Chinese description of Rome

Feb 2019
449
Thrace
#1
In 97, the Chinese military ambassador, Gan Ying gives the following description of Roman Emperors:

"Their kings are not permanent. They select and appoint the most worthy man. If there are unexpected calamities in the kingdom, such as frequent extraordinary winds or rains, he is unceremoniously rejected and replaced. The one who has been dismissed quietly accepts his demotion, and is not angry."

He never reached Rome and this account is allegedly based on second hand information from the Parthians, Rome's arch rivals.

I'm wondering if this is just an embellished representation of the Roman Empire's democratic aspects, or is it also propaganda to popularize meritocracy in China by idealizing their civilized counter part from the West?
 
Feb 2011
6,460
#2
The first Chinese description of Daqin is very inaccurate, so much so that it could just be describing some fantasy country geographically West of Anxi(Parthia). Later Chinese descriptions of Daqin became more and more accurate, but by that time they were describing the late Romans (Byzantine empire).

And of course there's Le Hoang who thinks Daqin is India :)

Here is the full text of Daqin from the Hou Han Shu:

The Kingdom of Da Qin (the Roman Empire)1 is also called Lijian.2 As it is found to the west of the sea, it is also called the Kingdom of Haixi (Egypt).3 Its territory extends for several thousands of li. It has more than four hundred walled towns. There are several tens of smaller dependent kingdoms. The walls of the towns are made of stone.

They have established postal relays at intervals, which are all plastered and whitewashed. There are pines and cypresses, as well as trees and plants of all kinds. The common people are farmers. They cultivate many grain crops and silkworm-mulberry trees.4 They shave their heads, and their clothes are embroidered. They have screened coaches (for the women) and small white-roofed one-horse carts.5 When carriages come and go, drums are beaten and flags and standards are raised.

The seat of government (Rome) is more than a hundred li (41.6 km) around. In this city are five palaces each ten li (4.2 km) from the other. Moreover, in the rooms of the palace the pillars and the tableware are really made of crystal. The king goes each day to one of the palaces to deal with business. After five days, he has visited all of them. A porter with a sack has the job of always following the royal carriage. When somebody wants to discuss something with the king, he throws a note in the sack. When the king arrives at the palace, he opens the bag, examines the contents, and judges if the plaintiff is right or wrong.

There is a government department of archives. [A group of] thirty-six leaders has been established to meet together to deliberate on affairs of state. Their kings are not permanent. They select and appoint the most worthy man. If there are unexpected calamities in the kingdom, such as frequent extraordinary winds or rains, he is unceremoniously rejected and replaced. The one who has been dismissed quietly accepts his demotion, and is not angry.

The people of this country are all tall and honest. They resemble the people of the Middle Kingdom and that is why this kingdom is called Da Qin [literally, ‘Great China’].


Section 12 – The Products of Da Qin (the Roman Empire)

This country produces plenty of gold, silver, and precious jewels, luminous jade,1 ‘bright moon pearls,’2 fighting cocks,3 rhinoceroses,4 coral,5 yellow amber,6 opaque glass,7 whitish chalcedony,8 red cinnabar,9 green gemstones,10 drawn gold-threaded and multi-coloured embroideries,11 woven gold-threaded net,12 delicate polychrome silks painted with gold, 13 and asbestos cloth.14

They also have a fine cloth which some people say is made from the down of ‘water sheep,’ but which is made, in fact, from the cocoons of wild silkworms.15 They blend all sorts of fragrances, and by boiling the juice, make storax.16 [They have] all the precious and rare things that come from the various foreign kingdoms. They make gold and silver coins. Ten silver coins are worth one gold coin.17 They trade with Anxi (Parthia) and Tianzhu (Northwestern India) by sea. The profit margin is ten to one.

The people of this country are honest in business; they don’t have two prices. Grain and foodstuffs are always in good supply. The resources of the state are abundant. When envoys from a neighbouring kingdom arrive at their border, they use the courier stations to get to the royal capital, and when they arrive, they give them gold coins.

