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Asian Civilizations: Comparison between China and European Civilization

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Asian Civilizations: Comparison between China and European Civilization


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            The civilization of European and Chinese origins possessed varying similarities and differences (Joerges, 2005 p.314). Chinese civilization seems to be tied to a brand of highly developed agriculture, which confined itself almost exclusively to the plains and valleys. Mountains are scarcely utilized in Chinese or sinicized lands and remain the realm of different types of population. Moreover, the rearing of grazing animals is limited to essential needs in the way of draught- and pack-animals (Karmen, 2000 p.

264). While in Europe the grazing animal—the ox, the horse, the sheep, and the goat—plays a major role in the economy and in people’s conceptions, and while in all these regions agriculture and livestock raising are closely associated with each other (Joerges, 2005 p.314). The Far East is the only part of the world where there is such a sharp division between livestock- raisers and tillers of the soil. This antithesis, which alone would suffice to indicate the originality of the European civilization between Chinese civilization, has had extremely important consequences (Karmen, 2000 p.264).

            The starting point of such analysis are some general characteristics of European  and Chinese civilization as it crystallized in the Medieval period — the most important of which is the structural and cultural ideological pluralism that constituted one of the major components of the European historical experience (Haas, 1996 p.114). The structural pluralism that developed in Europe was characterized above all by a strong combination of low, but continuously increasing levels of structural differentiation with the continuously changing boundaries of different collectivities and frameworks (Joerges, 2005 p.314). The discussion revolves around the conditions of Chinese and European civilizations in the medieval period wherein the prime focus is to illustrate the differences and similarities.


Chinese Civilization

            Socio–Cultural: Much material containing feelings of frustration and a yearning for the traditions of the Chinese nation emerged in the literary world, mirroring the times when many Chinese had hopelessly found a way out from the West, but then, they began to miss their splendid ancient civilization, and tried to find a way out of tradition (Liu, 2004 p.56). Some people used literature to seek out hope, truth, goodness, and beauty in the strong traditional Chinese atmosphere (Karmen, 2000 p.264). All of the actions that revolved around traditional Chinese civilization mirrored a truth stimulated by coastal culture, and a Western culture was formed, based on the introspection of the traditional Chinese civilization (Joerges, 2005 p.314). However, people also advocated maintaining traditional Chinese culture. In spite of the universalistic vision of Christian culture, however, its hidden admiration of Chinese culture is apparent (Haas, 1996 p.114). In earlier periods of contact with China, some Jesuit fathers known as the Figurists, like Prémare, Joachim Bouvet, and Fouequet, believed that Fu Hsi, the legendary Chinese ruler (c.3,000 B. C.), was not Chinese but the originator of thy “Ancient Law” in Chinese tradition. In the meantime, the passion of Christian messianism was matched by the rising interest of European scholars in Chinese culture (Joerges, 2005 p.315). Unlike the nomadic stock-raisers who use skins and felt, it soon invented weaving techniques requiring considerable skill: silk weaving by the end of the second millennium B.C, cotton by the end of the thirteenth century A.D. However, it also displayed at the same time remarkable aptitude in the arts involving the use of fire, on the one hand in the techniques of pottery—the history of Chinese ceramics is one of the richest in the world and the art of making porcelain had reached perfection in China by the twelfth century—and on the other hand in metallurgy (Haas, 1996 p.114). Shang bronzes from the end of the second millenium BC are the finest ever produced; the production of cast iron had become a big Chinese industry by the fourth century B.C. and Chinese smelters succeeded in regularly producing steel some centuries later (Liu, 2004 p.56). Although Chinese civilization has recently been described as a vegetable civilization, for all the peoples of Asia, China was the land of the most skilled metallurgists (Joerges, 2005 p.315). Chinese craftsmen and engineers were called to Persia and even to Russia. Up to the nineteenth century China was a big exporter of luxury products, the traffic in which was world-wide: silks from the third century B.C. to the nineteenth century, ceramics, cotton goods, tea (Haas, 1996 p.114). Nor should we forget bronze mirrors, lacquer ware, hardware, furniture, books, and paintings (Joerges, 2005 p.316-317). It was because there was a great deal of commercial activity in the Far East that the maritime nations of Europe were drawn to that part of the world from the beginning of the sixteenth century onwards. A China with an exclusively rural economy would have held no attraction for them (Karmen, 2000 p.264). Modern writers have insisted on the predominance of an agricultural economy in Chinese lands. However, it looks as a recent exceptional state to affairs led them to emphasize too exclusively the rural character of the Chinese world and to draw general conclusions from it (Haas, 1996 p.115). It was in fact a severe economic recession that caused China to become in the first half of the twentieth century an unorganized conglomeration of village communities, which lived with some difficulty on the resources of agriculture alone. In the eyes of the other peoples of the Far East and in those of the rest of the world, China was distinguished until a quite recent period by other characteristics than the agricultural foundation of her economy (Karmen, 2000 p.266). One of her most outstanding merits is to have developed, in the course of a long process of evolution, complex forms of political organization, which were the most highly perfected in the history of human societies (Joerges, 2005 p.316-317). It is in fact astonishing and remarkable that it should have been possible to extend a unified administrative system so early to a world as vast as Europe and containing human beings of comparable diversity (Liu, 2004 p.56). One has only to think of Mirabeau’s description of pre-1789 France: “An unorganized aggregate of disunited peoples” (Haas, 1996 p.115).

