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

Mar 2019
33
Canada
#61
I wasn't talking about the Battle of Tumu and the defense of Beijing in 1450, but Altan Qan burning the outskirt of Beijing in 1550, forcing the Ming dynasty to open up horse trade on the borders. Altan Qan have also consistently beaten Ming armies on the frontier in the 16th century, breaking through the Great Wall and occupying several counties. Even in regard to the battle of 1450, Esen had around 70,000 soldiers whereas the total Ming force in Beijing was 220,000; so the later's army was still larger overall.
Well at that time, the rampant corruption was the main problem, the troops took the money but didn't use them on weapons or Armour or training, technically, Beijing had 380,000 garrison, however, the actual trained combat troops are about 60,000 which is the same as the Mongolians, however, 60,000 mainly infantry would be risky against a full Mongolian army.
 
Mar 2019
33
Canada
#62
Well at that time, the rampant corruption was the main problem, the troops took the money but didn't use them on weapons or Armour or training, technically, Beijing had 380,000 garrison, however, the actual trained combat troops are about 60,000 which is the same as the Mongolians, however, 60,000 mainly infantry would be risky against a full Mongolian army.
Oh yeah, the Ming troops in Beijing didn't even attempt to fight, but this was quite late in the Ming dynasty, and the only decent troops are fending off the Manchus, so the Mongolian frontier was basically unguarded, resistance was suicide. But in the end, the extensive walls of Chinese cities saved the day. Yeah at this point, most of the Chinese armies cannot fight as field armies.
 
#63
I'm nowhere near as educated on the subject as some people here so I might be wrong. I've dug more into it in the last 2 hours and I found this histomap.




It's obviously wrong about quite a few dates, but whatever its validity, it says that China was never the World's leading super power.
it seems like some christian european missionary made this map tbh. this seems more like biblical interpretation than actual power. conflating desert empires as mammoth, and mauryan empire which contained according to own european historians as quarter of the world's population and third of world's economy and probably the eighth biggest army even according to modern military figures and esp romans ruling few barbarian lands as huge achievement is just mind boggling. The terminologies like proto nordics just explains everything tbh, must have been drawn even before indus valley civilization was excavated.

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even during the bronze age indians were ruling a bigger chunk of land than egypt, middle east combined.

regards
 
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Mar 2012
4,315
#64
The local auxiliaries did sometimes defect to the enemy, while Chinese troops can be routed, but they would run to a friendly depot to continue the fight, moreover, in the late imperial period, Marcus Aurelius had to defeat another 4 Roman legions because they deflected to the Parthians. I've never heard of Chinese troops deflecting to the Xiongnu.
There were plenty of Han defections to Xiongnu, Li Ling submitted and Li Guangli submitted with as much as 20,000 too. Shang Qiucheng actually fought an army led by Li Ling in 90 BC.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,659
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#65
The Romans suffered from very frequent civil wars, their dynasties last sometimes only days, the political nature of the Roman empire is somewhat chaotic, while people in China would rarely revolt because they fear revolting for the sake of greed and power may unleash the punishment of heavens up on them. They will only revolt if they think the dynasty has lost "mandate of heaven", such as when there is famines and natural disasters.
The strength of the Roman empire were it's legions, however, most of the empire's troops were auxiliaries from the local population, which is a big problem compared to Qin and Han China, because all of their troops were Chinese. The local auxiliaries did sometimes defect to the enemy, while Chinese troops can be routed, but they would run to a friendly depot to continue the fight, moreover, in the late imperial period, Marcus Aurelius had to defeat another 4 Roman legions because they deflected to the Parthians. I've never heard of Chinese troops deflecting to the Xiongnu. Maybe if China needed to defeat Rome, no Chinese peasant need to lose his life, a chest of gold and Han Empire is getting a bunch of Legions too. Plus the Roman legions are deployed quite scattered, however, China have militia in all settlements for defense but field forces are all deployed near the capital. Moreover, each legion is trained and deployed differently, while China had similar military reforms to the French reforms before the nepoianic wars. Universal conscription, standard state issued equipment and proper military education. Also the rotational conscription of Han China basically meant that the entire male population that is over the age of 15 was trained for at least 6 months in the army, and the storing and renewal of equipment after each conscription cycle ends leaves basically a set of equipment for every conscript that has served for the past single decades, (past a decade and equipment is probably too old).
And comparing to the Abbasid, they never deployed troops on the same numbers as China did, nor did they have better technology, and Abbasid economy mainly came from trading with Tang China, but Tang China is allied to the Uighur confederation and the Byzantine empire through trade too, if the Abbasids decide to disrupt the silk road, they will be pissing off basically the 3 other most powerful nation in the world at the time. Moreover, the Abbasids were also very unstable as they didn't last very long as far as caliphates go, due to the multi-ethnic nature of their lands, but China was basically a nation state, which is probably 90% Han Chinese.
Every time a major dynasty ended China became divided into separate states and there were massive civil wars in the next decades or centuries that dwarfed all Roman civil wars put together. There were even bloody civil wars where millions died during some dynasties that were not enough to topple those dynasties. A strong case could be made that China suffered much more from internal civil wars than Rome did.
 
