Imbolc Hare Moon
March began the Roman year. No surprise then that it gets its name from the Roman god of war, Mars. The Romans were relentless campaigners, always concerned that the border was insecure and pushing it out further just to be sure. Many historians think this expansion caused Rome to fall, but it has always seemed to me that a death of natural causes is closer to the truth. Rome had just run its course.
When you string together the Tigris and Euphrates civilization, the Egyptian civilization, the Greeks, then the Romans and after them Europe and after Europe, the U.S.A., you find a civilization with roots actually deeper than those of China.
The apparent difference of course is the longer continuity between the ancient Xia dynasty and the rule of the Communist Party in today’s Middle Kingdom. I bought this argument for a long time, seeing China as a deeper and perhaps richer civilization than the one to which I am heir.
Now, though, I’ve begun to see the long continuities in the West, too, and the division of our heritage into the large categories I used above as not a lot different from China’s dynastic history. What I mean is that the “Chinese” civilization actually has it roots in several splintered entities roughly equivalent to Rome, Greece, et al.
The Shang were a rough and tumble group, practicing human sacrifice and, according to their successors, the long lived Zhou dynasty, “drunkards” who lost the mandate of heaven. The Zhou broke down in its later years into many states, states different enough to have their own money, weights and measures, armies and governance. It was these states who became the warring states, giving a historical era its name.
The Qin dynasty, short, only an Emperor (Qin Shi Huang Di) and his dissolute son long, was the first instance of a unified China, but even the Qin dynasty failed to include much of what is now considered China.
The Roman Republic was at least its equal in physical size. And remember that the glory of Greek civilization, Egypt and Mesopotamia had come and declined by then.
The Han dynasty, roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire’s early centuries, had a bit more of China, especially extending west along the great Silk Road, but as you can see it still only covers a portion of contemporary China. I emphasize this point to draw a parallel between Western civilizations consolidation under the Romans and the shifting fortunes of China’s ruling dynasties and their geographical extent. Later the Han will fall and the period of the Three Kingdoms will occur, again China splintered into warring states, not unified.
This pattern of consolidation and disruption continues and becomes even more pronounced when the Mongols under Kublai Khan and later the Manchurians capture China and rule it for centuries.
Yes, there is a central continuity in the Chinese written language, a storehouse of history and art. Yes, there is a continuity of sorts in the imperial form of government, but its thread is broken many, many times.
My only argument here may be with myself, disabusing myself of the monolithic cultural rise of Chinese civilization, but I’m not sure this aspect of Chinese history gets much attention in Western learning.
I am also saying that Western civilization, though markedly different, brings its own riches to the table of the 21st century. Hopefully these two great rivers of human ingenuity can come to embrace each other and create a global civilization neither Western nor Eastern, but Earthian.