Development of the Ancient and Classical Civilizations in China
China belongs to the most ancient civilizations, which has absorbed a large number of countries and cultures for four thousand years. China has long history and one of the oldest and most complex writing systems. Until the XIX century, it was one of the most advanced countries of the world and a major cultural center of East Asia. The specifics of the natural environment to a large extent identified a number of important features of ancient Chinese civilization. Terms and conditions for the emergence of civilization are here less favorable than in the northern subtropics, such as Egypt and Sumer, and the state was formed later at a higher level of the development of productive forces. The fact that until the second half of the 1st millennium BC ancient China rapidly evolved in isolation from the other civilizations played its role. This paper will examine important milestones in the development of ancient and classical Chinese civilizations and the aspects of their influence.
The age of Chinese civilization was subjected to many difficulties in the process of its development. One of the facts is that the Chinese history was falsified by the Chinese to the more ancient side during the time of the First Emperor of China – Shi Huangdi. It led to the fall of credibility of the source and their loss. As a result, the opinions of European and Chinese historians about the age of China dramatically differ. Europeans begin to count approximately from the 2nd millennium BC, the Chinese themselves – from about the 5th. However, Chinese chronology has numerous arguments, in particular the existence of the Yangshao culture in ceramics, the ancient samples of which are precisely dated by 5th – 4th millennium BC. Thus, it is believed that the history of China has seven thousand years, i.e. it originated in the 5th millennium BC. The era of ancient Chinese civilization, the beginning of which is lost in the 3rd – 2nd millennium BC, covers a third of it. "Classic" period in the history of China is commonly called the era of the Tang and Song. The end accounts for the crash of the Han Dynasty (220 AD).
First, it should be mentioned that isolation from the other civilizational centers and environmental conditions, in which the civilization arose and had to exist, made ancient Chinese create their own state. The emergence of Chinese civilization occurred in the lower valley of the Yellow River . Several thousand years ago, it flowed for 450 kilometers farther to the south than now. Its entire valley became a place for the development of a new civilization. It changed its channel several times, suddenly wiping city and kindred from the face of the earth. In the ancient times, almost the entire area was covered with forest.
Consequently, the ancient Chinese started settling not from the beginning of the river as usual, but from the middle of it. However, the conditions for agriculture there were very hard. The Yellow River frequently changed its course and, as a result, spills were catastrophic. The adjustment of such spills required serious efforts of all the tribes of the Han – the Chinese. Irrigation works demanded unification of tribes and development of tools. All these reasons led to the creation of the state.
Environmental conditions were a leading cause for the Chinese to grow rice. It served as the basis for all agricultural activities, since the harvest could be obtained even in the sand if only there was water. Rice cultivation demanded high-level development of agricultural technology. Complex agricultural machinery has expanded the capabilities of the other areas of agriculture. The Chinese began to grow citrus trees, tea cultivation reached an industrial scale, and the production of silk began.
The abovementioned issues led to the fact that China became a country whose quality and rare products became the main source of export for the entire continent. A special feature of Chinese civilization is that it was developed in isolation from the other civilizational centers. The necessity for external trading became a reason for building the Great Silk Road, which linked the whole continent and allowed to obtain substantial profits. Besides, the creation of the trade road gave an opportunity for the exchange of culture and knowledge. However, foreign culture did not greatly influence the worldview and religion, which were already formed in China. Preservation of unique Chinese outlook was possible due to the following reasons. First, the priests did not acquire overwhelming influence on the society. Second, rational consideration dominated in life situations. As a result, medicine in China received such significant development already in the 3rd millennium BC. Third, ethics has always had priority over all aspects of life as well as the priests.
Thus, at the beginning of the 21st century BC, ancient Chinese civilization was an isolated nation with developed agriculture highly dependent on natural conditions, which forced people for consolidation and unification. The founder of the Xia Dynasty Yu founded the first state which was not much different from the usual city. The reason for the foundation was a catastrophic spill of the Yellow River, after which "a hundred black-headed families" – the representatives of two nations - agreed on joint irrigation. In the 17th century BC, the tribe Shang won the tribe Xia and established the first state. They called themselves by the name of their tribe Shan, and the neighbors called them Yin. Yin Shan State existed a relatively short time, because there was very warlike tribe Zhou close to them, consisting of a mixture of Chinese and barbarians. They actually crushed the Shang Dynasty and founded their own state, which existed till the 3rd century BC.
