What made the Chinese people to always reunite after the periods of disunity and political fragmentation?

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,557
China
it appears similar topics appeared relatively frequently recently, and new ideas were discussed each time.

from my opinion i observe three orientations in the current thread:
1. origin about china's unity
2. view history of china as cycling of dynasty replacement, within which unity of china is considered as a side effect
3. view of the "unity of china" as a political construction of modern times.


while i think there are spaces to be discussed for orientations 1 and 2, i believe the orientation 3 is apparently a biased and wrong view.


many might be familiar with the "three kingdoms", what did the novel write on its first page?
话说天下大势分久必合,合久必
the great tendency of the lands under heaven is that after long time of fragment, unity will come. and under long time of unity fragment will come

look, i am not using this novel to discuss whether china is actually in a cycle of unity and fragment, but take a care that the above sentence is formally compiled by a writer living in late Yuan and early Ming times, who actually inherited lots of the raw literature materials from various ancient story telling shows.

how could anyone blindly call such a view angle as a political construction? and modern?

when reading history of china, or just novels of china, please do some deeper think.

frankly, i saw an attempt to put history of china in nihilism
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,557
China
"The geography of China influenced the history and culture of the people living there. China borders the Gobi Desert in the north, the China Sea in the east, Plateau of Tibet in the west, and jungles in the south of Southeast Asia. These obstacles encouraged isolationism and protected a large area and population from foreign invasions creating a single culture. However, there are noticeable cultural differences within these borders such as the most significant one being that of north and south created by the distinct climate differences of the Yellow Huang He River and Yangzi River valleys. The Chinese referred to their land as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ by the time of the Zhou dynasty. This resembles their belief that China was the center of the world and all the innovation created in China was imitated by other barbarian cultures." - quote from a dissertation I am writing on Chinese history.
forgive my straightness.

to my knowledge, these discussions are out of date.

let us not be too much bothered by the history of weather, on the actual extent of gobi desert in ancient times.
however, it is already formally known about the trade routes from china to europe, which are actually intensively used trade routes.

the history of war, from an angle, shows the various culture existing in china.

the "middle kingdom" originates plainly as a land sitting in the middle of "chinese" sphere

in which text, imitation was talked?


in generally, you thesis, in a view of scientific paper, needs citations.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2019
15
New Jersey, USA
forgive my straightness.

to my knowledge, these discussions are out of date.

let us not be too much bothered by the history of weather, on the actual extent of gobi desert in ancient times.
however, it is already formally known about the trade routes from china to europe, which are actually intensively used trade routes.

the history of war, from an angle, shows the various culture existing in china.

the "middle kingdom" originates plainly as a land sitting in the middle of "chinese" sphere

in which text, imitation was talked?


in generally, you thesis, in a view of scientific paper, needs citations.
Perhaps my sources for the information are out of date, but I do have citations. This is also not my thesis, I am just explaining why I believe the Chinese people formed into a single entity and why the area known as China united multiple times in history. Isolation and protection brought by these geographical obstacles created a scenario where a region could unite multiple times and form an identity. We may disagree with this theory, and I am open to changing my interpretation on this matter. If I remember correctly my sources for this information were Jacques Gernet: A History of Chinese Civilisation, Craig Benjamin: "The Zhou and the Mandate of Heaven" (lecture), and Gregory Aldrete: "Civilization Dawns in China - Shang and Zhou" (lecture). I am interested in the knowledge of someone who is from China and can read Chinese sources as I am limited to English sources as of this moment. I understand your argument where you say the idea of China is a modern construct, but you have not quite answered the question as to why the area known as China has united multiple times throughout history. I acknowledge the massive amount of diverse cultural groups within China but why did the area of China unite multiple times throughout history? The fact that China is so diverse makes this question even more challenging to answer.
 
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heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,557
China
Perhaps my sources for the information are out of date, but I do have citations. This is also not my thesis, I am just explaining why I believe the Chinese people formed into a single entity and why the area known as China united multiple times in history. Isolation and protection brought by these geographical obstacles created a scenario where a region could unite multiple times and form an identity. We may disagree with this theory, and I am open to changing my interpretation on this matter. If I remember correctly my sources for this information were Jacques Gernet: A History of Chinese Civilisation, Craig Benjamin: "The Zhou and the Mandate of Heaven" (lecture), and Gregory Aldrete: "Civilization Dawns in China - Shang and Zhou" (lecture). I am interested in the knowledge of someone who is from China and can read Chinese sources as I am limited to English sources as of this moment. I understand your argument where you say the idea of China is a modern construct, but you have not quite answered the question as to why the area known as China has united multiple times throughout history. I acknowledge the massive amount of diverse cultural groups within China but why did the area of China unite multiple times throughout history? The fact that China is so diverse makes this question even more challenging to answer.
i got the impression about the "thesis" from "a dissertation I am writing".....

anyway, i have not speak china is a modern construct, you might have mistaken me from others.

