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China and the West to 1600: Empire, Philosophy, and the Paradox of Culture



China and the West to 1600: Empire, Philosophy, and the Paradox of Culture

Steven Wallech

ISBN: 978-1-118-88006-7 March 2016 Wiley-Blackwell 336 Pages


A comparative history of Chinese and Western Civilization from the dawn of agriculture to the dawn of modernity in Europe, China and the West to 1600 explores the factors that led to the divergent evolution of two major cultures of the ancient world, and considers how the subsequent developments saw one culture cling to tradition even as the other failed to do so, inadvertently setting the stage for the birth of the Modern Era.

  • An accessible and inventive comparative history, suitable for all students at the college level as well as general readers
  • Compares the history of Chinese civilization with Western civilization from the rise of agriculture to the dawn of the modern period
  • Explores the ways in which Western failures in the Middle Ages after the Roman Empire’s collapse, and China’s successes in the same period, laid the groundwork for each culture’s divergent path in the modern period
  • Makes meaningful connections between cultures and over time, through the use of themes such as agriculture, philosophy, religion, and warfare and invasion
  • Bridges the gap between antiquity and modernity, looking at many factors of the global Middle Ages that influenced the development of the modern world
  • Features a timeline,  maps, endnotes, and complete index

Acknowledgements ix

Preface xi

Introduction 1

Maps 4

Timeline 7

1 The Paradox of Agriculture and its Impact on China and Western Civilization 8

The Oldest Paradox 8

Chinese Agriculture 13

The First Chinese Dynasties 19

Roman Agriculture 30

Italian Agriculture 31

Egypt 37

The Levant and Mesopotamia 41

Greece 43

Overview of the Roman Economy 46

Notes 49

2 Ancient Philosophy: Chinese versus Western 52

The Chinese Quest for Stability 54

Implementing Legalism: Li Si and the Qin Dynasty 65

The Han Dynasty 67

The Greek Worldview: Part One—the Problem 69

The Greek Worldview: Part Two—the Quest for a Solution 71

The Roman Worldview 79

The Kosmopolite 83

Christianity 84

Notes 92

3 The Nomads 96

Two Incompatible Lifestyles: Nomads versus Farmers 96

The Persistent Nomadic Threat, Cannon, and China’s Three Main Issues 99

The Silk Road: Revelation of a Deadly Paradox of Culture 109

Loyalty, the State, and Paradise Lost 112

An Era of Chaos 116

The Fall of Rome 118

Chinese Potential for Reunification versus Western Fragmentation 120

Notes 123

4 Contrasting Medieval China and Europe 126

Unexpected Consequences 126

Revisiting the Paradox of Agriculture 128

The Sui Dynasty (581–618) 130

The Tang Dynasty (618–906) and the Rejuvenation of China 133

The Song (960–1279): The Golden Age Continues 140

A Nomadic Interlude 145

Evolution of Feudalism during the Fall of Rome 149

Medieval Agriculture: The Rise of Feudalism 152

The Late Middle Ages (1300–1500) 159

Contrasting Systems: A Unified China versus a Fragmented Europe 164

Notes 165

5 China and Medieval Europe: Cultural Orthodoxy and Creativity 169

The Economy, Administration, and Formation of a Chinese Orthodoxy 172

Foundations of a Medieval European Orthodoxy 180

A Revival of Learning: The Medieval Orthodoxy 189

Conclusions 203

Notes 204

6 The Nomad Apogee of Power 207

The Paradox of Culture Springs a Trap 207

Mongol Conquest and Rule 210

The Yuan Dynasty: A Century of Uneven Rule 221

The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) 223

The Qing: The Second Nomadic Regime to Rule China (1644–1911) 231

Notes 244

7 Modernization 251

Germanic Europe during the Early Middle Ages 254

China does not Modernize: The Pitfalls of Tradition 286

Conclusion 296

Notes 297

Select Bibliography 301

Index 309