Since there was a constant threat of the conquest of state, protection and providing orderliness in it demanded much effort. Therefore, much effort has been directed to the development and strengthening of the internal forces of the state and the search for external relations. As a result, to the 8th century BC, the roads reached in length up to 6.5 thousand km. In the 5th century BC, the Yellow River and the Yangtze were connected together by the channel with the length of over 400 km. A 200-km canal linking the north and south of the country was dug through the mountain range. In such a way, the construction of the "Grand Canal" with the length of 2000 km began.
The classical period in Chinese development was noted by the appearance of more or less important and stable principalities, which were constantly warring with each other. The Mongol invasion (1211 – 1279) ended with the conquest of the Sung of South China and its capital Hangzhou. The new owners of China not only extended the domination of the Chinese but also gave power to the acquired territory. Mongols managed to complete the association and finally establish the dominance of southern China. Since that time, the South became the breadbasket of China. If the previous two millennia of Chinese history were marked by the domination of the inhabitants of the Yellow River, the third millennium was marked by the dominance of the population that lives to the south of the Yangtze River. Hangzhou and Nanjing were forced to cede the primacy to Beijing, which was explained by obvious geopolitical reasons: the main danger came from the northern barbarians and nomads who had to be restrained. The priority of the South quickly affected its population: in the thirteenth century there were ten people in the South per one inhabitant of the North. It was also priority of the quality and effectiveness that persists today. It was possible due to strict social organization and balance between the social states.
The basis of the society was the peasantry and proletarians, since the poor peasants and citizens dominated. Classical Chinese civilization society can be determined as following: it was simultaneously patriarchal, slave, peasant, and modern. It can be named patriarchal, because it was enmeshed by tribal loyalties, the cult of ancestors. Slavery was often present in the society although it was not the dominant way of life. Slavery appeared here as a spontaneous expression of poverty and overpopulation. Being a peasant in the mass, the Chinese society was not feudal in fact. However, there were "rural notables" above them who rented out the land and were often engaged in usury. Notables were closely related to mandarins who often were large landowners and represented the interests of the state and, therefore, tended to prevent excessive dominance of one class over the other and particular strengthening of the feudal class able to compete with the central government. The whole social structure was designed to maintain the balance between the four groups of ancient hierarchy: educated people, farmers, artisans, and traders.
However, the strict division into classes and the fulfilment of social roles became a reason why economy was not rapidly developing. There was no system of credits. Hence, the importance of usury is itself a proof of outdated economic structure. Moreover, despite the presence of waterways on junks, sampans, rafts, franchise between the provinces, porters, and camel caravans in the north, classical China civilization was poorly connected with the outside world. Being sufficiently close to the outside world, China survived mainly from its own resources. Its connection with the outside world was implemented only in two ways: the sea and the desert. It was necessary to create favorable circumstances and to be able to find a partner who can trade with China. Besides, it was overpopulated. Furthermore, the economic situation worsened due to the constant presence of the Mongols, who depletes resources of the state.
The Great National Revolution during the reign of the Ming Dynasty discarded the Mongols into the desert and cleansed the country of these hard-to-assimilate aliens. However, it led to the almost simultaneous closing of two trade routes. Thus, China lost the ability to cross the desert. The population was declining after the expulsion of the Mongols as a result of the National Revolution; however, in the 18th century, there was a new demographic leap. Since then, population growth became threatening.
Excessive human resources led to the decline of the classical Chinese civilization. In all probability, population growth prevented technological progress. The abundance of labor made the use of machines meaningless, as it happened in ancient Greece and Rome, where slave labor was used. Overpopulation prevented the development of China, promoted conservatism, and hindered technological progress. However, science was developing. Experts are always talking about scientific achievements and the ingenuity of scientists who largely became pioneers and were able to anticipate the modern opening.
Surprisingly, the development of science in China was not accompanied by the development of technology. The main reason was the absolute excess workforce. In China, there was no need to invent machines to facilitate human labor. Technology became a victim of poverty, caused by the constant excess of population. However, classic Chinese civilization did not disappear immediately. It moved to decline gradually and reached the point of no return to the 19th century.
Initial geographic isolation from the other civilizational centers and environmental conditions in which Chinese civilization appeared became a reason for creating the state. Environmental conditions also determined the growth of rice as the basis of future economy which brought the country to the progress during a certain period of time. The Mongol invasion not only extended the domination of the Chinese but at the same time hindered its development. Finally, strict division into classes and overpopulation played its role in a certain level of deceleration of technological progress. Thus, unlike antiquity, in classical period China experienced a decline in economic development due to a number of reasons.