What factors led to China re-unifying multiple times throughout history while "Europe" failed to do so after Charlemagne?

Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
Had Europe followed the historical example of China and reunified itself, the period of East and West Francia in the 9th and 10th centuries would probably just look like one of the many eras in Chinese history where the empire fragmented into separate parts before eventually forming back together a century or two later. But of course this didn't happen, and Europe would never again resemble the semi-unified state during Charlemagne and Louis's reigns until arguably Napoleon's very short-lived resurrection of it (he himself repeatedly called himself the second Charlemagne and claimed he was restoring his empire, and indeed the borders of 1812 France and 814 Francia are remarkably similar). Was the tradition of strong autonomy within the nobility already too great in Western and Central Europe to reverse this? Conversely, was China's tradition of relatively disinterested and organised bureaucracy the greatest drive for continued re-unification, a unique trait that early medieval Europe did not possess? I've read that even during the peak of Charlemagne's empire each region had a lot of autonomy, even to the point of maintaining their old laws and customs (with the exception of non-Christian lands like in Saxony). Was regional autonomy ever at such a level in Chinese history post-unification?

I'm aware I've asked quite a lot of questions, so... make of this thread what you will. I was sort of just writing questions as they came to me.
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,160
Portugal
Had Europe followed the historical example of China and reunified itself, the period of East and West Francia in the 9th and 10th centuries would probably just look like one of the many eras in Chinese history where the empire fragmented into separate parts before eventually forming back together a century or two later. But of course this didn't happen, and Europe would never again resemble the semi-unified state during Charlemagne and Louis's reigns until arguably Napoleon's very short-lived resurrection of it (he himself repeatedly called himself the second Charlemagne and claimed he was restoring his empire, and indeed the borders of 1812 France and 814 Francia are remarkably similar). Was the tradition of strong autonomy within the nobility already too great in Western and Central Europe to reverse this? Conversely, was China's tradition of relatively disinterested and organised bureaucracy the greatest drive for continued re-unification, a unique trait that early medieval Europe did not possess? I've read that even during the peak of Charlemagne's empire each region had a lot of autonomy, even to the point of maintaining their old laws and customs (with the exception of non-Christian lands like in Saxony). Was regional autonomy ever at such a level in Chinese history post-unification?

I'm aware I've asked quite a lot of questions, so... make of this thread what you will. I was sort of just writing questions as they came to me.
Europe, the continent, was never really unified. In the ancient times, the Roman Empire was the closer thing to it, and even so large areas of Europe were out of it, and Charlemagne Empire was quite small compared to Europe. So mention it is almost a footnote.

After Rome we had the Carlos I/V with a large empire and then, as you said, Napoleon. But none of those lasted long. Carlos had to deliver half of the European Empire to his brother Ferdinand, and Napoleon ended his days on a remote island. I will skip the heroes of the audiences of the History Channel, from the 20th century, and I will say that the EU is probably the biggest historical effort to unite a significant part of Europe.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,768
Dispargum
Europe has more mountains, rivers, forests, swamps, large offshore islands like Britain and Sicily, etc that serve to divide Europeans, encouraging localism over pan-Europeanism. Europeans traditionally clung to their relatively small groups. Each small group developed its own language or dialect, its own culture, etc. There aren't any mountains or other obstructing terrain running through the middle of China.

Please correct me if I'm wrong but didn't China develop only two languages? Mandarin and Cantonese?
 
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Maki

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Jan 2017
3,792
Republika Srpska
Perhaps it is because China had a tradition of being under unified under a single dynasty, while Europe had no such thing.
 
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Mar 2018
896
UK
Charlemagne's empire was the exception, not the rule. Europe had been divided for 400 years before, and was divided afterwards. It only lasted a few decades. The analogy with China completely fails, as China was united for centuries before it broke up. It's a completely different initial situation, there's no reason why they should have developed in similar ways. If you want to draw an analogy with China, the obvious candidate in the West is Rome. It's important to remember however that Rome was *not* a European Empire. It was a Mediterranean one.

Therefore if we want to draw an analogy with China, the question is not "why did no one reunite Europe after Charlemagne's empire fell" but rather "why did no one try to reunite the Mediterranean after the Western Roman Empire fell?"

I don't fully buy geography as a reason for that. After all, communication by sea was much faster than by land and commerce was easier, so geography ought to favour the Mediterranean being easy to unite. Rather I see a few linked reasons:
1) The empire didn't split off in civil war, but because the west was invaded by numerous tribes. These managed (to varying degrees) impose there own local culture, so that the sense of collectivness between Gaul, Hispania, Italy and Britannia quickly fell apart. This would make any reunification closer to conquering a large number of distinct foreign foe than beating a rival claimant in a civil war. The former is much more drawn out and difficult.
2) The same thing happened when the Arabs invaded North Africa and the near East, breaking up the cultural homogeneity even more. Once the Europeans had a different religion to the Africans and Egyptians, reunification would be exceedingly difficult. Running a state with two large incompatible monotheistic religions would be virtually impossible.
3) The Eastern Roman Empire were the only ones who realistically could have reconquered the West, but they had their own difficulties in the East against numerous foreigners that demanded their primary military attention. Justinian showed just how difficult recapturing the West would be, how much that would be opposed by the locals, and how much it would drain the resources of the East.
 

HackneyedScribe

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
6,579
When QinShiHuang conquered China, he installed a standardized script across the entire empire. He enforced the same system of units and measurements across the empire. When his empire fell shortly after his death, the Han dynasty reaped all the rewards of his reforms, without having to deal with the negative blowback.

There aren't any mountains or other obstructing terrain running through the middle of China.
China has a very diverse geography, after all it's a big place. Take the Mountain Fortresses of the Song dynasty which was used to push back repeated Mongol invasions. And look at the Yangtze River. The reason that the Shu-Han/Wu could last so long against the Wei, despite being completely outclassed in population, was due to that river. In fact, when China was disunited, a lot of dynasties used that river as a border, because whereas the North had superior cavalry on land, the South had a better riverine fleet on water.

Some ancient invasion paths had to use these types of roads:


The first of these types of roads were used by the Qin to launch an invasion against the Shu and Ba peoples to their South.
 
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deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,671
Europix
When QinShiHuang conquered China, he installed a standardized script across the entire empire. He enforced the same system of units and measurements across the empire.
This!

No state can remain united without a common frame: language, units/measurements, juridical system, administration, religion.

China had that quite early, so "reunification" became almost natural.

Europe didn't had it after ancient Rome, so "dis-unification" was (still is ?!?) natural.

An example could be Germany: what united the miriad of German states and German people wasn't really the force of a conqueror but the creation of a common frame (standardisation), the social security. Made Prussians, Saxons, Bavarian, whatever, feel being part of one entity: the German people.


______________
PS. my emphasis in the quote
 
Mar 2018
896
UK
This!

No state can remain united without a common frame: language, units/measurements, juridical system, administration, religion.

China had that quite early, so "reunification" became almost natural.

Europe didn't had it after ancient Rome, so "dis-unification" was (still is ?!?) natural.

An example could be Germany: what united the miriad of German states and German people wasn't really the force of a conqueror but the creation of a common frame (standardisation), the social security. Made Prussians, Saxons, Bavarian, whatever, feel being part of one entity: the German people.
I agree entirely. Charlemagne never really had this, so it was unlikely his realm would really stick together in the long run.

The Romans definitely had it (in the Mediterranean, but not Europe). However having lots of the Goths, Vandals, Franks and assorted Germans migrate; followed later by Arabs and a brand new religion, quickly broke that unity.