Apr 2018
702
Upland, Sweden
#68
China, in its various incarnations, was definitely the single richest and largest Empire in the world at many times in its history.

The things is though, that China never really had any local competitors worthy of note the way Rome, the Byzantines, the Ottomans or any of the other West-Eurasian civilizations did. Sure, there were lots of smaller states in Asia who's relationship seems to have ranged from "neutral" to "tributary client states", but essentially China has never had to fight an equal foreign power for much of its history. There are some noteworthy exceptions to this, but most wars in China (correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not expert on chinese history) seem to be either civil wars or be about repulsing various step nomads. This second case has some exceptions: the war between the Mongols and the Song seem to have been very bloody, and arguably between equals.

Anyway, the question becomes: what is power? If power is the ability to coerce someone else into doing what you want them to do then China has been fighting under it's weight class for most of it's history. If instead, power is about potential ability and resources then some Chinese dynasties have probably been the most powerful Empires in the world at the time, without a doubt. But China has rarely had to contend with an existential outside threat, and so I personally think that talking about "power" under such circumstances is a bit bloodless and academic.
 
Feb 2011
6,231
#69
If the Roman empire remained intact up to today, people would count the Punic Wars as just Romans in Italy fighting other Romans in Carthage. People would count the Pyrrhic wars as just Romans in Italy fighting Romans in Greece.
China (ZhongGuo) started as just a single city, it didn't become a big empire by falling out of the sky. The Qin were not the same as the Chu, the Qi, the Zhao, or the Hann. They have different scripts with different government ideologies using different military practices. They don't see each other as the same, we see them all as one nation NOW because when the Qin conquered everybody in the Central Plains, China managed to re-unify each time it split apart. So over time everybody ended up seeing them as the same people, but that wasn't always the case.

But even besides this there are other powers such as...

Xiongnu Empire:

The Xiongnu Empire managed to push the Yuezhi West, and the Yuezhi migration pushed the Saka further West, and the Saka fled into Parthia and killed 2 Parthian kings before they were defeated. So I would say that the Xiongnu was mightier than Parthia, as the Xiongnu flexing its muscles managed to drive tribal groups into Parthia and not the other way around.

Kushan Empire:

Again, it was probably mightier than Parthia when the Kushans fought the Han, as they just took a large piece of Parthian territory during that time.

Gokturk Empire:

Although the Gokturks were initially weaker than the Sassanids, by the time Li Shimin fought it that was probably no longer the case as the Gukturks just defeated the Sassanids in a war. Note that the Tang fought the Gokturks separately as they were divided into an Western and Eastern Empire.
 
