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posted on 22 March 2017

Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China

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In a previously post (Ancient Greece vs. Ancient China), I compared Ancient Greece, the first civilization in Europe, with Ancient China. Now, let's compare Ancient Rome, the second civilization in Europe, with Ancient China.

1. Overview

The image below highlights Ancient Rome and Ancient China in timelines.

Let's focus on four aspects:

  1. The Roman Republic.
  2. China's First Emperor.
  3. The Roman Empire.
  4. China's Han dynasty.

2. Roman Republic

The Roman Republic is the first republic (i.e. non-monarchy) in human history, and remained so until 1789, when America was founded as the second [significant] republic in human history. More on this in Section 7 ...

The Roman Republic lasted for about 500 years until 27BC, when it officially became the Roman Empire, with Augustus being the first Emperor.

3. China's First Emperor

China's First Emperor achieved far more than anyone else in his era, including all the Greeks and the Romans, such as Alexander the Great, Augustus, Augustus' maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar, and even Constantine de Great.

One key achievement: one "official" written language throughout China! For more on the implication of this significant achievement, read Section 6. For more on China's First Emperor, read: Ancient Greece vs. Ancient China.

4. The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was a dramatic fusion of imperial power and religion (e.g. Christianity in its later years). The [Western] Roman Empire ended in 476AD. Since then, there has never been an Emperor based in Rome.

The most important figure throughout the history of the Roman Empire is unquestionably Constantine the Great, who did everything possible to pursue the illusive Roman dream of "one state, one society, and one ideology". Three examples:

  1. He inherited a divided Roman Empire with four Emperors and re-united it, with himself being the sole Emperor!
  2. He conspicuously converted to Christianity, which eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
  3. He even moved his imperial capital from Rome to a small Greek city, and renamed it from "Byzantium" to "New Rome" (i.e. today's Istanbul after being called "Constantinople" for quite a few hundred years). While this move proved to be the beginning of the end of the [Western] Roman Empire, it was the early beginning of the great Eastern [Roman] Empire.

Unfortunately, with many different languages (e.g. Latin in the West and Greek mostly in the East) and cultures, the unified empire, even with the zealous spread of Christianity (shown below) as the ideology, was never truly unified, as it was in China ...

5. China's Han Dynasty

Although the Qin dynasty ended within five years after the death of the First Emperor, the foundation he laid made it possible for the Han dynasty to become the dynasty to decisively define China, even to this date. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - Han dynasty:

Spanning over four centuries, the Han period is considered a golden age in Chinese history.[4] To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to itself as the "Han people" and the Chinese script is referred to as "Han characters".[5]

Unfortunately, the Han dynasty, like all other dynasties, did not last forever. It was succeeded by the era of the Three Kingdoms.

6. Discussion

The Roman Empire ended in 476AD, but it left two huge footprints behind:

  1. The Eastern [Roman] Empire (aka Byzantine Empire) lasted for another 1,000 years.
  2. The Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the old adage "all roads lead to Rome" is still true today, literally, as the Vatican is located inside the city of Rome.

The Chinese Empire lasted for some 2,000 years after the death of the First Emperor, substantially outlasting the Roman Empire, even if the Eastern [Roman] Empire is counted. Two main reasons for China's long-lasting civilization:

  1. The solid foundation laid by the First Emperor.
  2. The incredible development and consolidation of the 400-year-long Han dynasty.

Both empires were great empires. However, in comparison, although far better than Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome still pales when compared with Ancient China. The image below highlights the comparison, with their implications to this date ...

What is the key difference between the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire?

The Romans constantly fought to conquer, control, and assimilate different people. Specifically, while the Romans were obviously impressed by the Greek civilization, they regarded most of the other conquered people as "barbarians". Most of the conquered people spoke different languages and had different cultures - too much diversity! When that diversity proved to be impossibly difficult for Rome to govern, the Romans very likely invented Christianity, as we know it today, as the tool for control. For more, read: Did the Romans Create both Christianity and Islam?

In contrast, the Chinese built the Great Wall to fend off the "barbarians". As a result, they merely fought among themselves, as they all shared the same [written] language and culture, thanks to the unification by the First Emperor and the subsequent 400 years of consolidation throughout the Han dynasty!

To complete the comparison, let me highlight two points:

  1. Rome (as well as its predecessor Greece) was far more advanced than China in building with stones, from the great sculptures to the magnificent buildings decorated with sculptures. This advancement had huge implications later for the Renaissance, which I will touch upon in my next article of the series.
  2. Many signs indicate that the Chinese had better weapons than the Romans. For more, watch the video below.

7. History repeats itself

Four examples in America:

  1. America, at its birth, was literally a copy of the Roman Republic! For more, read: America: What Did Our Founding Fathers Do, Actually (Version 3)?
  2. The current world resembles China's era of the Three Kingdoms. For more, read: Three New Kingdoms.
  3. America has evolved itself into a de factor empire, just like Rome did. Furthermore, like the Roman Empire, the American Empire must be held together via a common ideology. However, unlike the Romans who were creative to (create and) use something new called Christianity, Americans have been using "democracy", which is not only more than 2,000 years old, but also a proven failure throughout human history without a single example of lasting success. For more, read: Is America the New Rome and Greece?
  4. President Trump is uniquely challenged. For more, read: President Trump in the Real World of Three New Kingdoms.

8. Closing

Once again, the main purpose of comparing China with the West historically is to help my fellow Americans better understand China. With Ancient Greece first, and Ancient Rome second, do you have an improved understand of China now? Stay tuned for more comparisons from the Roman Empire on ...

Now, please sit back and enjoy the long video below:

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