The king of this country always wanted to send envoys to the Han, but Anxi (Parthia), wishing to control the trade in multi-coloured Chinese silks, blocked the route to prevent [the Romans] getting through [to China].

In the ninth yanxi year [166 CE], during the reign of Emperor Huan, the king of Da Qin (the Roman Empire), Andun (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), sent envoys from beyond the frontiers through Rinan (Commandery on the central Vietnamese coast),18 to offer elephant tusks, rhinoceros horn, and turtle shell. This was the very first time there was [direct] communication [between the two countries]. The tribute brought was neither precious nor rare, raising suspicion that the accounts [of the ‘envoys’] might be exaggerated.

It is said that to the west of this kingdom is Ruoshui (the ‘Weak River’) and Liusha (the ‘Shifting Sands’) which are close to the place where Xiwangmu (‘Spirit-Mother of the West’) lives, and which go almost as far as the place where the sun sets.19

The Hanshu says: “Leaving Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana), if you head west for more than two hundred days, you approach the place where the sun sets.” This does not agree with the books of today. [The reason is that] the Han envoys under the first [Han] dynasty all returned after reaching Wuyi (Arachosia and Drangiana),20 and none of them went as far as Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana).

It is said, leaving Anxi (Parthia) by the land route, you circle through Haibei (‘North of the Sea’),21 and come into Haixi (Egypt), to reach Da Qin (Roman territory).22 The population there is dense. Each ten li (4.2 km) there is a postal stage, and each thirty li (12.5 km) a postal station.23 Finally, there is no trouble with bandits, but there are many ferocious tigers and lions on the road that obstruct and kill travellers. If the caravans don’t have more than a hundred men carrying arms, they will be devoured.

Also, it is said that there is a raised bridge,24 several hundred li long, which crosses over to Haibei (‘North of the Sea’). They [the vassal kingdoms of Da Qin] produce curious gems and so many other peculiar and bizarre things that I will not record what is reported.
 
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Likes: Edratman
Jan 2015
2,950
MD, USA
#3
Those are pretty hilarious descriptions! It reinforces the view that the Chinese and Romans really didn't know very much about each other, aside from a powerful nation far away in that sort of direction. You could replace the interpretation of those place names with just about anything, and have just as accurate a description of several regions that were not Rome.

Matthew
 
May 2012
321
Heaven
#6
It's very clear although you pretended that you didn't know these.
Proof 1:
Its territory extends for several thousands of li. (2-3000 li = 828 -1242 km).
However,Roman empire extended at least(very low figure) 3905 km by straight line(around 10,000 li) from Chellah(Morocco) to Jerusalem(Israel).So,it must be Indian kingdom with width around 828 - 1242 km instead of Roman
Proof 2:
It has more than four hundred walled towns (400)
Pliny claimed that :"From Ampsaga river to the end of Africa(New Africa and Old Africa),there were 516 cities and tribes who obeyed the emperor...".Roman empire had 8 provinces in Africa: Tingitana;Caesarensis;Numidia(Africa Nova);Africa proconsul(Africa Vetus);Cyrenaica;3 provinces in Egypt.As I said,2 of 8 provinces combined 516 cities and tribes.So,even if we calculate for Roman Africa only,walled towns could high as 1,200 - 1,500 instead of 400 as HHS of Hackneye.Kingdom which had medium size in India were more suitable than in this case.
Proof 3:
The common people are farmers. They cultivate many grain crops and silkworm-mulberry trees
At least 25 percent of Roman lived in cities or towns.Morever,many people in coutryside lied on fishing or gardening,so it is terrible error if we said that common Roman are farmers.
Proof 4:
They shave their heads
Daqin is Buddish kingdom while Roman didn't shave their heads.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,855
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#7
Personally [so it's a personal opinion, otherwise I would haven't begun the sentence with "personally"] I tend to agree with the ones who say that the knowledge of ancient Chine about Rome was intermediated by central Asian common commercial partners. When this happens usually it means distortions. Silk arrived at Rome and sure it started its travel around China. So there was a physical connection between the two giant political entities.

But this doesn't mean that such a connection was direct.
 
