written by Qin Shihuang in full. I am really not sure that he is biased against him.

Yeah, that's what makes him interesting. Now that I remember, Watson does acknowledge the complexity of Sima's portrait; in fact he actually compares him to Tacitus, whose portrayal of Tiberius despite what I said is also nuanced. Seems to be the basis of good historiography--better to keep it grey than monochrome.

I have not read Grant Hardy's arguments, but I find his thesis very curious. Sima Qian seldom rewrites, wherever he has some prior texts available, he quotes them. This can be seen by the changes in his style all through the Shi Ji, and from other surviving texts which get quoted in full (Zuo Zhuan, Shu Jing, sometimes Guo Yu and Zhan Guo Ce, or a previous version of it). True, he does provide some comments to most chapters (the last paragraph, beginning with the famous words "Taishigong Yue"), but he always indicates when he does so, and these comments are very short. Finally, his choice of characters in biographies hardly looks like a confucean catechism.

My personal impression is that, in a time (western han) when many scholars did try to rewrite all past history in the light of confucianism, Sima Qian actually stands as an exception.


True--I personally haven't read Hardy's book, but it's one of the few books on Sima Qian I can find in English in the entire library, so I didn't have a lot to reach from! I have a question, though: I've heard that Sima Guang was quite the objective historian; what are your impressions of his historiographical technique and how it differs (or not) from earlier historians? A complaint I've heard about Sima Qian is his inclusion of the mythical emperors. Is it justified, or can we excuse him on grounds of "general belief at that time", if you know what I mean?

I also wonder about the biographies in Sima Qian: is there any way we can know for sure, or at least have a burden of proof, how many of the anecdotes are true? I'm thinking more about portraits of figures not from the ruling house, where he would have access to archives, but men like Jing Ke, or even parts of biographies that have a more "adventurous" or "tall tale" element, like the general (I forget his name) who was captured by the Xiong Nu, but pretended to be asleep in his stretcher, then suddenly made a mad dash for his horse and got away. How does one even go about trying to prove or disprove the veracity of a story like that? It's just a general thought of mine that applies to all ancient historians everywhere...I mean we can check archaeological evidence for the more "concrete" events in the text, but...

#13 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 12:58 PM

"Of course as this category doesn't deal with hard numbers, it's the more subjective. But he's not talking about scientific objectivity or secularism, which we being raised in modern states have come to acknowledge as the top priority. He's saying paradigmatic thinking, which is listing the elements of your thought without drawing a general conclusion, is inferior to syntagmatic thinking, which is drawing a conclusion from said elements. That's been the aim of every western philosopher (and probably Indian, i know they had logic systems as well, but I'm not informed about them) from Plato to Kant, and he's saying that that was what characterized Chinese philosophy in the Western Han era, not the Eastern Han. And I agree with him there: aren't we taught in writing research papers to marshal facts and small, localized arguments, in order to group those together, link them mentally through logic, in order to form a grand, overarching thesis? That is obviously more mentally taxing is regarded as being more rigorous than being piecemeal and leaving it to the reader, and so that is why he ranks it more highly."

umm, there were two schools, one the "new school" which like to express their writing on texts, one the "old school" which like to keep history as it is, in fact the old school is more prominant in the begging of Western Han, gradually changed by the end of western Han, and into the Eastern Han. In any case, I don't consider this a major point to decide upon the development of civilizations.



"Same with history: Thucydides and Tacitus are admired today (the former much more) for the conclusions and insights they draw from facts and figures, not just from collecting them. And we already know that Livy exaggerated and used anachronisms: that Herodotus indulged in fairy-tales; that Tacitus was biased against Tiberius based on his experiences under Domitian; can we not say that Sima Qian was also similarly biased against Qin Shi Huang based on his experience under Han Wudi (this is what Watson hints at in the intro to his translation)? Modern historians of the ancient West already acknowledge that the ancient Greco-Roman historians erred; can you show me modern historians of China who prove that ancient Chinese historians were not merely less prone to error, but also intentionally more objective? I think one recent scholar, Grant Hardy, argues that Sima Qian meant to write history as moral judgment based on Confucian concepts, not necessarily on objectivity based in the western manner."

I am talking about primary records, Shi Ji do have bias for past events, but the present events were recorded as they were. I'm actually not talking about historian's view than the fact that China has a more organized bureucracy to conduct accurate facts.


"Who are they, and why do they think so?"

In books such as Tiger of Qin and First empire's army, the achievement of Qin is that it could unify the writing system, rather than keeping many. Translational schools are abundant in the warring states, unifying all the language require a huge project and is a great accomplishment not bringing civilization backwards.

