Was China ever in the top 3 most powerful countries/empires of the world?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,943
SoCal
#3
When it was unified, it was pretty consistently the #1 power until the rise of European colonial empires like Spain in the 16th century and Britain in the 19th century.
Yeah, its lack of industrialization is what really screwed China over in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is now an error that is being rectified and corrected.
 
Likes: macon

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,023
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#6
From today back to the founding of the Shang dynasty, was China ever in the top 3 in terms of overall power as a nation (militarily, economically/trade, and politically combined)?
How many different threads do you intend to start asking how powerful China is?

Three is enough. No more.
 
Feb 2019
446
Thrace
#8
I don’t think it was challenged for #1 until it lost the opium wars and was shown to be technologically behind Europe in the arms race
I'd say that ancient Egypt was stronger than them in the beginning. Afterwards the Assyrian and latter Babylonian empires were also stronger. Later the Achaemenid empire was far stronger. Then came Alexander and his empire was also stronger than the Chinese. Then came the Roman empire who was without doubt much stronger than China for centuries. Then came the Huns, afterwards the Arabs were the most powerful in the world. After them the Byzantines and the Holly Roman Empire. Then came the Mongols and wrecked them. After that I'd say the Ottoman Empire was arguably stronger. And then they start to decline.

You could make a case for a few select time periods during the whole span of human history when China was a contender for the spot, but most of the time no.1? Certainly not!
 
Likes: sparticulous
Feb 2011
6,459
#9
Not really. There's an entire book written how the military reforms of Warring States China was roughly equivalent to the Napoleonic reforms of Enlightenment Europe. These reforms were carried on to the Qin and Han empires with universal conscription which allowed most every able bodied male to receive 2 years of military experience. So it's similar to the Ephebic self-strengthening reforms of Athens but carried across an entire empire. This makes conscription a lot more effective than just conscripting people with no training. You can also lose multiple armies yet still replace them without suffering that much in the quality of military men, because the vast majority of replacements would all have military training.

Just look at the Donghai Commandery accounting records of 13 BC which could decently arm about half a million men.

Bows&Crossbow:
--------Crossbow: 537,707 (imperial owned: 11,181)
--------Bows: 77,521
--------Subtotal: 615,228
Projectiles:
--------Crossbow bolts: 11,458,424 (imperial owned: 34,265)
--------Imperial owned arrows: 1,199,316 (imperial owned: 511)
--------Subtotal: 12,657,740
Armor:
--------Jia Armor: 142,701 (imperial owned: 34,265)
--------Iron thigh clothing: 255, 1 pair of unique ones
--------Kai armor: 63,324
--------Armored thigh clothing: …ten thousand 563
--------Iron lamellar armor: 587,299
--------Leather armor is 14 jin [7.5 lbs]
Helmets:
--------Helmets: 98,226
--------Horse armor: 5,330
Shields:
--------Shields: 102,551
Polearms:
--------Bronze Ge: 632 (imperial owned: 563)
--------Spear: 52,555 (imperial owned: 2377)
--------Imperial owned sheng: 943
--------Pi sword-staff: 451,222 (imperial owned: 1421)
--------Ji halberd: 6,634
--------YoFang: 78,393
--------Duan: 24,167
--------Subtotal: 614,546
Blades:
--------Sword: 99,905 (imperial owned: 4)
--------JingLu Dagger: 24,804
--------Saw…sabre: 30,098
--------Sabre: 156,135
--------Great Sabre: 127 (232)
--------Subtotal: 311,069
Axes:
--------Iron axe: 1132 (136)
Battle Carts:
--------ChengYuZheng chariots, drum chariots,
--------WuGang chariots:18
--------Soldier’s ChengYu chariots: 24
--------Interconnected Crossbow Carriage: 564
--------Charging chariot: 37
--------Drum Chariot: 4
--------Battle Chariot: 1
--------…chariot: 564
--------…chariot: 1
--------WuGang strong crossbow chariot: 10
--------ZuiBi chariot: 1
--------Battle chariot: 502
--------3 wheeled soldier’s chariot: 1 (168)
--------Tracking: 9
--------High…chariot: 11
--------….chariot: 7
--------….chariot…chariot: 2133
--------Su…heavy chariot: 1993
--------Soldier’s…chariot: 677
--------He chariot: 2
--------FeiLow temporary chariot: 2
--------Subtotal: 7174 (imperial owned 42 + 7132)

