I thought it was interesting how Ancient China did not unify for a really long time, even though other states we have seen started out very separately too.  In Ancient Mesopotamia, there were many cultures that overlapped and exerted a lot of influence, and in the Ancient Indus Valley there were a lot of cultures that co-existed during the creation of the (possibly?) unified state.  Even though we do not know a lot about the Ancient Indus Valley, we think it was unified, though in a different way from Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.  Ancient Egypt, on the other spectrum, did not seem to have multiple cultures.  The Lower Egypt culture became replaced by Upper Egyptian culture, so during unification, there was not really more than one type of culture the way there was in Sumerian, Akkadian, or Harappan culture.

There are multiple facets to why this interests me, the first being that the diversity of cultures and the difficulty of unification seems to increase as we move east across the globe.  Each of these cultures or sets of cultures we have talked about occur around river systems, and, aside from the Nile, we haven’t talked all that much about how the river worked, except that it was important for irrigation/agriculture.  It would be interesting to me to see if perhaps the changes in the river systems across these places could perhaps account for some of the differences in cultures and unification processes.  I am not really sure how these would work, but it does seem intriguing that the Nile was the only river we talked about in great depth and that was the one state we talked about with a pretty unified culture as well.

Another part of this that makes me wonder is the trade aspect of the state.  In each of the other states, especially the Indus Valley, we spent a good amount of time talking about how long distance trade affected the unification process and the fall of the state.  However, in Ancient China, we did not really mention trade as an important part of the growth of states.  We talked about how different cultures that grew into states were interconnected with other cultures through the idea of elite competition.  However, we did not talk about whether trade was another aspect to this interconnectedness.  It appeared in the Ancient Indus Valley that the inter-dependency on their trade network outside their state, which was a key factor in their collapse.  However, because Ancient China did not have this inter-dependency within trade networks, is it possible they did not become unified quickly because they did not need the extremely large-scale workings such trade would require of a state?  I guess what I am asking is what factors played into how China was able to stay so separate for such a long time when everyone around them was becoming unified.

1 thought on “Unification

  1. Manesha

    China’s delay of a unified State in comparison to the other societies we have studied also interested me. Yet, relative to the other regions, this was far more dispersed area-wise. The vastness of the region would have made it hard for one identity to form (or one identity to dominate over the various that co-existed), and it is identity/affinity that is one of the most important criteria in the formation of a state.

    But I must disagree when you say that China lacked a strong trade network. Elitism is measured by the number and rarity of goods acquired; this was the case in antiquity and it is the case now. The multitude of intricate, unique artifacts discovered at archeological proves to me that certain goods were valued more than other. This distribution of price/quantity shows a developed market, in both goods delivered and services rendered. My basic premise: anything worth doing is worth doing for money. Ancient China (or ancient “anywhere” was not a time of leisurely hobbies, people needed to labor for ends to meet.

    This theory, however, seems to only justify trade within ancient China, not the holistic world system.
    Maybe the lack of a unified state inhibited China from a solid trade route. History shows that The Silk Road (a trade network extending from Europe, through Egypt and mid-Africa, to the Middle East and around Southeast Asia, ending in China) was one of the strongest interlinked world system that existed. Today, China is the most populous country with an extremely strong centralized government and the amount of trade its involved in is quite astonishing.

Comments are closed.