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