Excavated military armories in the city of Han Chang'an if laid across a Roman city in North Africa:






Economically it's pretty strong too, considering the increased metal production and better diet from later periods, combined with universal military experience the empire could take quite a big hit and still keep slogging:



This graph shows higher meat consumption during the Han dynasty, and more importantly findings show that there is little to no difference in meat consumption between skeletons excavated in poor graves and skeletons excavated in rich graves. There is similarly little difference in meat consumption between males and females, at least for Xuecun:


Also shows that Xuecun was fairly average in terms of meat consumption (Y axis) within the Han empire, despite it being much higher than those of Eastern Zhou times:



Sources:
-Seven Thousand Years of Records on the Mining and Utilization of Metals from Lake Sediments in Central China, by CS Lee, 2008
-Economy and Economics in Ancient Greece and China, by T. Amemiya (Based on a translation, with some revisions, of the Japanese article published in Kinyu Kenkyu, April 2012, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan).
-From State to Empire: Human Dietary Change on the Central Plains of China from 770 BC to 220 AD, by Ligang Zhou, 2016




Note that I don't agree with everything Kings and Generals say. For example, it was only Liu Bang's vanguard force which was surrounded by Modu Chanyu, and the rest of his army didn't even arrive on time. Likewise I don't see any evidence that Mahayana Buddhism was affected by Greek philosophy, Wudi did import grape wine and alfalfa from them though.
 
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Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#10
I'd say that ancient Egypt was stronger than them in the beginning. Afterwards the Assyrian and latter Babylonian empires were also stronger. Later the Achaemenid empire was far stronger. Then came Alexander and his empire was also stronger than the Chinese. Then came the Roman empire who was without doubt much stronger than China for centuries. Then came the Huns, afterwards the Arabs were the most powerful in the world. After them the Byzantines and the Holly Roman Empire. Then came the Mongols and wrecked them. After that I'd say the Ottoman Empire was arguably stronger. And then they start to decline.

You could make a case for a few select time periods during the whole span of human history when China was a contender for the spot, but most of the time no.1? Certainly not!
Neither the Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid, nor Macedonian empires existed at the same time as a united China, so a comparison there is meaningless. The position of China vis-a-vis imperial Rome is much argued over, but far from conclusively on the side of the Romans at all points. The Huns were an ephemeral steppe empire which can't really be compared to any centralized state, but regardless they had an infinitely smaller population and military. The Byzantines were never stronger than a united China, although for a time in the 5th/6th and arguably 10th and 12th centuries they were stronger than any one of the Chinese states, and the HRE, as a decentralized underdeveloped Germanic kingdom with 1/8th of the population, was a joke in comparison (and the Carolingian Empire, if you're counting that, only slightly less so at perhaps 1/5th). The first few Caliphates were huge, but their rise and fall coincided with that of arguably the most powerful dynasty in Chinese history, the Tang, and no Caliphate would have had a population more than 2/3rds as large as the Tang's; the Tang also had a more professional military, and more centralized and efficient governmental apparatus. That being said, a case for the Caliphate could certainly be made in the early-mid 9th century, from what I've seen, but I'm not quite familiar enough with either to give an opinion one way or another. The Mongols were certainly stronger in the 13th century (although again we're back to steppe empires), and founded their own dynasty of China, but the Ottoman Empire never had a population or military more than one third the size of the Ming or Qing (although I'm not familiar enough with the latter to say when or if it was really "Chinese"). I would say a Chinese dynasty (not including the Mongols) was the most powerful state on earth for about 750 years of the period between 400 and 1650, give or take 50 years, or a little under 2/3rds, which could be most of the time or a little under that depending on which side of the Roman-Chinese debate you take (and which I'm not touching).
 
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