Did Chinese historiography have a concept of progress and evolutionary change?

civfanatic

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
3,294
Des Moines, Iowa
#1
I am completely illiterate in Chinese, so I have not read any traditional books on history or historiography written in Chinese. Did traditional (by which I mean pre-modern, before the 19th century) Chinese historians have a clear concept of progress and evolutionary change in history, or did they view history as a cyclical process where each succeeding dynasty attempted to restore some previous, lost "Golden Age"? For example, did Song or Ming historians view their current era as being superior and more advanced compared to previous dynasties in certain aspects, and did they expect future dynasties to carry on such progress and evolution?
 
Jul 2010
6,851
Not sure what it is
#2
If you just look at Chinese history, it is a very stable system with cycles of periodic changes. A dynasty was founded, decaying, then overthrown (sometimes resulting in chaos and divisions which predictably would once again cease under the new dynasty). So, maybe it's not so much a question of historians have the concept of evolution, but the system just does not change much.
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,397
China
#3
i do not think they consider new dynasties as restoring old ages. i do not think they would even think about the evolution of dynasties.
the change of dynasties just happened. i think the old historians took the history as sources to learn administration abilities(the history book compiled in song was named in a way it may be translated as "a mirror of administrations"). the importance of history for old chinese historians is not looking back, but focusing on today's work.
the logic behind history itself was not the first concern of old historians.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
6,231
#4
They have the concept that technologies were improving. As for social changes, they (Confucianists) believed the Zhou achieved the apex of benevolent society and dynasties should try to emulate the Zhou system. However, there would always be people who argue that what worked before does not always work, and that methods must change with the times, especially the legalists.
 
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civfanatic

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
3,294
Des Moines, Iowa
#5
They have the concept that technologies were improving. As for social changes, they believed the Zhou achieved the apex of benevolent society and dynasties should try to emulate the Zhou system. However, there would always be people who argue that what worked before does not always work, and that methods must change with the times, especially the legalists.
Were Chinese historians aware that Chinese people had been steadily growing in numbers, and that their territory was becoming more geographically extensive? For example, were Qing historians in the 18th century aware that the population of their empire was considerably larger than the population of China under the Han, and that China's frontiers had also expanded considerably since then?
 
Feb 2011
6,231
#6
The Qing boasted that they expanded Chinese borders, but in this they would be comparing themselves to the Ming. I don't think anyone compared to Han dynastic territories directly. I don't know any Qing records directly comparing themselves to the Han dynasty, but chances are at least some of them read the Shiji and the Hanshu and realized that the census population of their own empire was bigger.
 
Mar 2016
10
Vietnam
#8
I think China history is quite complicated. Take Bai Yue (100 hundered clans of Yue) as an example. The main population is Han people (90%). Actually, Han armies came and invaded the lands of Yue, forcing people to become Han (just a term, doesn't mean they have all same genes). However, when they mentioned main events, most of them referred back to the times Han or some other dynasties, ignoring those of smaller peoples, nations who have been combined into China. What do you guys think about this?
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,018
#9
I am completely illiterate in Chinese, so I have not read any traditional books on history or historiography written in Chinese. Did traditional (by which I mean pre-modern, before the 19th century) Chinese historians have a clear concept of progress and evolutionary change in history, or did they view history as a cyclical process where each succeeding dynasty attempted to restore some previous, lost "Golden Age"? For example, did Song or Ming historians view their current era as being superior and more advanced compared to previous dynasties in certain aspects, and did they expect future dynasties to carry on such progress and evolution?
Chinese historians, scholars, rulers, etc. constantly compared themselves to the past, and where there were improvements, they'd observe them, as well as deficiencies. But they did not have a concept of history as progressive evolution. Most of the world didn't. This type of progressivism is a Western Enlightenment concept based on a faith in science and rational improvement. There were progressive thinkers in ancient China who wanted to change certain aspects of society, but their focus was limited and they never saw such changes within a larger context of progress.
 

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