about the cited sentences, my meaning about the citations could be expressed as:
The geography of China influenced the history and culture of the people living there. China borders the Gobi Desert in the north [..], the China Sea in the east, Plateau of Tibet in the west, and jungles in the south of Southeast Asia [..]. These obstacles encouraged isolationism [..] and protected a large area and population from foreign invasions [..] creating a single culture [..]. However, there are noticeable cultural differences within these borders such as the most significant one being that of north and south created by the distinct climate differences of the Yellow Huang He River and Yangzi River valleys [..]. The Chinese referred to their land as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ by the time of the Zhou dynasty. This resembles their belief that China was the center of the world [..] and all the innovation created in China was imitated by other barbarian cultures [..]


unity of china is only challenging when in a comparison with europe which hardly unites. (even india united several times, though it is significantly affected by foreign powers, despite it also had geographic barriers.)
perhaps the question should be why europe is so difficult to unite.
 
Aug 2015
1,951
Los Angeles
"The geography of China influenced the history and culture of the people living there. China borders the Gobi Desert in the north, the China Sea in the east, Plateau of Tibet in the west, and jungles in the south of Southeast Asia. These obstacles encouraged isolationism and protected a large area and population from foreign invasions creating a single culture. However, there are noticeable cultural differences within these borders such as the most significant one being that of north and south created by the distinct climate differences of the Yellow Huang He River and Yangzi River valleys. The Chinese referred to their land as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ by the time of the Zhou dynasty. This resembles their belief that China was the center of the world and all the innovation created in China was imitated by other barbarian cultures." - quote from a dissertation I am writing on Chinese history.
This doesn't seem right.

The Chinese culture are like any culture, an evolving and changing culture. While after Zhou the general trend of the Chinese Civilization was following the rites of Zhou there are still a diverse set of subcultures, including the region around the Yangzi during the Spring & Autumn Period & Warring State Period. I would be hard-pressed to say that the Chinese of the Spring & Autumn period regarded the Chu or the Wu or the Yue as 'same culture' as the Jin or the Lu.

This statement just seem like a HUGE generalization, and without knowing what you are trying to say it's like saying America is really big and there are a lot of people in America.

Also
what does this mean?
"all the innovation created in China was imitated by other barbarian cultures"

Like literally? Or figuratively?
 
Aug 2015
1,951
Los Angeles
[/QUOTE]
It's just a trick of the light, or a sleight of the hand. The cycle of fragmentation and unification is a cute narrative and its easy to employ (even I do it when its convenient), but to really consider Chinese history in such a way is to fundamentally misunderstand it. It supposes that there was always (or, more to the point, will always be) a 'China' to be reunified, which isn't strictly true, and it retroactively ascribes a very loaded Chinese identity to peoples of 'fragmented' states, which doesn't always accurately represent their own views, and arguably robs them of their historical agency.
Why do you suppose there WOULDN'T always be a China to be unified?

Given the historical precedent, one would be excused to find that it would remain a China to be unified versus to there wouldn't be a China to unify.

The unification of China has always been a sinetic concept. Prior to modern China, the idea of unification didn't expand to other states or people.


The cycle of fragmentation and unification, in historiographical terms, is part of the great myth of Chinese history, which is very much a modern political construct. .
How is something a great myth when it is reflected in history? Did the unification for Jin something the Chinese made up?

Did the Han scholars who believed in the Gongyang interpretation of the Annals make it up? Are Han scholars now a 'modern political construct' when they argued for Grand Unification?

That throughout the history of China there have been periods of dynastic division is not in question, but the fragmentation and (re)unification of a singular and overarching political entity known as China, or a singular and overarching ethno-cultural group known as the Chinese, is a different beast entirely, and one which should be handled with care
Yah bs. You want to show some reasoning other than just because you said so? We can debate whether or not scholars during the Han era, 2000 years ago, already argued for this. I know I will win this debate.

Whether or not the modern Chinese government's application of the name 'Chinese' is appropriate or the same as the ancient Chinese identification of themselves could be subject to debate, questioning the ancient Chinese narrative of their Chineseness is insulting, however.
 
Aug 2015
1,951
Los Angeles
That's exactly my point based on my (admittedly limited) study of the topic. It meant different things in different times of history to different people. If I remember correctly in some cases multiple states (including non-Sinitic ones) called themselves zhongguo. It can't be used as some sort of unifying concept of "China" or "Chinese" which in my opinion, are modern concepts.
Are you saying the western definition of 'China' isn't fitting or the concept of zhongguo is not really zhongguo?
 
Aug 2015
1,951
Los Angeles
To challenge people who make claims about how this unification is more or less a modern concept or even a myth, let me make the following argument for you to challenge.

The idea of Grand Unification was clearly established by Dong Zhongshu on his discussion on a writing called the Annals.

The Annals are a record for the Duchy of Lu, between the years of 722 B.C to 481B.C. While the Annals itself was a dry record of events, there are many writers since then who tried to fill in and provide context, we call these the Interpretation According to _____.

