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posted on 11 April 2017

The Era of the Byzantine Empire vs. Ancient China

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After comparing Ancient China with Ancient Greece (Ancient Greece vs. Ancient China) and Ancient Rome (Ancient Rome vs. Ancient China), let me now compare it with the era of the Byzantine Empire. It is an era because it spans about 1,000 years, involving many historical events that have implications for the ultimate purpose of this series of comparisons: helping my fellow Americans better understand China.

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1. Roman Empire vs. Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire (aka the Eastern [Roman] Empire) was different from the [Western] Roman Empire in three major ways:

  1. None of its Emperors was based in Rome.
  2. From its onset and throughout its history, it was a total fusion of imperial power and religion (i.e. Christianity), while the Roman Empire adopted Christianity only in its later years.
  3. It was very focused on "the Roman Lake" (i.e. the Mediterranean Sea), ignoring most of the other areas (e.g. Western Europe), as shown by the image below.

2. Timelines: the era of the Byzantine Empire vs. China

The image below highlights the era of the Byzantine Empire and Ancient China in timelines.

Let's briefly examine these two timelines one by one.

3. Timeline: the era of the Byzantine Empire

With the end of the Roman Empire in 476, Western Europe went into a Dark Age, lasting several hundred years. This gave the Roman Catholic Church a great opportunity to gain enormous power, because "church" was the only pillar of support for people, while "state", the other pillar (Church vs. State), was very weak most of the time.

In contrast, the Byzantine Empire thrived, including the wide-spreading of Christianity throughout its vast territories. Unfortunately for the Roman Catholic Church, this also resulted in the birth of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which split from the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the first millennium.

Moreover, the Arab world countered the Byzantine Empire with its own power and prosperity, including the birth of Islam (Wikipedia - History of Islam) and some world-changing inventions, as shown by the video below.

A few highlights from the timeline:

  1. Early Muslim conquests: A strong king named Charles de Great rose to the occasion to stop the Muslim conquest of Western Europe.
  2. Viking Age: Many countries in Western Europe developed large armies to resist the Vikings. By the time the Viking Age was over, few knew what to do with these armies, except for Pope Urban II.
  3. Crusades: Pope Urban II used the armies to launch the First Crusade. After several crusades over the following 200 years, including the sackings of Jerusalem and Constantinople, Western Europe not only firmly established its Christianity identity, but also learned so much from the Saracens that it positively helped the start of Renaissance.
  4. Renaissance: It ended the Dark Age in Western Europe, and brought back rapid development.
  5. Hagia Sophia: It was a magnificent achievement in dome architecture, uniquely Roman, and remains so to this date. For more, read: Wikipedia - Hagia Sophia.

4. Timeline: Ancient China

In parallel with the era of the Byzantine Empire, there were three great dynasties in China:

  1. Tang dynasty: It hugely advanced China in everything, such as arts (e.g. poetry - 唐诗). For more, watch the video in the end.
  2. Two Song dynasties (Northern Song and Southern Song): They continued the excellence of the Tang dynasty in everything (e.g. poetry - 宋词).
  3. Ming dynasty: It begun by kicking the Mongols out of China, thus ending the Mongol Empire. Subsequently, it completed the construction of the Great Wall of China.

5. Discussion

Unlike the Byzantine Empire, which still chased the illusive Roman dream of "one state, one society, and one ideology (i.e. Christianity)", especially under its greatest Emperor Justinian I, the Chinese lived on a much more realistic and achievable dream: "one state, one society, and no religion", thanks to the solid foundation laid by the First Emperor: "one written language, one culture, one people, and one emperor"!

The Byzantine Empire ended in 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. The Chinese Empire lived on for a few hundred more years ...

Two notes:

  1. Although the Silk Road started in China's Han dynasty, it was during the Byzantine Empire that the trade between the Mideast and China blossomed.
  2. Both the Byzantine Empire and China were harshly treated by the barbaric Mongols ...

6. Origins of Christianity and Islam

Two informative readings:

  1. Did the Romans Create both Christianity and Islam?
  2. The True Authorship of the New Testament. Below is an excerpt.

Professor Bruno Bauer, in his work of 1877 "Christ and the Caesars", stated that he had concluded that the Romans had authored the New Testament and that Flavius Josephus was the inventor of Jesus.

The more I study the Romans, including the Byzantine Empire, the more I think it is very likely that the Romans indeed created both Christianity, as we know it today, and Islam, the original version. For more discussion on this subject, stay tuned for my future publications.

7. History repeats itself

Three examples in America:

  1. Like Western Europe who (1) did not know what to do with the big armies left at the end of the Viking Age and (2) used them to launch wars (i.e. Crusades), America (1) did not know what to do with the MIC (Military-Industrial Complex) after WWII, and (2) made good use of it by creating enemies: first communism and then terrorism, with the worst recent example being the Iraq War. For more, read: 9/11: Remembered in America, But Not Understood!
  2. Like the Byzantine Empire, which spread its faith (i.e. Christianity) by force and was held together by this faith, the American Empire has been spreading its faith (i.e. democracy) by force (e.g. the Iraq War) and was held together by this faith. More strikingly, President George W. Bush, during the Iraq War, mixed the Roman faith with the American faith (George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq')!
  3. The Great Wall of China was built to prevent the barbarians in the north from invading China. It did not work with the Mongols. The Ming dynasty begun by kicking the Mongols out of China, and then completed the Great Wall. But still it failed to prevent Manchu people from coming to China, forming the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). President Trump wants to build a "beautiful wall" on our southern border (Trump wants to build a big, beautiful wall). Will it really work for its "stated" purpose? I doubt about it.

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, Ancient Rome, and the Byzantine Empire in sequence, do you have an improved understand of China now? Stay tuned for more comparisons following the Byzantine Empire ...

Now, please sit back and enjoy the short video below.

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