Feb 2011
6,460
#8
It's very clear although you pretended that you didn't know these.
Proof 1:
Its territory extends for several thousands of li. (2-3000 li = 828 -1242 km).
However,Roman empire extended at least(very low figure) 3905 km by straight line(around 10,000 li) from Chellah(Morocco) to Jerusalem(Israel).So,it must be Indian kingdom with width around 828 - 1242 km instead of Roman
Proof 2:
It has more than four hundred walled towns (400)
Pliny claimed that :"From Ampsaga river to the end of Africa(New Africa and Old Africa),there were 516 cities and tribes who obeyed the emperor...".Roman empire had 8 provinces in Africa: Tingitana;Caesarensis;Numidia(Africa Nova);Africa proconsul(Africa Vetus);Cyrenaica;3 provinces in Egypt.As I said,2 of 8 provinces combined 516 cities and tribes.So,even if we calculate for Roman Africa only,walled towns could high as 1,200 - 1,500 instead of 400 as HHS of Hackneye.Kingdom which had medium size in India were more suitable than in this case.
Proof 3:
The common people are farmers. They cultivate many grain crops and silkworm-mulberry trees
At least 25 percent of Roman lived in cities or towns.Morever,many people in coutryside lied on fishing or gardening,so it is terrible error if we said that common Roman are farmers.
Proof 4:
They shave their heads
Daqin is Buddish kingdom while Roman didn't shave their heads.
Ergo, Le Hoang, you provided examples in which you admit that I did NOT see Daqin as India. Why did you claim I saw Daqin as India? This is trolling.

On the other hand, your examples are insignificant at best, these are tiny details open to interpretation and distortion. For example, you quoted the passage that Daqin was "several thousand li", and interpreted this to be 2-3000 li. Why not 5000 li or 6000 li, in which case it more accurately describe the extent of Roman territory? You are forcing the passage to fit your narrative, not to mention that such specific descriptions have no guarantee of being accurate in the first place. The rest of your points are similarly weak in this regard. The worst is your "proof 2", in which you mistranslated and I've told you again and again throughout the years that you should stop mistranslating.

Pliny said:
""Between the river Ampsaga and this boundary Africa contains 516 peoples that accept allegiance to Rome. These include six colonies Uthina and Thuburbi, in addition to those already mentioned; 15 towns with Roman citizenship, among which in the interior must be mentioned those of Absurae, Abutucum, etc."
Yet you translated it as "516 cities and tribes", which conveniently makes it fit your narrative.

You should provide a verifiable link to where you got this translation, in order to defend your integrity. So far every translation of that passage I've seen only translated the section as "516 people", not "516 cities and tribes". Again, there is no guarantee that the two different places used the same definition for town or city, nor any guarantee the descriptions could get the numbers right.

On the other hand, I've provided ample proof that Daqin was NOT in India. The Hou Han Shu clearly states that Daqin was West of Tiaozhi, Tiaozhi was West of Anxi (Parthia), Anxi was West of Da Yuezhi (Ferghana), and Da Yuezhi was West of Tianzhu (Northwestern India). The Weilue also states that Dayuan/Anxi/Tiaozhi were all West of Kashgar, putting Daqin even FURTHER West of Kashgar.

Proof from the Hou HanShu:
1. Showing that Tiaozhi was to the East of Daqin:
In the ninth yongyuan year [97 CE], during the reign of Emperor He, the Protector General Ban Chao sent Gan Ying to Da Qin (the Roman Empire).6 He reached Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana) next to a large sea. He wanted to cross it...
2. Showing Anxi was to the East of Tiaozhi
If you turn north [from Tiaozhi], and then towards the east, riding by horse for more than 60 days, you reach [the old capital of] Anxi (Parthia).5 Later on, (Anxi) conquered, and subjugated Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana).
3. Showing Da Yuezhi was to the East of Anxi
The main centre of the Da Yuezhi (Kushan) kingdom1 is the town of Lanshi (Bactra/Balkh).2 To the west it borders Anxi (Parthia), which is 49 days march away.
4. Showing Tianzhu was to the East of Da Yuezhi
The kingdom of Tianzhu (Northwestern) India is also called Juandu (India).1 It is several thousand li southeast of the Yuezhi (Kushans).