For example, 春秋左氏传 is the Annals According to Master Zuo , 春秋公羊传 is the Annals According to Master Gongyang, and 春秋谷梁传 is the Annals According to Master Guliang. These three interpretations are writings that held real political implications to future scholars and provide meaning to Chinese politicians since. Master Gongyang's writings were probably done in the Warring State period. It was said Bu Shang was a student of Confucius, and Gongyang Gao was a student to Master Bu, Gao passed it down to his son Ping, who passed it to his son Gan, who passed it to his son Shou, who during the time of Emperor Jing write it down. [子夏传于公羊高,高传于其子平,平传于其子地,地传于其子敢,敢传于其子寿,至汉景帝时,寿乃与齐人胡毋子都著于竹帛 ]

This is writing generally respected to be reflective of the Confucian idea of the Writing Of Chunqiu.

The thoughts of Gongyang were made the key school of thought under Dong Zhongshu, who took it and was able to convince Emperor Wu to make it the official ideology of the Han Empire. In Dong's many arguments he made one thing called the Grand Unification or 大一统. The justification came from the Gongyang interpretation.

The Annals said '元年正月' In the Prime Year Spring King First Month or In the First Year of Spring, the King has set the First Month.

The Master Gongyang writing further added 元年者何?君之始年。春者何?岁之始也。王者孰谓?谓文王也, 曷为先言王而后言正月?王正月也。何言乎王正月?大一统也 or

元年者何?君之始年。What does Prime Year mean? It is the King's first year.
者何?岁之始也。What does spring mean? It means the beginning of the year.
者孰谓?谓文王也, what does King mean? That is King Wen.
曷为先言王而后言正月?王正月也。Why does it say put King before it did the First month? Because only King can set the first month.
何言乎王正月?大一统也 Why can the King set the first month? For it is the Grand Unification [or for there is only one king for one land]

The idea of Grand Unification is one of the most central theme in the Confucian ideology of the Han dynasty, and one would probably rightfully argue a CORE Chinese ethos.

He further wrote
春秋大一统者,天地之常经,古今之通谊

In Annals' [ 春秋] Grand Unification [大一统], it is the same theory of Heaven and Earth, the same concept from antiquity till now.

Reinforcing his claim was the Book of Odes, 普天之下,莫非王土。率土之滨,莫非王臣 , all that is beneath heaven, is it not the king's land? If you trace all the land all the way to the sea, are they not the King's subject?

The idea of some kind of unification in the sense that there is one proper ruler went far before Dong, but Dong probably was the first to so clearly stake out the concept of Grand Unification, that there is one kingdom, one king, one time, one order, one rule.

The idea of 'mythical' or the ambiguous start of the Grand Unification is nonsense. It was clearly stated 2000 years ago, in writing, and very much respected throughout Chinese history.

Any challenge to that MUST be able to present a reasonable explanation to why this core ethos of the Chinese people is some kind of manufactured modern concept.
 
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Aug 2015
1,951
Los Angeles
Furthermore, if the idea from Chinese writing isn't enough, this is from Cambridge History of China, vol 1 Ch'in & Han Dynasty, pg 369

The unity of China under one leader is the most persistent ideal of Chinese history. It is as manifest in the twentieth century as it was in the fifth century B.C. Whenever China has been divided under different regimes, this has been felt to be a temporary situation. During the Warring States period that preceded the Han, and during the Middle Ages that followed it, peace never lasted longer than a few years, and the ultimate goal of all wars was always the same: the reunification of China under one leader.
During the Warring States period, the various kings themselves were perhaps not totally aware of the form this unity and this leadership was to take, but during the Middle Ages (the four centuries after the fall of Han, 220—589), the unity and order of Han were remembered as a reality and the name of Han came to stand for a perfection that had been lost and a unity that was desired. Several rulers named their dynasties Han or designed genealogies connecting them with Han emperors. Several families proudly traced their ancestry to some Han official, and in faraway Japan several clans claimed descent from Han kings (sometimes nonexistent).

pg 545-546
The social and economic developments of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods which laid the foundation for the Han economy and social organization had taken place on a regional scale in the various independent states of the period, such as Ch'i, Chin, (split into Hann,1 Wei, and Chao after 403 B.C.), Yen, Ch'in, and Ch'u. But the nature of these changes was such as to encourage unification and the development of a centralized empire. Here I shall briefly summarize those trends which are of prime importance in understanding the nature of the economy and of social institutions in Han times.

The idea of unification isn't necessarily someone thought about it, but both reflection of reality and in theory.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,798
United States
Are you saying the western definition of 'China' isn't fitting or the concept of zhongguo is not really zhongguo?
The English word and concept of "China" are modern. The concept of zhongguo changed throughout history, so can't be equated with "China" until the modern era, or maybe in the Qing period. This has been my impression, at least.