Apr 2018
702
Upland, Sweden
#70
If the Roman empire remained intact up to today, people would count the Punic Wars as just Romans in Italy fighting other Romans in Carthage. People would count the Pyrrhic wars as just Romans in Italy fighting Romans in Greece.
You know this for a fact do you? The Greeks and Romans might have merged together (and did somewhat during antiquity as well, in the Romans own minds), the Carthaginians... no, I don't buy it, especially not since the 3rd Punic war ended the way it did. They were a semitic people, and were considered different both by posterity and by the Romans at the time. I don't think you are correct in this, and even if you would have the Romans still had the Parthians to relate to later on, and then the Sassanids and then Islam.

More importantly though: Rome fell. This is, as you too point out, also my point. China is a continuous civilization over time (or is considered that today) largely because they have not had to contend with any serious cultural existential threats for much of their history. The Mongols were never going to destroy Han culture, but instead became a ruling elite and eventually sinicized. Same with the Manchu.

China (ZhongGuo) started as just a single city, it didn't become a big empire by falling out of the sky. The Qin were not the same as the Chu, the Qi, the Zhao, or the Hann. They have different scripts with different government ideologies using different military practices. They don't see each other as the same, we see them all as one nation NOW because when the Qin conquered everybody in the Central Plains, China managed to re-unify each time it split apart. So over time everybody ended up seeing them as the same people, but that wasn't always the case.
Sure. But the Qin still conquered everybody.... and things are the way they are. How different were the states of the warring states period from each other anyway? Did they understand each other? Speak similar enough languages? Similar religious practices? I'm not doubting that there were differences, but they seem to have had more in common with each other than for example the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians, or the Greeks and the Phoenicians. How different were their scripts? Were they intelligible, or were they as different as Greek/Phoenician/Cuneiform?

Xiongnu Empire:

The Xiongnu Empire managed to push the Yuezhi West, and the Yuezhi migration pushed the Saka further West, and the Saka fled into Parthia and killed 2 Parthian kings before they were defeated. So I would say that the Xiongnu was mightier than Parthia, as the Xiongnu flexing its muscles managed to drive tribal groups into Parthia and not the other way around.
Okay? What does this prove? The Goths and Alans killed the Roman Emperor at Adrianople, are they now more powerful than the Roman Empire?

China was conquered by people like the Xiongnu twice (that I am aware of), and it doesn't seem to have resulted to any meaningful changes to Chinese culture and civilization. In some ways you could perhaps say that this is one of the most remarkable and powerful things about China, that it seems so immutable, compared with many other cultures.

Kushan Empire:

Again, it was probably mightier than Parthia when the Kushans fought the Han, as they just took a large piece of Parthian territory during that time.
Okay, sure. And how were the Kushan an existential threat to the Han? Did they fight numerous wars? Did they ever conquer the Han capital? Did the Han ever conquer their capital? Or did they fight over shitty border provinces in modern day Tibet that nobody cares about? They had the Himalaya's between them, nothing serious was ever going to happen. The only civilizations that have ever conquered or even threatened China before the modern era are various kinds of steppe nomads or other Chinese. The nice thing about steppe nomads is that they are generally quite useless at everything that is not warfare, and also tend to make poor long term Empire builders, maintainers of culture etc. etc. What uniquely Mongol thing (besides his genes) has Ginghis Khan left in the parts of the world that are not Central Asia?

That you can speak of "when the Kushans fought the Han" and pinpoint this as a time when they were mightier than the Parthians also tells me that the interaction between the Kushan and the Han were very much different from that of the Romans and the Parthians.

Gokturk Empire:

Although the Gokturks were initially weaker than the Sassanids, by the time Li Shimin fought it that was probably no longer the case as the Gukturks just defeated the Sassanids in a war. Note that the Tang fought the Gokturks separately as they were divided into an Western and Eastern Empire.
Ah yes, more horse nomads...

I have no doubt the Tang would have assimilated them too, just like later Chinese did the Mongols and the Manchu.
 
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