I found a "Rome and China" by Teggart, if that's what you're referring to; if so, it was published in 1939, which is a warning bell in itself because of age, but even if not, the whole theory as judged by your summary smacks of a global conspiracy, especially the phrase "directed the world's political history unconsciously", that is better used of world domination plans by the Jews, Freemasons or Illuminati. So I'll check it out, but my skeptic meter is running very high. Besides, the Romans were quite capable of directing the affairs of client states such as the ones bordering Parthia, installing and deposing kings according to their desire.


Its not a conspiracy theory, its drwaing out events and find unlikely coincidences. Its not proven, but it does have reason. Even Parthia, the Han empire's border states number more than Rome, and its indirect political effect on history is alot more abundant.

#14 Hschen

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 01:08 PM

Again, the sources are numerous, I didn't memorize their title, if you want I would go search for them again. The only book I have with me is Western Europe in the Middle Ages by Sdney Painter and Brian Tierney, you can check that out.

Yes, I'd appreciate it if you would. History isn't my main focus, so whatever I come across is few and far in between.

He didn't mention the agricultural methods, thats another major factor. In any case, Rome is poorer, the urban population is but the small minority of the population, you cannot judge civilization's development by mere cities, that is what Ashead emphasize on alot.

That's an interesting point. It seems that because the major achievements of early western civilization occurrred in cities, there's more of a focus on them. But in the popular imagination that's what civilization represents: lavish architecture, intellectual developments like literature, which at least in the west is created mostly by those born in cities like Rome or Athens or who latter travelled to them.

"Showing wealth" doesn't affect the GDP/capita which is simply how much each person's total net production is. Not to mention Han emperors showed their wealth in other ways than architecture, there were many artificial canals, the military, a much larger horse industry and iron industry, handicrafts, and silk, and Han wooden buildings easily deteriorate. None of these can be calculated by simple archeology.

Uh, if we don't use archaeology, do you mean texts? It just seems that archaeology would offer a more concrete evidence in people's eyes. If so then it seems to be just plain luck, and the Han got a raw deal because of cultural preferences of spending money on things that didn't last as long.


The problem though, is that the rest of the population ISN"t freer, Roman free peasants aren't any more free than Han peasants. On top of that they were much poorer due to inferior technology. Even the horses in the Roman empire had a inferior living standard because of that. Only the top class enjoy such privilege, its a social deteriation than strength, showing the tremendous gap of wealth greater than it is present in Han.

Can you elaborate on that or dig up some sources about the relative freedoms of peasants and gap of wealth? This is definitely an important issue.

#15 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 20 October 2005 - 02:48 PM

"Yes, I'd appreciate it if you would. History isn't my main focus, so whatever I come across is few and far in between
"

Beckwith's Tibetan Empire in central Asia has a section that express this quite well in the end on what constitutes a advanced economy. He argued that the Roman cities were military strongholds that created a commerical economy maintained by the legions.It wasn't a natural economic center developed through trade. And that was why the cities dissapeared when Rome collapsed.

The fact is ancient economy is agricultural based by far. Other form of output are very minor compared to this.
There are genearlly a important few traits of judging an advanced society by modern standards
The most important one is living standard.
Then there is urbanization, literacy rate, distribution of wealth. The last 3 are really only something of the industrial age, not that its unimportant in the past, but much less than it is given credit for.
Rather than creating separate categories like Ashead did and weigh them as equal, he should have considered which is the most important.


"That's an interesting point. It seems that because the major achievements of early western civilization occurrred in cities, there's more of a focus on them. But in the popular imagination that's what civilization represents: lavish architecture, intellectual developments like literature, which at least in the west is created mostly by those born in cities like Rome or Athens or who latter travelled to them."

Thats why I said it has biased elements of past century. Modern historians look more broadly instead of focusing on cities. Because if cities is more important, the Han era is actually more backwards than the Warring states, because Warring states era has city centered commercial based economy compared to Han dynasty's agricultural based economy. Warring State city of Lin Zi is even bigger than Chang An of mid-Western Han.


"Uh, if we don't use archaeology, do you mean texts? It just seems that archaeology would offer a more concrete evidence in people's eyes. If so then it seems to be just plain luck, and the Han got a raw deal because of cultural preferences of spending money on things that didn't last as long."


No, I meant that "display of wealth" cannot be accurately shown by archeology. The general development of the society can. Simply by examining the complexity of the agriculture and structures. Texts do help but they are only secondary.




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