This is backed by the Weilue:
Leaving there (Kashgar), and going west, you reach Dayuan (Ferghana),22 Anxi (Parthia),23 Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana),24 and Wuyi (Arachosia and Drangiana – capital, Kandahar).

Tianzhu fits the bill of (Northwestern) India much better than Daqin ever did:
Daqin could not be India if it was described to be so far West of Northwestern India. Description of Tianzhu fits India far more than that of Daqin:
The kingdom of Tianzhu (Northwestern) India is also called Juandu (India).1 It is several thousand li southeast of the Yuezhi (Kushans).2 Their way of life is similar to that of the Yuezhi (Kushans), but the country is low, humid, and hot. This kingdom is beside a great river [the Indus]. The people ride elephants into battle. They are weaker than the Yuezhi (Kushans). They practice the Buddhist Way, not to kill, or wage war.
From the Yuezhi (Kushan) and the kingdom of Gaofu (Kabul), and heading southwest, you reach the Western Sea.3 To the east, you reach the kingdom of Panqi (Vanga in Bengal),4 which is part of Juandu (India). Juandu (India) has several hundred other towns. A Chief is placed in each town.
There are scores of other kingdoms [in Juandu]. Each kingdom has its own king. Although the kingdoms differ slightly, they are all still called Juandu (India). Now they are all subject to the Yuezhi (Kushans). The Yuezhi (Kushans) killed their kings and installed Generals to govern them.
This region produces elephants, rhinoceroses, turtle shell, gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, and tin. To the west, it communicates with Da Qin (the Roman Empire). Precious things from Da Qin can be found there, as well as fine cotton cloths,5 excellent wool carpets,6 perfumes of all sorts, sugar loaves,7 pepper, ginger, and black salt.8
During the reign of Emperor He [89-105 CE], they sent several envoys carrying tribute and offerings. Later, the Western Regions rebelled, and these relations were interrupted. Then, during in the second and the fourth yanxi years in the reign of Emperor Huan [159 and 161 CE], and frequently since, foreigners have arrived at the frontiers of Rinan (Commandery south of Jiaozhi) to present offerings.
There is a current tradition that Emperor Ming dreamed that he saw a tall golden man the top of whose head was glowing. He questioned his group of advisors and one of them said: “In the West there is a god called Buddha. His body is sixteen chi high (3.7 metres or 12 feet),9 and is the colour of gold.”10 The Emperor, to discover the true doctrine,11 sent an envoy to Tianzhu (Northwestern India) to inquire about the Buddha’s doctrine, after which paintings and statues [of the Buddha] appeared in the Middle Kingdom.
Then Ying, the king of Zhu [a dependent kingdom which he ruled 41-71 CE], began to believe in this path [c. 65 CE] and, because of this, the Middle Kingdom received it respectfully. Later on, Emperor Huan [147-167 CE] devoted himself to sacred things and often sacrificed to the Buddha and Laozi.12 People gradually began to accept it [Buddhism] and, later, they became numerous.

-Hou Han Shu

^I've mentioned all of this to you before, multiple times. So I don't see how you could think I ever claimed Daqin was "more suitable for an Indian kingdom". That is simply not true.
 
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Feb 2011
6,460
#10
Later on Daqin's description became closer and closer to the reality that was Rome (Byzantine Empire). The earliest description of Daqin is inaccurate, albeit geographically located around where Rome's Eastern provinces would be. Some of its descriptions could have derived from Rome. For example, the courtier that followed the king may have derived from the story of "memento mori", or that the description of baldness may have derived from a higher propensity of Caucasians for male pattern baldness. Descriptions of the ruler stepping down may be derived from the Roman voting system (or it may simply be a reflection of what the ancient Chinese wanted their own ideal state to be). Other descriptions such as the use of "Gold or Silver coins", or how the "common people are farmers", may be an accurate description but these types of descriptions could fit the bill for a number of places. It's like the Roman view of "Serica". Just because it was described as the land which produced Silk, does not mean that it was the Han dynasty.
 
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