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How powerful was ancient China?



Matt Riggsby, MA Archaeology, Boston University

It varied a lot. For chunks of antiquity and into the early modern period it was the most populous, most technologically advanced, and wealthiest country on Earth, except when it wasn’t. Early China (say, the Han dynasty) was reasonably comparable to the Roman empire in terms of reach, wealth, population (in the general vicinity of 60 million), and technology. After the Han collapsed in 220 AD, China fragmented into a variety of successor states, much as Rome did not long thereafter. At that point, it’s hard to speak of “China” as such until the Sui reunified the country in the 580s. At that point, China resumed its place as the most powerful country in the world (the population topped 100 million by the 12th century) until they were taken over by the Mongols and incorporated into Ghengis Khan’s empire. That only lasted a few generations until the Chinese reasserted themselves with the Ming dynasty, who were in turn displaced by the Qing. During all of this, they were either the most powerful nation in the world or part of the most powerful nation, but around the seventeenth or eighteenth century, things changed. Chinese technology fell behind, and the power of smaller but more technologically advanced nations eclipsed it. By the nineteenth century, China was entirely subjugated to a loose alliance of smaller nations on the other side of the planet.


While China was certainly powerful, it was also subject to certain limitations. A large part of its power was based on being large and being able to mobilize the surplus of large numbers of people. Its technological advantages, while real, weren’t leaps and bounds ahead of other regions. Better stuff was available, but that ultimately didn’t make the kinds of order-of-magnitudes differences between, say, the use of water power in 18th century Europe vs. 18th century China. China’s military capabilities were also underdeveloped; the order-loving Confucians who governed China didn’t like soldiers and were delighted to spend millions on tribute instead of pennies on defense. Its broad borders meant that it faced multiple potential threats which often sapped its strength, and China exhibited the same kinds of chronic weakness against steppe-living horse archer-heavy armies which plagued other settled societies. China could muster a bigger army than anyone they’d be likely to fight, but might have to fight on multiple fronts. Likewise, their naval capabilities, both militarily and in terms of merchant shipping, were underdeveloped for its size, particularly in the Ming and Qing dynasties.



Patrik Sakai

Ancient China was probably the most powerful civlization on earth they had gears for mechanics way before probably any other civilization, and they were ahead in all forms of technology. Gunpowder agricultural technology paper water mines giant ships that they reached America with before colombus.



Choi Wonseok, Korean Canadian living in the US, ROK Army Released Reserve

As a student of history, I will just state this fact from the Book of Sui.


Between 598 - 614AD, the Sui dynasty launched a series of campaigns against the Koreanic kingdom of Koguryo (‘Koreanic’ is a historical syntax term by the way. If you don’t know what that is, just ignore).


Including, supply trains, reinforcements, laborers, and camp followers, 1,100,000 Chinese were involved in the campaigns.


This is the largest military campaign in human history until World War I.



Chen Yankai, Inner Asia History Lover

If one likes China, he’ll take every big battle the Chinese won in the history. If someone hates China, he’ll just write what he can write to slander China. My answer is only for men who are rational and at a neutral place.


You can point out ANY wrong points in my answer. Thanks.


China as a country lasting for more than 3000 years, of course, have some fallings and risings. It’s not so simple to say whether it was powerful.


Now, I’ll start writing something about its lucky/good days.

Lucky days:



No. 1: 133BC—91 AD

Han dynasty won the hundreds of years’ war between Xiongnu and Han.

No. 1: 公元前133年至公元91年


Though suffering the great loss at the Battle of Baideng and admitting the Xiongnu Empire as the dominant power and being a tributary to it for more than 60 years, the Han Empire never forgot that insult. They were peasants, farmers and businessmen. Yet, they built a powerful cavalry that had the ability to defeat the Xiongnu deep in the heart of t荣华彩票appheir own homeland—the great steppe of Mongolia.


The whole process is quite complicated. The Han Empire actually developed to the West in order to counter Xiongnu in two directions. I’m not going to write that process in a detailed way. Here I will only take three important battles:


a.Battle of Mobei, 119 BC.(Note: before that, Han and Xiongnu had already fought several large battles, mainly on the borders and in the western regions)


Battle of Mobei - Wikipedia


For the first time, the proud Xiongnu Khanate received a harsh blow, across the vast desert between Mongolia and China, from the Han dynasty. The loss of the Xiongnu was so serious that they couldn't declare a war against the Han Empire for the next ten years.


b.Battle of Zhizhi, 36 BC. The end of the Khan of Northern Xiongnu


After battle of Mobei, the Xiongnu Khanate divided into two parts. Northern Xiongnu refused to bow to the Han Empire. Their Khan—Zhizhi defeated the Southern Xiongnu and killed the ambassador of the Han Empire, planning to rebuild a mighty Xiongnu.