European Civilization

            Geographical Europe has always had to compete with notions of Europe as a cultural community; and in the absence of common political structures, European civilization could only be defined by cultural criteria. Special emphasis is usually placed on the seminal role of Christianity, a role which did not cease when the label of Christendom (Karmen, 2000 p.266). As it happened, the unexpected salvation of Mediterranean civilization came from precarious improvements in dry-land agriculture in the surrounding regions. This was truly a blessing for the troubled Europeans as no political power could have had the prescience to lead to such remarkable inventions (Joerges, 2005 p.316-317). Their troubled economy was never far from the brink of collapse, still In spite of slow progress, the appallingly inefficient medieval agriculture was corning along. Farmers learned how to use more of the land – and managed to exhaust It at the same time so that less land was left to go around (Karmen, 2000 p.266). As family holdings became smaller, most European households probably farmed less than eight acres by 1330 (Liu, 2004 p.56). At this juncture, the Western farmer made several discoveries of importance for his very existence. From the tenth century onward, such innovations as the observance of regular follows and croppings, the enrichment of soil through the cultivation of beans and peas, and the introduction of the wheeple-tree and the shoulder collar for the traction horse kept accumulating and eventually had the double effect of increasing the food supply and of creating the embryos of a manufacturing sector serving farmers’ increasing demands for better implements (Haas, 1996 p.117). Ultimately, this paved the way for the industrial revolution. In the end, it was the history of food production that brought about the birth of modern technology (Joerges, 2005 p.319). The cultivation of dry-kinds in Europe demanded increased supplies of iron tools and implements: iron plows, iron scythes, iron components for carts arid carriages, iron wheels for borrows and wagons, iron nails and hammers to build the needed warehouses and storehouses (Karmen, 2000 p.266). It created a market for the first metallurgical establishments. By the fourteenth century, the Rhinelanders learned to make cast iron: by 1600, the gradual spread of blast furnaces had begun to lower its cost. Finally, by the eighteenth century coal replaced wood as furnace fuel. Cheap iron was possible where ore and coal were plentiful (Karmen, 2000 p.268).

            In Europe, the spiritual authority (the Church) maintained its autonomy from the state and continued the Platonic-European tradition of care for the soul. For Patoka, the Middle Ages saw the zenith of European history, a unified civilization bent on care for the soul, truth, justice, and human authenticity. The separation of church from state that followed the investiture conflicts is one of the generally recognized sources of European civic society that was absent in Russia, for example. Arendt also perceived a continuity between the Greek public realm and the Christian religious realm in the Middle Ages (Joerges, 2005 p.319). However, the medieval church was devoted to life in truth within limits. Dialectics developed within the Scholastic tradition, but questioning dogmatic assumptions was beyond its limits (Karmen, 2000 p.268). The medieval church was not exactly always dedicated to a search for truth through free Platonic argumentation. Heretics, infidels, and freethinkers were not always encouraged to think and argue, or enter into free dialogue (Joerges, 2005 p.319). A more reasonable interpretation of European medieval humanity would claim that free argumentation declined because the spiritual authority of the church allowed argument only within prescribed limits. Furthermore, far from being unified, European humanity was in constant internal as well as external strife (Haas, 1996 p.114).


            The Chinese world was also among those, which took the most trouble to organize their living space in a systematic way, with roads, staging posts, granaries, walled cities, waits for defense, regulated watercourses, reservoirs, canals, and so on. The development of the political sphere in the Chinese world and its preeminence over all the other (military, religious, economic) is one of its most characteristic marks. The European and Chinese civilization evidently possessed differentiations in the fields of agriculture, industry and religion. The political and societal management engage in similarity of considering human ethical conditions.


Haas, W. J. (1996). China Voyager: Gist Gee’s Life in Science. M.E. Sharpe.

Joerges, C. (2005). The Economy as a Polity: The Political Constitution of Contemporary. Routledge Cavendish.

Karmen, H. (2000). Early Modern European Society. Routledge.

Liu, L. (2004). The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States. Cambridge University Press.

Cite this Asian Civilizations: Comparison between China and European Civilization

Asian Civilizations: Comparison between China and European Civilization. (2016, Jul 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/asian-civilizations-comparison-between-china-and-european-civilization/

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