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

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,261
Dispargum
#31
Let me throw this on the wall and see if it sticks. I've previously encountered the idea that China built cities to be self-sufficient which had the long-term effect of stifling trade since every city already had what it needed. Western cities tended to specialize in the production of one or two products and traded their surpluses for the other things they needed. When I read it, the idea explained why the West became more advanced than China.

As it pertains to this topic, the fact that Chinese cities were all self-sufficient meant that all Chinese cities were all pretty much the same which worked toward national unity. Western cities each produced a different product or two which meant that Western cities were very different from each other which made it more difficult to find common ground between them. This interpretation does fly in the face of the claim that trade reduces conflict, but reducing conflict and national homogeneity are not necessarily the same thing.

Your thoughts?
 
Mar 2018
748
UK
#32
Let me throw this on the wall and see if it sticks. I've previously encountered the idea that China built cities to be self-sufficient which had the long-term effect of stifling trade since every city already had what it needed. Western cities tended to specialize in the production of one or two products and traded their surpluses for the other things they needed. When I read it, the idea explained why the West became more advanced than China.

As it pertains to this topic, the fact that Chinese cities were all self-sufficient meant that all Chinese cities were all pretty much the same which worked toward national unity. Western cities each produced a different product or two which meant that Western cities were very different from each other which made it more difficult to find common ground between them. This interpretation does fly in the face of the claim that trade reduces conflict, but reducing conflict and national homogeneity are not necessarily the same thing.

Your thoughts?
Even if the premise is true, the conclusion seems off. Self-sufficient cities would have no need for a larger scale government to organise them. If each city relies heavily on trade, however, it is far more important that there is some inter-city organisation that maintains security, sets a common currency/scale, etc... I've heard it argued that it was the need to have large scale projects (the great wall, the grand canal, and so on) that made the Chinese government indispensable.
 
Oct 2012
3,315
Des Moines, Iowa
#33
Europe has more mountains, rivers, forests, swamps, large offshore islands like Britain and Sicily, etc that serve to divide Europeans
And yet, in spite of all these geographical boundaries, there was an empire based in Rome that ruled all of the territory from Britain to Sicily (and a lot more besides) for hundreds of years. So clearly, geography was not such a great barrier, even in ancient, pre-industrial times.

Also, China is not exactly uniform either from a geographical perspective, especially outside of the North China plain. There are plenty of mountains, rivers, forests, etc. in China, and great diversity between different Chinese regions (especially in pre-modern times).
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,294
Netherlands
#34
And yet, in spite of all these geographical boundaries, there was an empire based in Rome that ruled all of the territory from Britain to Sicily (and a lot more besides) for hundreds of years. So clearly, geography was not such a great barrier, even in ancient, pre-industrial times.

Also, China is not exactly uniform either from a geographical perspective, especially outside of the North China plain. There are plenty of mountains, rivers, forests, etc. in China, and great diversity between different Chinese regions (especially in pre-modern times).
I would discount geography as well.
My 2 cents on the subject (well half of the subject, since I get confused by Chinese history):
Firstly there was a Roman/Byzantine empire. Later "re-established" geographically by the Ottomans
Secondly western Europe during the middle ages lacked the means to muster large armies and keep them in the field and opportunities to quickly conquer with less men were limited, since at every corner you met a swamp, river, fortification or a combination of these. Charlemagne was able to conquer his empire, because he could muster enough men and fortifications were less than later on.
Thirdly the system was based on give and take. So you may be king and people may be required to serve in your army, but on the other hand the time to serve was limited, they got land in return and they could file complaints. Something like divine right came up, but no where near like it was in other areas. Just check how much effort the Capets had to put in to be able to rule Ile de France, which isn't exactly a huge area. They had to deal with unruly vassals (for which they needed to prepare their cases), nasty neighbors and all the while they were king, supposedly appointed by God.
 
Oct 2013
14,533
Europix
#35
And yet, in spite of all these geographical boundaries, there was an empire based in Rome that ruled all of the territory from Britain to Sicily (and a lot more besides) for hundreds of years. So clearly, geography was not such a great barrier, even in ancient, pre-industrial times.
I'm afraid I have to contradict You.

Firstly, it's not from Britany to Sicily, but from Britany to Middle-east. All too often we take Rome as an "European Empire". It wasn't. It was a Mediterranean empire.

Secondly, had You checked the distance from Rome to today's Hungary and compared it to the distance from Rome to today's Egypt, today's Portugal, today's Netherlands?

Rome-Lisboa (region occupied by Rome, the early trans-alpine expansion period) = 2500 km.
Rome - Budapest (region not occupied by Rome ...) = 1200 km

Geography is extremely important. It can be a awful brake, it can be a great enhancer.

 
Last edited:
Mar 2018
748
UK
#36
Why do people keep stating that the Romans were a European empire??
It was a Mediterranean empire. Almost all the population and almost all the wealth was generated within 200-300km of the Mediterranean (including the black sea). Northern Gaul was the only important exception, Britain being too sparsely populated and too poor to be of much relevance.
 
Nov 2010
7,666
Cornwall
#37
Why do people keep stating that the Romans were a European empire??
It was a Mediterranean empire. Almost all the population and almost all the wealth was generated within 200-300km of the Mediterranean (including the black sea). Northern Gaul was the only important exception, Britain being too sparsely populated and too poor to be of much relevance.
I'm afraid some posters are absolutely obsessed with the word 'European', even if it had zero meaning in the times being talked about. I think, with all respect, it's a US poster mindset, to distnguish 'them over there' from US topics.
 
Likes: Tulius
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
#38
Why do people keep stating that the Romans were a European empire??
It was a Mediterranean empire. Almost all the population and almost all the wealth was generated within 200-300km of the Mediterranean (including the black sea). Northern Gaul was the only important exception, Britain being too sparsely populated and too poor to be of much relevance.
I'm afraid some posters are absolutely obsessed with the word 'European', even if it had zero meaning in the times being talked about. I think, with all respect, it's a US poster mindset, to distnguish 'them over there' from US topics.
Nobody in this thread has called the Roman Empire a European empire, so I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Remember, this discussion was started about Charlemagne's empire, which was an entirely European empire. It was only other people that veered away from that and started talking about the Romans instead.
 
Mar 2018
748
UK
#39
Nobody in this thread has called the Roman Empire a European empire, so I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Remember, this discussion was started about Charlemagne's empire, which was an entirely European empire. It was only other people that veered away from that and started talking about the Romans instead.
Well if you go up and read, you'll see that quite a few people indirectly did, but never mind....

The original question about Charlemagne's empire was answered in the first page: It existed for too short a period of time and there was never a "Charlemagne's empire culture", therefore Europe was never meaningfully united under Charlemagne so there was nothing to "re-unite". The better analogy to draw would be between China and the Roman empire. Or to ask why Europe was never united in the first place. Which is exactly why these two parallel conversations are happening here, although they are being confusingly intermingled.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
#40
Well if you go up and read, you'll see that quite a few people indirectly did, but never mind....
No, not 'never mind', quote me what those posts were. Because I went and looked over all of the comments left and I did not see anybody equating the two. Don't condescendingly tell me to "go up and read"; I did that.