However, General Chentang laughed a surprise attack from Gansu in China to Taraz in Central Asia—the new capital of Northern Xiongnu, across a distance of 4000 miles, to destroy the Khan’s dream. Eventually, the newly-built city was burned and Zhizhi Khan’s head was sent to Han Empire’s capital—ChangAn. Chentang left a sentence that even today, most Chinese know about:


The enemy invading Han empire, no matter how far away they are, will be found and will be destroyed.



c.Battle of Altai Mountains, 89 AD. The end of Xiongnu khanate.


After all these, the Xiongnu, now only a state, had to finally face her fate in the year of 89 AD, in the North of the huge Altai Mountains. General Dou took his army and gave a deadly strike to Xiongnu cavalry and their country. He left a inscription to honor that victory, which can still be seen in today’s Mongolia. Chinese have no difficulty reading and understanding these words carved on the stone 2000 years ago.


Other than conquering the Xiongnu, Han empire also conquered Min, Yue (today’s Southern China), Nam Viet (today’s Vietnam), Korea, Dayuan(today’s Fergahana in the Central Asia. Han attacked it for better horses) and dozens of other states.


Well, so-called lucky days…


No. 3 618 AD. Tang Dynasty was built.

No.3  公元618年。唐朝建立了。

Emperor Taizong: Oh, should we have some parties with our old friends(Turks)? I miss the magnificent steppe of Mongolia!


After the destruction of the Xiongnu empire, several centuries passed and a new Khanate was built in Mongolia—the Turk Khanate(also known as the Göktürk Khanate). It’s the first time that the Turks built a large Khanate controlling vast lands from Western Manchuria to Central Asia. The first Emperor of Tang—Li Yuan had to bow to the Turk lord and pay tribute to the Khanate. Even before China was unified as the Sui dynasty, the Göktürk Khanate had influenced the kingdoms in荣华彩票app Northern China in every aspect. But all these changed after the Tang Dynasty was established in China. The second Emperor of the Tang Empire decided to let the fire of anger out on Mongolia. He rebuilt the army of Tang.



David Kwa, B.S., M.S. Business Administration (2016)

China for the most part has always been a regional power throughout history. World Superpowers are not common throughout history and only happened a few times. -Mongol Empire -British Empire -USSR -USA



Tesla Eric

Basically,they can fuck up every kingdom in the world at that time Han dynasty Tang dynasty Basically,the only one ancient civilization still remain


 译文来源:三泰虎  http://www.santaihu.com/p/50001.html  译者:Joyceliu


Allen Jones

By any metric of size, sophistication, duration, population, standing army, ocean-going trade ships and naval vessels, comparatively thoroughly organized government, better internal roads and canals linking the empire, technological development, international trade, it’s realistically the most powerful nation for most of recorded human history when you look at the better known competitors on those metrics.



Rachel Lai-Smith, studied at University of Waterloo

That answer depends largely on who you compare ancient China to?


If you were to compare the level of power and control the Romans, Greeks, Germans of WWII, Vikings of Europe and the Mongols, Xiongnus, Khitans, Jurchens and Manchu of Eastern Asia boasted, China was weak historically speaking.


Most modern people still misunderstand China’s ancient history in that Chinese influence does not come with the level of power and control under the sword like that of the Crusades and the Arabs under Islam, the Conquistador Spaniards, Anglo Saxons who occupied and controlled America and so forth.


Most if not all of China’s ancient influences come from importation from the foreigners themselves. The Chinese never implemented anything through power.


With this being said, China’s Sui Dynasty’s biggest campaign to war against the Koguryeo Dynasty failed with historical humiliation. Even the Xiongnu-Han war victories were not the result of Han Dynasty’s military superiority, rather the violent divide between the Eastern and Western Xiongnu confederations. Many Xiongnu generals defected to Han Dynasty to war against each other which led to their own loss. Barbarian vs Barbarian strategy is what gave Han Dynasty the leverage. But Han Dynasty could never successfully campaign against these groups of people on their own.


One has to remember, Zheng He fleet was seen as useless and costly by the Ming Emperor which was the main reason why he never gave the fleet of any use for conquest and global expedition like that of Columbus. Bear in mind a great eunuch like that of Zheng He himself was also of non-Han ancestry.


On top of this, ancient China’s dynastic failures of the past had internal wars which severely disrupted their progression. And much of their dynastic collapse was due to peasant rebellions seen at unprecedented levels. For instance, Taiping rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan saw more Chinese people dead than the Japanese occupation which was during a more technologically advanced era.


So to conclude, they were never powerful historically, and they are not yet a superpower



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