Britain and China

Britain and China

Britain and China

Britain and China

Excerpt

Between Europe and China there lies an earth. But it is not miles alone that has made the distance so great. Each, to find the other, had to navigate a sea of steppe and sand, or penetrate a wilderness of ocean. Thus, for long centuries, on either side of these dividing wastes, both lived out quite separate existences, barely even conscious of the shadowed universe beyond. And though, from the time of the twin Han and Roman empires, occasional momentary contacts took place, the two civilizations did not sensibly impinge till the end of the eighteenth century.

Civilizations which evolve in isolation tend to grow more dissimilar with time. For while in practice there has nearly always been, even across the vastest intervals of space, some diffusion of the basic technological equipment which shapes the pattern of primitive communities, the characteristic traits of more evolved societies have not been so readily transmitted. While, therefore, Europe and China each acquired from the Middle East the same basic neolithic, bronze and iron economies, inherited equally plough, pottery, spindle, loom and wheel, the superstructures that they erected over this foundation increasingly diverged as they became more complex.

Other societies had elsewhere, on a similar technical foundation, evolved in the course of time their own forms of civilization. But of these some had lived and died in complete isolation. Others had become fused; or been overlain by newer cultures. And by the end of the Middle Ages there remained on earth only three flourishing and entirely distinct civilizations, those of China, India and Europe.

Each, partitioned from the others by the wall that space erected, had evolved within its own curtilage, almost entirely independently of outside influence, its own system of social organization, its own religion, its own arts, its own state structure, and its own ideology. Each had evolved, through the conditioning of its own language and conceptual structure, entirely distinct patterns of thought. For each, inevitably, both through the natural force of ethnocentricity, and because of the justifications that ideology established for inherited institutions and ideas, native ways became the only right . . .

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